Until the Irish Government’s press conference on May 15 this year, the motor industry understood that showrooms, and hence car sales, would be shuttered until June 8, so it was a pleasant surprise to be told instead that all car sales could resume from May 18.
Servicing and aftersales functions have also resumed – provided that strict social distancing and cleanliness rules were adhered to, of course. When the news broke, you could probably hear the whoops and hollers of joy from the country’s dealers echoing throughout the land.
While that late-in-the day announcement may have caused a bit of a scramble in some quarters to get ready for reopening, the majority of the big-brand dealerships were ready to go already, having already invested time and money in new measures for their workshops to facilitate servicing and repairs. Thankfully, car sales showrooms are usually relatively spacious buildings that are rarely full of people, so they’re easy to rearrange to meet social distancing guidelines. Nonetheless, bear in mind that, behind every open-plan showroom are offices, toilets, staff areas and workshop areas to consider.
James McCarthy, CEO of Nissan Ireland, was quick to reassure buyers: "We take the safety of our staff and customers very seriously. All our technicians will wear the necessary PPE when working on your vehicle, all cars and keys will be fully sanitised before being returned. Contactless collection and delivery services will also be available.
"We have also redesigned our dealership to meet all social distancing guidelines. We will have protective screens in reception areas, as well as customer sanitisation stations," McCarthy continued. "We have also ensured that a lot of services are now available remotely, recognising that some customers may prefer to deal with us in this way in the immediate term. This includes trade-in valuations, test drive at home facilities, online finance applications, online payment transactions and contactless delivery. We want our customers to know that we are doing everything to keep them safe. We look forward to reopening, to meeting customers and to providing a service that meets their needs whichever way they may choose to service or repair their car or to buy a new car."
Carla Wentzel, Group Managing Director of Volkswagen Ireland, echoed those sentiments: “Our focus is really on getting the showrooms operating safely and to ensure all guidelines from the HSE are followed. As much as businesses are suffering, we need to make sure that showrooms will be a safe environment for staff and customers alike. We want to reassure our customers that while the aftersales and sales process might look a little different from now on, it will be a safe and healthy environment to do business for staff and customers alike. We have embraced the latest technology to ensure that this is possible from digital thermometers to touchless handovers and car sanitising systems to ensure their piece of mind. So in short, we are ready when you are.”
And a word from the dealer level comes from Donal Geoghegan, Dealer Principal at Frank Keane Volkswagen: “We would like to acknowledge the incredible work by all front-line staff over the past weeks without whom Ireland would be in a very different place. We have had the privilege of playing a small part in helping them stay on the road and in that we have had just over 100 of their cars pass through our workshops for essential work over the period of the lockdown.
“It has been really heartening to deal with these customers and see what an amazing people they are. Looking ahead, we would like to reassure all our customers and the general public that while things are very different at the moment, we continue to be here for them. Our new safety and hygiene standards and new processes around sales, service and parts means that you can have confidence in dealing with us.”
Steve Tormey, Chief Executive of Toyota Ireland, said: “We are focussing on our customer needs and how they want to interact, which is based on dealer input and customer research. We have developed a new customer sales journey which will allow customers to transact from home.
“For example, some of the initiatives will include live chat, personalised product videos, digital brochures, home delivery for handovers, and online trade in appraisal. Most importantly, if a customer wants to come to a showroom they will be in a safe environment where the correct practices are being implemented. If they choose not to, a dealer will be more than happy to interact with them remotely using a smartphone and digital tools.”
Along those lines, Mazda Ireland has implemented home test drives, with full sanitising of the vehicles between tests and contactless key handover.
And will there be demand? What are the prospects for the industry? Donal Geoghegan again: “There’s no doubt that 2020 will not be like any other year however I believe that the success of it will be based on how quickly the country gets back to work again.”
Carla Wentzel cuts to the nitty gritty: “Without a doubt, it will be a quieter 202 than we could have expected or planned for. Last July there were almost 25,000 new cars registered which were 76% of the January 2019 figure and 21% of the total sales activity for 2019, so it is a critical month.”