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As of Wednesday 13 May, motorists were finally allowed to service their cars under strict risk-adjusted trading measures, hygiene and social distancing restrictions. One week down the line Pieter Niemand, national director of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), an association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation, representing nearly 2,600 businesses and 31,200 employees in the independent aftermarket workshop environment, said business was still very slow but not unexpected.
“Feedback from members reflects these same sentiments with many saying they did expect a bit more movement as what is currently experienced,” he says. Niemand says another factor contributing to the slow start is the 30% quota of staff allowed to work as this places pressure on workshops to complete work, given the average number of staff employed by the smaller workshops. “Restrictions on people movement also play a part and we believe a general fear of being in any public space contributes greatly to the slower start up.
“When you consider that the South African car parc is an aging one, with 80% of cars out of warranty and 60% being six years or older, servicing of these older vehicles does however become critical,” says Niemand.
He says they are definitely anticipating an increase in the number of consumers looking for competitive servicing options at independent workshops. “Even before the coronavirus pandemic we started to see an increase as a result of the depressed economic conditions. He says many vehicle owners have opted for extended warranties and have to comply with the compulsory service intervals outlined in their policy guidelines at an accredited MIWA workshop. Research from TransUnion indicates that consumers are definitely opting for older vehicles as pressure on disposable income increases.
For now Niemand says, the repair of comfort features or sale and installation of non-essential accessories is still not permitted but again, once the market opens up again he predicts a definite increase, particularly in parts and accessories.
Commenting on the safety aspect of the workshops, Niemand says MIWA is satisfied that all its accredited businesses are compliant with required health and safety protocols. Motor vehicle repair is a very low-risk-of-transmission environment. Workshop premises are large and airy. A typical work bay for a vehicle repair is 4 x 7 meters, minimum is 3 x 6 meters. In most workshops one work bay is limited to one technician, so a distance between employees of two meters can easily be implemented with compulsory face masks and gloves. Motor technicians also constantly work with oily and greasy hands and are used to not touching their faces before washing hands.
The contact between customers is minimal compared to retail industries. Typically, five to 20 customers drop-of their vehicles in a period of about two hours. Customers do not need to have direct contact with staff at all. Documents can be prepared at a drop-of station and all communication done electronically.
“Many of our workshops introduced strict hygiene measures before the lockdown. The vehicles are disinfected before entering the workshop and again before being returned to the customer. The same applies to keys so we are confident we can minimise any risk,” he concludes.