FRANKFURT -- Dealerships in Germany will be allowed to resume selling cars as Chancellor Angela Merkel's government relaxes its coronavirus lockdown in Europe's biggest market.
Auto lobby groups welcomed the move. They had warned that many dealerships faced bankruptcy after building up high inventories that cannot be sold to customers.
The ZDK car retailers lobby group said in a statement that allowing sales will enable dealerships "to save some of the particularly crucial spring business that has largely been lost."
The VDA manufacturers lobby group said reopening dealerships is an "important and necessary step" on the way to enabling production to be ramped up again. "There is no production without sales," VDA President Hildegard Mueller said to the German dpa press agency.
The government did not set a date for when dealerships will reopen for new and used car sales because the timing will be up to individual states. But industry groups expect some showrooms could start opening as soon as Monday. They say dealerships will be able to quickly resume sales after they have implemented safety measures because many have remained open for servicing and repairs, which is allowed.
Opel said its dealerships will begin to reopen on Monday. "I am very confident that our Opel partners will quickly implement and comply with all regulations," Opel Germany boss Andreas Marx said in a news release.
The government ordered the closing of non-essential business on March 16, causing new-car sales to plunge 38 percent in March, typically the country's strongest sales month.
Registrations fell massively in the second half of March, the VDIK importers association said, while warning that the decline in April is therefore likely to be significantly higher than in March.
The VDIK importers group withdrew its full-year forecast for 3.35 million new-car sales in Germany.
In calling for car sales to be allowed to restart, the industry lobby bodies said showrooms have comparatively large areas so social distancing measures will be far easier to maintain than in crowded supermarkets or other shops.
Dealers form part of the small- and mid-size companies generally referred to as the Mittelstand that comprise the backbone of the German economy.
The ZDK represents about 38,500 dealerships and repair shops including independent and franchised dealerships employing about 462,000 people and generating around 190 billion euros ($207 billion) in annual revenue.