Devonshire Motors owner Nathan Tomlinson believes the car retail sector must move quickly to “normalise” socially-distanced car showrooms to avoid deterring anxious customers.
Tomlinson, operator of the multi-award-winning Mitsubishi solus operation in Devon, was quick to launch his own ‘DM Stay Safe’ marketing campaign to reassure customers of the COVID-19 measures put in place to ensure their health during the current pandemic.
But he now believes that retailers need to act fast to shift their message to allow customers to feel more accepting and at ease with “the new normal” and his views are shared with others in the sector.
“I can’t help thinking that the overriding message from the sector has been of stringent measures and what customers considering a return to the showroom are seeing are staff in masks and temperature checks at the doors,” he said.
“Reassurance continues to be very important, but we need to make people realise that they are free to come out and buy a car. The message needs to be more welcoming.”
Tomlinson acknowledged that the need to cater for a variety of potential customers in a way that makes them feel comfortable remains a key priority, stating: “We’ll contact one customer and they are literally racing through the door and then the next is in full-lockdown and daren’t come out of the house.”
But he added: “In many cases I’m concerned that people aren’t being object and are still basing their decisions on fear.”
Up to 60% of people could stop using public transport as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, giving dealers the opportunity to sell more cars.
A new survey by independent UK watchdog Transport Focus found that 60% of respondents would rather drive than use public transport once travel restrictions are relaxed.
This sentiment was highest among older people, while younger people were more likely to say they would cycle or walk.
“Habits, once they get changed, are very hard to move back to the old ways,” said Anthony Smith, Transport Focus chief executive. “In the medium to longer-term, it raises the spectre of more congestion and polluted roads as well as posing serious questions for public transport providers – have traditional travel patterns changed forever and how will they draw people back onto public transport?”
Motorpoint conducted a similar survey, which revealed similar findings. It found that 60% of people said they wouldn’t be returning to the buses, trains or trams in the future.
The results of the poll come as the Government continues to urge people to only use public transport as a last resort wherever possible and instead cycle, walk or drive in an effort to limit the chances of a resurgence of COVID-19 through the use of the buses, trains or trams among others.
JCT600 has celebrated the busiest week of used car sales in its 74-year history after the easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions on England’s automotive retail sector.
The Bradford-based AM100 retail group reported getting off to a “flying start” after its showrooms were re-opened on June 1, with a 21% uplift across its 48 dealerships compared with the same week last year.
It was also a record-breaking week for incoming sales enquiries with volumes into the business increasing by 177% year-on-year as web traffic doubled compared with the levels experienced during lockdown.
JCT600 chief executive, John Tordoff, said: “After two and a half months of dealerships being closed, there’s obviously a huge pent-up demand from customers wanting to change their cars.
“While it’s been a frustrating period for us, our team and our customers, health and safety has, of course, to be the priority and we now have measures in place to make sure our showrooms are as safe as possible.”
Pendragon founder and former chief executive, Trevor Finn, has said that he plans to “re-engineer parts of the industry that aren’t functioning efficiently” with his new online business venture. Finn, who last month announced that he was poised to make a return to the automotive sector almost 12 months after departing the former AM100-topping car retail group, has provided further insights into his planned return in a second blog post. And he revealed: “As COVID-19 retreats and the brave advance, my next communication will be to publicly launch our new business.”
Finn registered a new business, listed on Companies House as New World Automotive, in October last year. The business is officially a consultancy, but Finn is intent on moving online with his next automotive sector business. Finn said that he was “still energised and motivated by the automotive business and the people in it” and suggested that he was keen to re-imagine new and used vehicle distribution methods for the internet age. “I have spent a year forming a team who have the knowledge and experience to drive the digital and resource transformation that’s required to re-engineer parts of the industry that aren’t functioning efficiently,” he said in his blog post on 9 June.
Dealers are being encouraged to promote the measure they have taken on COVID-19 on their websites in order to reassure customers.
New research reveals that 41% of dealer websites home pages make no prominent reference to COVID-19 secure measures.
The research carried out by MotoNovo reveals that 19% of dealer sites were prominently displaying Click & Collect options, 9% displayed the COVID-19 secure poster logo/image, but without explaining its meaning and 8% were allowing showroom visits by appointment only.
More than a third (36%) of visitors to the Auto Trader website want to complete their transaction over the phone or online with home delivery
The online classified group said it was seeing ‘healthy’ levels of demand on its website following the lifting of lockdown in England and Northern Ireland.
Nearly one in five (19%) of consumers said they were intending to buy within the next two weeks.
Over a third (35%) of circa 6,300 visitors to Auto Trader surveyed said they were planning on purchasing a car in the next three months.
More than half (51%) plan to buy within the next 12 months, highlighting the pent-up demand during the lockdown period.
The used car platform also assessed how comfortable car buyers were in visiting a dealership in person.
While more than half (53%) said they would either be likely (38%) or very likely (15%) to visit, over a third (37%) were unlikely (24%) or very unlikely (13%) to visit.
Looking at the motivation behind purchase, 16.5% cited avoiding public transport as a reason for buying a car.
UK business groups are welcoming the long-awaited launch of post-Brexit trade talks with Japan, though competing ambitions over the automotive and agriculture sectors mean the deal is unlikely to replicate the 2018 deal with the EU. The Department for International Trade (DIT) announced on June 8 that talks between the British and Japanese governments would begin the following day, with a view to negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) for when the UK leaves the European Union at the end of this year. The DIT says both nations are “committed to an ambitious timeline to secure a deal that will enter into force by the end of 2020”, the point at which the 2018 FTA between Japan and the EU no longer applies to the UK.
The announcement was immediately welcomed by business groups. Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the CBI – an influential UK industry association that represents nearly 200,000 businesses – says two-way trade and investment with Japan “will benefit every region and nation across the country”. Japan is already the fifth largest trading partner of the UK, after the EU, US, China and Switzerland. Government data shows bilateral goods and services trade between the two totalled £31.4bn last year. Any agreement would likely diverge from the existing EU deal in some areas, however. GTR reported in January that Japan would likely seek changes in tariffs on its car exports. The EU deal involves phasing out a 10% tariff over a seven-year period, but in the case of the UK, that is expected to happen more quickly.
Nissan has resumed vehicle production at its Sunderland plant after a three month pause due to the Coronavirus pandemic. A new Nissan Juke was the first car to roll off the line, following hundreds of hours of preparation to ensure the safe return of employees. Alan Johnson, Nissan vice president for manufacturing in the UK, said: “It's great to see cars rolling off the line at the plant again, including the new Nissan Juke. “It's a testament to the skill and dedication of the team here that we have been able to get back up and running again, with a full set of safety measures in place.”
The future of the Sunderland plant remains uncertain despite suggestions that Nissan could accommodate production of Renault’s Captur and Kadjar SUVs as part of a shake-up of its European car manufacturing operations. Nissan stated it would close its Barcelona plant and consolidate its European manufacturing operations in Sunderland, as part of cost-saving measures designed to achieve a 5% profit margin within four years following losses on £300m. But, less than a month later it warned that its UK car manufacturing plant in Sunderland may prove “unsustainable” if Brexit brings an end to the current tariff-free access to the EU.