Car sales have resumed under phased conditions. Picture: SUPPLIED
Car sales have resumed under phased conditions. Picture: SUPPLIED

Car dealers countrywide opened their doors on Wednesday after the long-awaited news that they were allowed to start selling vehicles again under relaxed lockdown restrictions.

It is clear that motorists were desperate for the motor industry to open its doors, says George Mienie, CEO of online vehicle sales portal AutoTrader.

Mienie said 30% of vehicle-buying consumers are under pressure to replace their vehicle within the next four weeks, as reflected in  huge increase in online searches.

“The highest number of car searches in the level 4 lockdown period was recorded on  May 10; we recorded over 1.3-million searches on that day alone. In the last two weeks, inquiries to car dealers have risen by an astounding 69%.”

On Tuesday evening, department of trade, industry & competition minister Ebrahim Patel announced a resumption of sales of new and used vehicles — including cars, bakkies, trucks, and caravans — under strict risk-adjusted trading measures, and hygiene and social-distancing restrictions.

Emergency repairs may also resume, including to vehicles that are overdue for a service. Auto electricians, tyre fitment centres, auto body repairers, windscreen replacement centres and other related auto service centres are also allowed to open, under staggered workforce levels and hygiene restrictions. 

Under relaxed lockdown restrictions that took effect from May 1, car factories were allowed to open with half their staff but dealers had to wait longer to find out when they would be allowed to start selling vehicles.

Initially automotive dealers could only carry out emergency vehicle repairs under level 4, with vehicle sales only allowed again under level 3 and routine servicing under level 2.

Vehicle dealerships must implement health and safety measures including social distancing, temperature checks, and ensure that all staff and customers wear a cloth face mask. Picture: SUPPLIED
Vehicle dealerships must implement health and safety measures including social distancing, temperature checks, and ensure that all staff and customers wear a cloth face mask. Picture: SUPPLIED

Patel introduced the new directives after lobbying from the motor industry, which had ground to a virtual standstill  due to the forced stoppage of all motor manufacturing and sales.

“There is an overwhelming sense of relief that we can get back to trading,” said Mark Dommisse, chair of the National Automobile Dealers’ Association (Nada).

“We don’t know how strong the market will be, but we have to look at the positives and get back to trading again. While we expect job losses in the sector, had the department not issued the directions and waited even another week, the effects would have been devastating.”

Dommisse said from a safety perspective, dealerships generally have low footfall and spacious facilities, ensuring effective social distancing. Appointment scheduling and access control measures, which were largely in place before the crisis, can ensure that the number of people within facilities at any given time is monitored and controlled, he said.

The lockdown has had a devastating effect on the local automotive industry, bringing manufacturing and retail industry that accounts for almost 7% of SA’s GDP to a virtual standstill.

The following car trading activities are now permitted during alert level 4:

  • trade in new and used cars;
  • wholesale trade of new and used cars by original equipment manufacturers and importers;
  • export and import of all category of cars through national ports of entry under strict guidelines; and
  • trade-in purchases, car-lease scheme returns and wholesale trading of used cars.

Phased approach

Car sales will be phased in under the following conditions:

  • Under phase 1 (from May 13 to 23), all dealerships and used car outlets will operate with up to 30% of employment subject to a maximum of one employee or customer per every 9m3 of floor space, provided that small businesses may operate with a minimum of five employees.
  • Most car sales will be done remotely via the internet
    (e-commerce) or telephone. Personal contact will be kept to a minimum and only on appointment under strict hygiene and social distancing conditions in line with the regulations.
  • Test drives will be conducted on appointment only. Home delivery of vehicles with full sanitisation will be mandatory. Where possible, electronic, or virtual signatures will be used for finance and insurance documentation. Car auctions for all categories will be conducted online.
  • Under phase 2 (from May 25 to June 6), all dealerships and used car outlets will operate with up to 60% of employment; limited customers will be allowed to enter the dealership under strict hygiene and social distancing conditions in line with the Regulations; and remote vehicle sales will continue for those potential customers with access to online services.
  • Under phase 3 (from June 8 until alert level 4 is lifted) all dealerships and used car outlets will operate with up to 100% of employment. On-site customer contact will be allowed, but kept to a minimum while remote vehicle sales are encouraged. Test drives can be arranged on site by appointment only, and under strict hygiene conditions, including fully sanitised cars.
  • On-site pickups and deliveries of fully sanitised cars will be allowed under strict hygiene conditions, with an option of home delivery of fully sanitised cars if possible.
  • Car auctions for all categories will be conducted online. Limited physical contact will be allowed for viewing before the auction under strict hygiene conditions.

All vehicle dealerships must implement health and safety measures including the disinfecting of premises, maintaining social distancing protocols, and ensuring that all staff and customers wear a cloth face mask.

While people may now buy vehicles, they aren’t able to license or register them as Driving License Testing Centres and Vehicle Testing Stations will only reopen from June 1.