Nobody reading this will need reminding that the automotive economy plays a hugely significant role in the wider economy. But as we look towards the potential opening date for dealerships on 1 June, I’m reminded of these NFDA stats: on-song, auto retail turnover is worth around £200bn a year, turnover from car sales is around £150bn and automotive retail employs around 750,000 people.

Throughout lockdown, What Car? has witnessed first-hand the triggers that engage car buyers. When it was confirmed that car dealers could deliver cars following social distancing guidelines, all-site traffic jumped 24% week on week. When talks with the Government about reopening dealerships were revealed, visitors to our New Car Buying service rose by a massive 59%. And finally, last week’s confirmation that ‘click and collect’ was permitted triggered another 9% rise across the site.

The major trigger to restart the £200bn automotive economy is yet to be pulled: the reopening of dealerships as places of business. Never before has the 1 June date been so important to UK PLC.

And despite the transition to remote working and increased comfort in online buying, we should not underestimate the importance of the physical showroom in kick-starting sales.

What car?’s weekly analysis of 4000 consumers demonstrates that.

The majority (68%) of would-be car buyers still want to complete their purchase in person at a dealership, in a socially distanced fashion. In their view, buying a car remains a deeply personal experience that must be done face to face.

Based on anecdotal feedback, this is why communicating and demonstrating the protections in place clearly and consistently – as the PSA Group moved to do last week – will be crucial to improving buyer confidence.

Of course, this does not undermine the clear trajectory of digital purchasing practices as a result of coronavirus; 65% of our respondents say they are more inclined to complete part of their purchasing journey online than pre-lockdown.

However, even the 32% not planning to buy from a dealership visit say they are ready now to purchase by email, phone, text, video or via a website. In other words, they need to interact with a dealership now in order to purchase. poll - How would you prefer to buy your car?

Email 14%

In person but socially distanced 68%

Phone 4%

Text chat 1%

Via a website 11%

Video 2%