But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders also says it "understands" the need to control the virus.
The organisation representing UK car dealers says it is “deeply disappointing” that showrooms will not reopen until April at the earliest. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) made the comments after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the ‘roadmap’ for lifting the coronavirus lockdown yesterday.
In his speech, Johnson said the people of the UK could “restart our lives with confidence” over the coming months thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout. However, the graduated plan to lift lockdown restrictions means non-essential retail, including car dealers’ showrooms, will not be able to open until at least April 12.
But the delay has drawn a slightly frustrated response from the SMMT, which represents the interests of car makers and dealers across the country. In particular, the organisation’s chief executive said the decision was “deeply disappointing” and would impact production as well as sales.
This comes at a time when the car industry is feeling somewhat under the cosh. January saw new car sales fall by almost 40 percent compared with the same month in 2020, with dealers forced to close their doors to all but a few click-and-collect customers willing to buy their new cars at a distance.
That followed a 2020 in which sales crumbled by around 30 percent compared with the year before. Lockdowns took their toll on sales, with registrations almost completely wiped out in April last year, before rebounding slightly in the summer.
With that in mind, it came as no surprise to find UK car production was also down on figures seen in 2019. With factories closed during the first lockdown and the sector handicapped by the need for social distancing in manufacturing centres, production volumes were down 29 percent in 2020.
“The automotive industry understands the priority must be to get the virus under control, relieving pressure on hospitals and protecting society at large,” said SMMT boss Mike Hawes. “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.
“Whilst “click and collect” can continue, this does not replace the showroom experience on which so many retail customers depend, especially in the all-important March plate change month that represents one in five annual new car registrations. Unfortunately, the continuing decline in retail business will translate into reduced production volumes as well as giving rise to other operational issues. We look to the government to work with the sector to provide ongoing support and clarity so the industry can plan its re-opening and recovery.”