Will Tesla test drives hamper March sales?

  07 February 2021

Tesla test drives

As the January new car registrations figures were revealed last week, the SMMT neatly shifted gear and started openly putting pressure on the Government to make sure showrooms were allowed to reopen as soon as possible to make sure March, the biggest month of the year, was not held back.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Following a £20.4 billion loss of revenue last year, the auto industry faces a difficult start to 2021. The necessary lockdown will challenge society, the economy and our industry’s ability to move quickly toward our ambitious environmental goals. Lifting the shutters will secure jobs, stimulate the essential demand that supports our manufacturing, and will enable us to forge ahead on the Road to Zero.

“Every day that showrooms can safely open will matter, especially with the critical month of March looming.”

The SMMT and the NFDA have been able to take this line of pushing for a safe reopening as soon as possible, so that March to be as successful as possible, because they can accurately say their members have been not just been following the letter of the law, but also the wider guidance to keep the population as safe and possible and keep to the ‘essential only’ message.

So it’s no wonder that this week retailers contacted both Auto Retail Network and their industry bodies to call Tesla out for offering test drives and potentially putting the rest of the industry at risk of tighter and longer restrictions.

Quotes ranged from “it’s immorally wrong,” to describing Tesla’s position as “a shambles”.

The manufacturer, which operates a direct sales model, first said that its website was out of date and changed the text, but continued to offer test drives – which it calls an “Essential Vehicle Loan” in its paperwork. Tesla staff continue to call them test drives when booking them with potential customers.

What’s more interesting is that due to clearer rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Tesla does not offer test drives in these countries.

It’s this last point that shows the difference between more traditional businesses and disruptive ones. Tesla is often held up as an example of the future simply because it is disruptive. However, when legislation is written to capture those who will always push the boundaries, it’s likely to take a tougher stance and catch more in its net.

It’s this point franchised retailers are rightly worried about.

March is the most crucial month of the year. Last year is testament to that; the first lockdown saw just the last week of the month impacted, but the effect was felt for the rest of the year.

Yes, retailers could survive a lockdown that continues through all of March, but surviving is different from thriving. And when retailers thrive, so do their staff, their suppliers and the manufacturers that build the vehicles they sell. The whole economy benefits.

Retailers have supported the lockdown because they know it’s the right thing to keep the population as safe as possible.

Let’s just hope the Government doesn’t see Tesla’s view of the rules as typical of the whole industry when it comes round to unwinding lockdown 3.0.

Tristan Young
Editorial director
Auto Retail Network

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