Conditional reopening of German car showrooms

04 March 2021

German dealerships will be allowed to open from 8 March under a stepped lockdown-easing plan announced by the country’s government. From next week, car showrooms  (as part of non-essential retail), will be able to open their doors for the first time this year following COVID-19 restrictions. The move will help the industry begin a registrations recovery following two months of declines. However, the reopening will be conditional upon the number of new cases within the region. The government will be monitoring the number of infections per 100,000 people, placing restrictions should this become too high. In areas where the rate of new cases remain below 50 infections per 100,000, all non-essential retail will be able to open to the public. For regions where the case rate is between 50 and 100 per 100,000, retail units can open but only for customers who have booked appointments. Should the case rate rise above 100 per 100,000, non-essential retail will be closed in that state. In addition, stores with a total area of 800m2 or less can only allow one customer for every 10m2. Companies with a larger floor area will be allowed an additional customer for every 20m2 over 800m2. The case rate will be taken from the previous week and reviewed regularly. Should numbers rise or fall, the government will apply the necessary restriction within the state. ′Since the virus knows no borders, it remains important for the states and the federal government to act together according to uniform standards. In this context, a quick and decisive regional countermeasure is necessary as soon as the numbers in a region start to rise again as a result of the COVID-19 virus. This is to avoid renewed nationwide restrictions,’ the government stated. Unpredictable The potential for a sudden closure based on case numbers means showrooms may not know from one week to the next what their operating procedures may be. ′Since the incidence figures change daily, these regulations are neither predictable for customers nor for businesses,’ said JÜrgen Karpinski, president of the Central Association of the German Motor Vehicle Industry (ZDK). ‘Without a daily look at the current figures, I could not decide whether my business is allowed to open partially or fully. ′We cannot understand why our generously-dimensioned car dealerships, with their tried-and-tested hygiene concepts, are not allowed to reopen nationwide immediately, as is allowed, for example, in the case of garden centres,’ said the ZDK President. ‘We are in the same league in terms of space available, and as far as the number of customers is concerned, our operations are certainly even better positioned for immediate opening.’ Registrations decline With dealerships closed in Germany, new-car registrations have suffered. In January, figures were down 31.1%, while last month they fell by 19%. January’s numbers were also impacted by a pull forward of vehicle registrations into December 2020, as VAT in the country increased from the start of this year. Autovista Group estimates that around 40,000 units were affected by this decision. With dealerships only operating ′click-and-collect’ services, the decline in numbers could be considered modest, pointing to an increase in online sales. Autovista Group currently forecasts the German market will recover to 3.12 million units in 2021, 7% up on 2020. This is still significantly lower than the 3.5 million sales the country achieved each year between 2017 and 2019.