DETROIT -- Michigan auto dealerships can resume in-person sales Tuesday, May 26, by appointment only, according to the latest executive order signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, which also now allows gatherings of 10 or fewer people.
The change continues a trend of states relaxing policies on auto dealerships in a national push to reopen key factions of the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the initial wave of coronavirus-related closures, Michigan adopted some of the strictest measures to slow the outbreak. Several other states that initially required showrooms to be closed have already rolled back policies that prevent consumers from physically entering showrooms. New Jersey announced Tuesday that it would resume in-person sales at dealerships by appointment only.
"As businesses continue to reopen, it's crucial that they adopt strict safety measures to protect their employees, customers and their families," Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.
Michigan is among the top 10 markets in the U.S. for new-vehicle sales. The state had 658,358 new-vehicle registrations in 2019, according to IHS Markit, representing 3.9 percent of all registrations in the country. There are more than 600 franchised dealerships in the state.
The reopening of Michigan showrooms is a victory for the Detroit 3 automakers, Tom Libby, manager of automotive loyalty and industry analysis at IHS Markit, told Automotive News. Allowing customers into showrooms will likely drive up vehicle sales, he said. Michigan is No. 4 in sales of pickups in the country and No. 5 for SUVs — body styles most profitable to the automakers.
Businesses must maintain, among other measures, social distancing practices and provide COVID-19 training to employees, the statement said. That includes, at minimum, infection control practices, proper use of personal protective equipment and an established process for identifying and reporting a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. Workers must also have a process by which to report unsafe working conditions, Whitmer's office said.
Doug North, president of North Brothers Ford in Westland, Mich., said during a Thursday news conference that dealers understand the responsibility they have in reopening showrooms and will go "above and beyond" in terms of safety protocols.
"Opening up our doors to customers again takes on a whole new meaning," he said.
Michigan is among the states hardest hit by the coronavirus. State officials reported more than 53,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of this week and more than 5,000 deaths. Michigan has the fourth-highest COIVD-19-related death toll after New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Nonessential medical, dental and veterinary procedures also were authorized under the order.
Melissa Burden contributed to this report.