As we stand on the cusp of a deep global recession, it's hard to imagine that if you want to buy a new car, you need to crack on with it in order to both get to the front of what will be a lengthy queue and to beat almost certain price rises.

That, however, is the reality of the situation, and if you're looking to be part of the race, the bad news is that the starting gun has already fired, the hammer hitting the primer when the government confirmed last week that dealerships can sell cars online and deliver new vehicles so long as they obey all social distancing rules.

In some regards, the statement was non-news: manufacturers operating online sales channels had never closed them, while some (but far from all) retailers had kept a handful of staff off furlough to do the same. Furthermore, the current lockdown had always allowed travel if you couldn’t run your business any other way. 

But while some trades carried on, the majority of the car industry - and pretty much all OEMs and franchised dealers - reasoned that the wider social need eclipsed their desire to sell cars.

But the significance of the government making a clear statement on the rules of engagement shouldn't be underestimated: within moments of the news, web traffic to the websites of Autocar and sister title What Car? lit up, and within hours dealer sources were talking about scrabbling to get staff off furlough.

Car buyers were researching new models again and dealers were scrabbling to make arrangements to both deliver cars that had already been bought but not collected prior to the lockdown and to rebuild pipelines of orders to keep them in business for the long-term.

Coincidentally, but equally significantly, in the 48 hours surrounding that announcement, the automotive industry’s global (and, in a limited but no less significant way, European) manufacturing base also started to announce plans to crank slowly back into action. From Kia to Jaguar Land Rover to Vauxhall, taking in Aston Martin in St Athan and more, the blanket approach to shutdown received notice that it was being eased.

Toyota car plant