Vauxhall boss Stephen Norman believes the UK’s virus lockdown is encouraging car buyers to embrace a new phone-based direct sales system his company is rushing to put in place — and is confident it will remain effective long after business returns to normal.
Norman is so passionate about the new project that he is currently spending two hours a day personally answering phone calls from potential new Vauxhall customers. The company currently has roughly 12,000 cars in the pipeline between production line and dealer, a figure he says is “unusually low”.
“Even when we’re clear of the epidemic, I believe retailing will never go back to the way it was,” says Norman. “I expect car buyers to keep doing what we’re encouraging them to do now — phone the company, get a response from a human being who can guide them through the process, then carry on their business through the retail network in the usual way.”
Norman believes this new trend won’t make dealers irrelevant, but is likely to threaten the cost base of what he terms “gin palace: dealerships, which he reckons are “already on overtime”. He says the eventual return to normal social values put extra focus to what he claims is a recent, society-wide overconsumption of premium products and values.
“Before the epidemic this trend had already arrived in the food and clothing industries,” he says. "I think it’s coming to the car industry.”
For this reason Norman forecasts increasing relevance for his bold Great Brit Plan, the recently launched Vauxhall advertising and marketing campaign featuring the post-Brexit slogan “New Rules Britannia” that was just beginning to benefit Vauxhall sales, especially in light commercials, when the epidemic hit.
“Our plan could prove even more relevant than before,” says Norman. “I certainly expect it still to be working through next year. One thing is especially important: we have to be very careful not to take the fun out of car purchase. It’d be a disaster if we let it become boring.”