As Melbourne moves into its stage-four coronavirus lockdown, the automotive retail trade is steeling itself for a six-week period where new car sales may be deemed illegal.
However, it’s an ever-changing story of mixed fortunes, with vehicle servicing departments and car mechanics able to trade through the lock-down albeit under vastly different conditions, according to the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC).
“After consulting the Victorian State Government, VACC can assure automotive business owners and the more than 111,600 Victorians employed in the sector that the automotive industry is still open for business,” said VACC CEO, Geoff Gwilym.
Specific new guidelines for the vehicle and parts sales sectors in metropolitan Melbourne will apply to those businesses that remain open.
“Wholesale and retail sales of vehicles and automotive parts are not permitted at a physical site in the metro area,” confirmed Gwilym. “But these businesses can still operate.
“Service and repair operations at vehicle dealerships can remain open on-site and vehicle sales can still take place, but these will need to take place online, and trade sales of vehicle parts can continue, meaning service and repair workshops and body repair businesses can continue their work.”
It’s understood that aftermarket service and repair, body repair, tyre-fitting and all other areas of the automotive industry can remain open and on-site if they are conducting operations within government safety guidelines and under COVID-19 Safe Plan guidelines.
The deadline for businesses to file their COVID-19 plans that haven't already done so is Friday July 7.
“Logbook servicing, tyre and windscreen replacement, body repairs, and other safety-related work can be conducted by dealerships, aftermarket repairers and body repair shops,” said Mr Gwilym.
The chamber also said that the five-kilometre radius restriction does not apply if a vehicle needs to be taken to a brand-specific workshop in order to complete repairs.
Gwilym also pointed out that businesses in regional Victoria are still operating, albeit under Stage Three COVID-19 restrictions, except for public auctions.
The picture for shopfront-style car dealerships is, however, much less clear. The government restrictions around retail activity mean that car dealerships will - on paper, at least - be unable to open their showrooms from midnight Wednesday July 6.
This means that the sale of new and used cars from car dealers in metropolitan Melbourne from a showroom floor would be illegal from tomorrow until mid-September at the earliest.
Used car sales in the city between private owners would be subject to Stage Four movement restrictions.
Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brett Sutton, is expected to make a specific announcement late Wednesday that will provide more clarity around which businesses are able to open or close.
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industry (FCAI) is also understood to be consulting with the Victorian government on behalf of the wider car industry.
It’s understood he will specifically address the issue of car showrooms in his remarks.
We’ll update the story as more information comes to hand.