Dealerships across Europe are closing their showrooms as governments move forcefully to restrict their citizens' movement and close all nonessential businesses in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
In most cases, maintenance and repair operations, as well as parts sales, will be allowed to continue. The services are seen as essential to keep public-safety vehicles on the road.
Bernard Lycke, the director of the European dealers' association CECRA, said his group had been receiving requests for clarity from dealers all over Europe in response to governments' decrees.
"Closures would have a big impact on the profitability of our members, but first they have to respect their governments' actions and hygiene measures," Lycke said. "It's a big challenge for us, because we represent small, independent businesses. They are worried because they are all independent companies."
Demand for new vehicles has already begun to collapse in Italy, industry sources told Automotive News Europe.
In the first two weeks of March, registrations fell by a third to less than 27,000 units compared with the same period in 2019 and the pace of decline is accelerating, with the first week down by almost 15 percent and the second week close to 50 percent decline, the sources said. On Friday, March 13, less than 500 new passenger cars were registered, a 90 percent decline from Friday, Feb. 14.
If dealers do not resume sales activity, March registrations in Italy could be down by 85 percent. By comparison, vehicle sales in China, where the coronavirus outbreak started, fell 80 percent in the month of February compared with 2019.