Trade groups representing car dealerships and auto manufacturers asked President Trump to declare car dealerships “essential” businesses, which therefore should be exempt from potential “shelter in place” rules prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a March 17 letter to the president and other officials, the groups put the biggest emphasis on dealerships being essential because they provide service and parts. Vehicle sales and providing “replacement vehicles when necessary” also get a mention.

“Given the importance of safe transportation in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, we have an obligation to ensure that motor vehicles remain safe and are properly maintained,” according to the March 17 letter from the National Automobile Dealers Association and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents automakers.

The groups cited a shelter in place order issued March 16 by the Department of Public Health for the City and County of San Francisco, which ordered the population to stay home except for essential service providers, such as some government workers, first responders, healthcare providers, and employees of “essential” businesses.

The auto trade groups want the federal government to issue a similar definition, making dealerships officially essential.

“… We hereby request that, as you consider further national initiatives to contain the severity and duration of the spread of the coronavirus, including potential Executive Orders, you ensure that our nation’s motor vehicle fleet remains as safe and operational as possible,” the letter said.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation is a new group formed in January 2020 by the merger of two Washington-based trade groups, the Association of Global Automakers, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

The National Automobile Dealers Association, McLean, Va., represents the nation’s franchised, new-car dealers.

“Given the importance of safe transportation in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, we have an obligation to ensure that motor vehicles remain safe and are properly maintained,” the letter said. “To that end, it is vital that vehicle repair, maintenance, and sales facilities be considered essential operations when federal, state, and local officials impose certain requirements due to the coronavirus outbreak.”

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