What does England’s lockdown-easing road map mean for car buying?

Jack Evans, PA Motoring Reporter

Boris Johnson has today (Feb 22) set out a new road map for the easing of coronavirus restrictions, revealing a four-stage plan of how England will emerge from the current lockdown measures.

Many aspects of life look likely to change, but what about car buying? With dealerships still closed under the classification of non-essential retail, when will they be allowed to open again?

When will dealerships open?

According to the Prime Minister’s announcement today, non-essential retail will be allowed to re-open from April 12 ‘at the earliest’, which would allow dealerships once again to open their doors to customers.

It means that dealerships will miss out on the much-anticipated arrival of the new ‘21’ registration plate which comes into force next month.

But can I still buy a car now?

Yes, you’re still able to buy a car now if you need one. Dealers have adapted well to increasingly difficult trading circumstances, with many offering click-and-collect services as well as home deliveries.

Many manufacturers now allow you to choose, finance and purchase a car entirely online with companies such as Dacia championing this. It means that should you need to get a car, you still can.

Will click and collect continue once measures are relaxed?

There’s no reason why click-and-collect services couldn’t continue once the measures are relaxed, but there has been no formal statement as yet.

What has the industry said about the announcement?

Industry bosses have reacted with disappointment at the announcement.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of car industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “The automotive industry understands the priority must be to get the virus under control. Nevertheless, the fact that retail showrooms must remain closed until April at least, is deeply disappointing given these facilities are Covid-secure, large premises with low footfall and able to operate on an appointment-only basis.”

Meanwhile, Rachael Prasher, managing director of consumer magazine What Car?, said: “The announcement to keep non-essential retailers in England closed until April is disappointing for the automotive sector, which typically does a disproportionate amount of its annual business around the numberplate change in March.

“Frustratingly, it is not just automotive retailers that lose out; in particular, automotive sales have an extraordinary value for the Treasury – measured at around £1.2bn in VAT for March alone based on 2019’s 450,000 new car registrations for the month. As we look to recovery as a nation, this income is potentially crucial.”

The common message from car industry leaders is that dealerships tend to be wide open spaces with low footfall, with most dealers implementing strict social distancing measures during the previous lockdown, making them safe places to do business.

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