THE UK automotive industry is facing its most difficult choice during this pandemic crisis – how and how soon to open up new-car showrooms to the public. On one side of the debate is a tragically high death rate, and on the other, an estimated daily cost to the nation of £61 million.
That figure comes from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which is calling for the government to lift restrictions and allow car dealerships to re-open for business. It’s a familiar plea, one heard all over the world as global economies collapse under the strain of enforced lockdowns. But, of course, the flipside of this coin is a death rate that most find unacceptable.
The SMMT, though, argues that the 4900 car dealerships in the UK are ideally placed to minimize the risk to consumers. The organisation has launched a campaign, 10 reasons to #unlockukauto, which argues for the supposed benefits of allowing UK dealerships to reopen to kick-start the market, which fell by a massive -97.3% in April.
The rationale is that car showrooms are generally large spaces and lend themselves more readily to social distancing.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, “Government measures to support the critical automotive industry during the crisis have provided an essential lifeline, and the sector is now ready to return to work to help the UK rebuild. Car showrooms, just like garden centres, are spacious and can accommodate social distancing easily, making them some of the UK’s safest retail premises.
“Allowing dealers to get back to business will help stimulate consumer confidence and unlock recovery of the wider industry, boosting tax revenue and reducing the burden on government spending. Unlike many other retail sectors, car sales act as the engine for manufacturing and reopening showrooms is an easy and relatively safe next step to help get the economy restarted. With every day of closure another day of lost income for the industry and Treasury, we see no reason for delay.”
The SMMT claims that retailers are ready to reopen and have been preparing for weeks. New cleaning and test-drive processes, appointment systems and showroom layouts aim to keep customers and staff safe.
But as with any other retail enterprise, the acid test will be how confident consumers are to come out and engage with car dealerships. For many, it may just be too soon.