Reopening car dealerships: ‘We have been pleasantly surprised’

Business at CAB Motor Company in Cork has been brisk, but work practices have changed

Pat Harte and his colleagues came to work on Monday morning in CAB Motor Company in Ballintemple in Cork City for the first time in two months. Once inside, the first order of business was to have their temperatures checked.

With perspex screens, floor markings, a showroom with plentiful hand sanitiser and a Covid-19 set of guidelines in place for test drives, car dealerships are in a far different place in the wake of the pandemic.

Grateful to be open, Harte said business at the Ford dealership had been surprisingly brisk.

“Back in March we were told we would be closed for two or three weeks, and it went on for seven or eight weeks. It was strange. We didn’t know what we would be coming back to.


“We had people sitting at home looking at cars online and making enquiries. The queries online were being monitored every day of the week. We have been pleasantly surprised since we opened back up because we have been very busy.”

However, the days of customers browsing are over, for now.

“The days of a guy coming down on Saturday with one or two of the kids while the wife is in town and the husband sitting into every car with the kids to pass a bit of time is gone.

“There is none of that now. They come in and they say ‘I want to see car 44.’ You know they are genuine buyers. People don’t want to be going where they shouldn’t be going,” says Harte.


Equally, customers have done more homework than before.

Like others in the trade, Harte expects July to be busy with the arrival of 202 cars, even if Covid-19 has made people more cautious than usual about spending. It won’t be anywhere near the figures it used to be.

“A lot of people are not sure if their job will be there when they are due to go back. It is strange times but we are not back in the dark days. I think eventually it will pick up again. It is going to be slow,” he told The Irish Times.

Covid-19 has impacted on other elements of the trade, too.

“There is interest in Irish second-hand cars. There is very little of the imports coming in because the NCT centres weren’t open to vet the cars when they came in. Second-hand sales are going well.”

Test drives are now carefully prepared.

“We have all our cars sanitised. We have the cars locked. If anyone wants to take a test drive we hand them the keys in a bag. We have gloves. We have masks.”

However, customers have a role to play, too.

“Some people are very compliant. Other people will wear the gloves but won’t wear the masks. Every time a car comes back having been driven by somebody, the car is sanitised again and put back on display.”

Covid-19 will impact on the way people move. Some people will be reluctant to travel on public transport, and will opt to travel by car.

“People want their own car. It definitely was a surprise to see the reaction we have had,” says Harte, a veteran of the car trade since 1979.

“I have seen it all,” he told The Irish Times.