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Online car sales and deliveries ‘acceptable’ in lockdown, says NFDA

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The National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) has said that online car sales and deliveries “remain acceptable” during the COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown.

Advice issued to members of the industry body, which it described as “general guidance only” and “not specific legal advice”, highlighted the official wording of the Government’s lockdown legislation in making the recommendation.

The NFDA advised that the full delivery of vehicles sales could be continued, if done away from a traditional showroom environment and “in a manner that is safe and compliant with all coronavirus related health and safety requirements”.

AM reported last week that online car retailer, Cazoo, has continued not only to sell, but deliver vehicles to people’s home’s during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Cazoo, the subject of an AM dealer profile feature in last month’s magazine, is offering a £250 sales discount to NHS keyworkers and said that it was prioritising its deliveries "based on need".

While many car retailers have closed their showrooms and ceased sales, some – both franchised and independent – have continued to do the same.

Car manufacturers including Dacia and Mitsubishi, meanwhile, are among those showcasing the ability to buy a car wholly online now, with sales expected to be completed when the lockdown is lifted.

In delivering its official guidance, the NFDA described Government’s stance concerning purchasing vehicles online as “ambiguous”, but added that there appeared to be no absolute prohibition to online vehicle sales, provided they occur outside a car showroom.

The NFDA highlighted Regulation 4(4) and Part 2 of Schedule 2 of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 (the Regulations), which specifically require the cessation of “car showroom” business activity during the “emergency period” (i.e. lockdown).

However, Regulation 5(1)(a) allows businesses to continue to sell online and states that “there is no reason why this should not extend to motor retail”.

In other words, the sensible interpretation of the Regulations is that it focuses on the closure of physical premises (e.g. the actual showrooms) only, the NFDA said.

The NFDA’s guidance added: “Further, guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 8 April 2020 ‘To everyone working in the UK’s retail sector’ emphasises that: ‘The Government has always been clear that online retail can continue to operate and is encouraged, and that postal and delivery services will continue to operate’.”

A recent survey conducted by AM found that less than half of UK car retailers are equipped to complete contactless online car sales despite the renewed focus on digital marketing brought by the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak – removing their option to continue selling during lockdown.

AM's results revealed that just 48.7% of the 427 respondents had the ability to trade online.

The NFDA suggested that the decision to sell cars online was one that now lay with retail operators, although it emphasised that businesses have a duty to assess "at all times" the risks posed to their employees and to the public as a result of them operating.

“Some dealers will not consider a small number of online sales worth the cost and risk of maintaining remotes sales and delivery operations at this time,” it added.

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