The number of test drives undertaken at UK car dealerships has increased dramatically since the country came out of lockdown. That’s according to fleet management firm AX, which says the number of test drives has more than tripled thanks to the pent-up demand caused by dealer doors closing during the coronavirus crisis.

According to AX, its dealer demo fleet saw almost 25,000 bookings in September alone, up 178 percent on the levels seen before the pandemic. That means dealer fleet test drives now make up around a third of all AX’s management scheme’s bookings, up from around 10 percent before the crisis hit.

However, the uplift in bookings does not seem to be matched by an increase in sales. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which collects new car registration data, new car sales were down 4.4 percent last month. That result was dubbed the weakest ‘new-plate’ September ever, and meant the market was down 33 percent during the first nine months of 2020.

But AX says the data is positive for car dealers, claiming retailers should “continue to be cautious” and adapt to local restrictions. The organisation says unaccompanied test drives, where the dealer allows a prospective customer to drive a car without a member of staff, are “among the best solutions”.

However, AX says dealers should also ensure they enforce social distancing, encourage digital paperwork and electronic paperwork and regularly disinfect vehicles. The organisation says such measures will help dealers “maintain momentum” while tiered local lockdowns are being enforced by central government.

Vauxhall dealership forecourt London

Vince Powell, managing director of AX Innovation, said the winter could be challenging for car dealers, and urged retailers to “accommodate consumer interest” by retaining coronavirus safeguards for prospective customers.

“Retailers have worked incredibly hard over the last six months to overcome the challenges of the global pandemic,” he said. “The surge in activity in our demonstrator fleet shows there is clearly an appetite for new vehicles despite 2020 presenting one of the most challenging years on record for the automotive industry.

“That said, the recent rise in Covid-19 cases means the winter months could prove to be difficult for dealers and it’s paramount they continue to offer services such as unaccompanied or extended test drives in order to accommodate consumer interest.”