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Government green light for lockdown car sales ‘great news’ for dealers

Clarification of car retailers’ ongoing ability to sell cars online and deliver them to customers during the COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown period has been hailed as “great news”.

The National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) published official Government guidance and advice regarding online sales in correspondence sent to its members last week, which revealed that vehicle handovers could be continued away from a traditional showroom environment “in a manner that is safe and compliant with all coronavirus related health and safety requirements”.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) further confirmed yesterday (April 22) that dealers can sell and deliver cars remotely – as long as they adhere to Public Health England guidelines.

Now the onus is on car retailers to reassure potential customers that they can deliver sales in a safe and compliant manner, while looking protecting the welbbeing of their workforce.

Carwow chief executive, James Hind, described the clarification of Government’s stance on automotive retail as “great news”.

He said: “There are still lots of consumers who are actively looking to buy despite lockdown, many who report they have an increased need for a car due to the need to make essential travel journeys during a time of social distance.

“It's great news for dealers to have that clarity as well, the car retail industry is an important part of the economy and a significant employer in the UK."

Earlier this month a consumer survey conducted by What Car? found that almost a fifth of car buyers were poised to make a purchase as soon as the current COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown is lifted.

The automotive consumer publication surveyed nearly 3,000 active online car researchers and found that 18.2% said that they intend to buy their next car immediately after the lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Commenting on the official Government stance on car sales, first highlighted by the NFDA, What Car? managing director, Rachael Prasher, said: “The latest announcement from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is welcome news and allows dealers to tap into this important market, to provide sales at this crucial time. The onus is on retailers to be ready to respond to active prospects.

“Public safety is, as it should be, at the forefront of the Government’s agenda and it is great to see the authorities trust dealers and manufacturers to follow Public Health England guidelines so they can operate remotely.”

Online car retail provider Cazoo, the subject of an AM dealer profile feature in last month’s (April) magazine, has continued to provide a complete sales process during the Government-imposed lockdown period, prioritising deliveries “based on need.”

While Government will only sanction the safe delivery of vehicle to consumers following a sales process conducted online at the current time, AM has spoken to a number of car retail groups who have been stocking up on personal protective equipment (PPE) and preparing their dealerships for a period of trading with social distancing restrictions still in place.

Although the sector has a duty to protect their staff when showroom facilities re-open – a Cap HPI ‘guest opinion’ on AM today speculated that could happen in May or June – such measures could prove controversial amid a shortage of PPE for NHS keyworkers.

Public perception yet could play a key role in many business’s re-opening plans.

There will also be a need for car manufacturers and retailers to reassure customers that they are operating in a safe and compliant manner, setting at ease the minds of those consumers considering a showroom visit when the time comes.

In its recent guidance to its franchised car retail members, the NFDA delivered the following guidance on trading in the current ‘remote sales’ guidence issued to cover the lockdown period:

  1. Necessity - All employees should only be working where necessary (i.e. where they cannot fulfil their role from home, and this should be limited as far as possible, for example, limiting the number of employees on a delivery run), and where they are not showing any coronavirus symptoms, nor are they or a member of their household self-isolating.
  2. Policy - Businesses should establish clear policies in these areas, ensuring social distancing measures are implemented (such as 2 metres between all employees and the use of personal protection equipment), communicated to their staff and where appropriate communicated to their customers ahead of any delivery or service (these can include measures such as informing a customer that their car will be thoroughly cleaned before delivery and that they are expected to observe social distancing with the employee delivering their item).
  3. Continuous risk assessment - Businesses have a duty at all times to assess the risks posed to their employees and to the public as a result of them operating. This requirement is even more crucial in the current climate, and will help companies understand where a particular delivery or service may be too complicated to be provided safely.

The NFDA said that, as a minimum, businesses should be following the Government’s guidance, which can be found by clicking here.

"If they fail to do so, it will be difficult for them to discharge their general obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act", it said.

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