We are now in the fifth week of the government-imposed Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), and pressure is building in different sectors of society. There are initial, hopeful, reports that the medical community is ‘flattening the curve,’ proving that the quarantine measures are working. But the business sector is also feeling the pinch, with many businesses suddenly experiencing zero income but with continued monthly expenses.
One temporarily disrupted sector is obviously the automotive industry. When the ECQ commenced, dealerships closed shop and halted sales and services. This is in compliance with the government’s directive to close non-essential services. The auto industry promptly obeyed, and most even extended warranties that were expiring in March and April.
Recently, the Philippine Automotive Dealers Association (PADA), a group representing 200 car dealerships across the country, sent a letter to Department of Trade & Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez asking for permission to operate “on a skeletal workforce basis on or before April 20, 2020.” This request is specifically for after-sales services.
During the ECQ, the PADA said its members received several requests for emergency repairs from customers and frontliners needing assistance for their trucks and vehicles. However these requests were declined to comply with the current government rules, as car (and motorcycle) dealerships were not classified as essential services. (In the US, dealers remained open to service cars of the workforce that still need to go to work.)
The PADA’s proposal outlined several measures to ensure the safety of customers and the dealers’ own employees:
1) Skeletal workforce - Only 50% of the regular service staff will come in, and they will be on a rotation basis.
2) Workbay utilization - Each technician will work one bay apart to follow physical distancing.
3) Strict sanitation - These include santizing high customer traffic areas, applying protective material to the car—including the seats and steering wheel, use of disposable gloves and protective gear by the service team and technicians, and use of disinfectants on the exterior and interior of the vehicle.
4) Customer protection - Like most establishments open today, mandatory mask wearing and temperature checks will be enforced, and hand sanitizers will be placed in strategic locations in the customer areas. The reception area will also have a clear plastic divider between the customers and the service advisors.
It’s no secret that running a dealership is a cost-intensive operation. There’s massive overheard, for one, where as much as 70% of gross revenue goes to fixed costs. Even if this proposal is approved, that will barely cover the cost of keeping the lights on.
In our opinion, car services are essential. In the early days of the quarantine, some memes surfaced saying that when ECQ was announced, people didn’t rush out to buy ‘superficial’ products like bags, jewelry, and cars. They immediately bought food and medicine. But guess what they used to going to the supermarkets and drug stores?
Now more than ever we have to keep our cars running. Let’s hope a favorable outcome emerges from this appeal. In the meantime, stay safe and stay at home as much as possible.