FRANKFURT -- Germany faces a wave of dealership bankruptcies unless car showrooms are allowed to reopen soon, the ZDK industry association said.
Showrooms have been shut since mid-December when the German government tightened measures to slow rising cases of the coronavirus.
"The situation in automobile retail becomes more difficult with each passing week," Thomas Peckruhn, ZDK vice president, said in a statement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will chair a meeting on Feb. 10 with representatives from the country's 16 federal states to decide whether to lengthen lockdown restrictions scheduled to end four days later.
Problems with the supply of vaccines prompted Merkel to warn that the government does not expect the population will be inoculated against the coronavirus until the end of the third quarter. This suggests restrictions could remain in place in one form or the other for months to come.
The looming threat of closed showrooms in March and April, traditionally the strongest months of the year in terms of car sales, could drive dealerships out of business, the ZDK warned.
The ZDK says the risk of spreading COVID-19 in dealerships is low because showrooms are usually far larger than most retail stores. They also have much less foot traffic and more space for social distancing because cars take up much of the surface area.
"We need the spring business, otherwise there is the risk of bankruptcies in the automotive trade," Peckruhn said.
The ZDK represents 36,600 dealerships, which employ 439,000 people and generate revenue of about 186 billion euros ($224 billion), according to its figures.
Insolvencies could have wider implications for the German economy. Many of the retailers are small and medium enterprises often operated under family control that comprise the backbone of the German economy, known in Germany as the Mittelstand.