FOREIGN used car sales have taken a hit since the arrival of Covid-19 and Government’s stay-at-home orders, but instead of folding, dealers have found that a customer-centred approach and new products have kept their doors open.
The industry consists of 500 registered dealers and supports thousands in the satellite businesses such as mechanics, car-detailers and those newly trained to service both hybrid and fully electric cars, according to President of the Used Car Dealers Association, Visham Babwah.
The Express visited Bamboo Settlement # 2 last Friday and spoke to managers and their employees who all reported a drastic decline in demand for all types of cars since mid-March.
Bamboo # 2 which is usually busy on a Friday had an almost 50 per cent drop in traffic with some businesses reporting that a good day in September last year netted almost $35,000 in sales while a good day this year has dwindled to $18,000.
There have also been changes to the infrastructure of these stores.
At Bobby’s Motor Supplies, the customer area has been refurbished with softer lighting and more space , allowing buyers of parts and accessories to be separated.
They were doing a brisk trade that day but compared to last year when customers had to shout over each other to get the attention of a sales clerk, the experience was much calmer as there was simply half the number of customers.
Sales of cars stall
At another dealership which specialises in Subaru parts, manager Gobin Mahadeo said, “The sales of cars halted since the whole advent of Covid. People are now holding on to their cars and servicing them and we have had that increase in customers, but there are problems in getting parts consistently due to the unavailability of foreign exchange”.
Mahadeo added there have been challenges with Japanese suppliers because they are on lock-downs too.
He explained that to keep their existing customer base happy, they are offering courtesy cars while their own is being repaired . They also follow up with calls to their clients to ensure that even weeks after a service their cars are still functioning properly.
Mahadeo however lamented, “If we had fifty per cent of the kind of business we had last yea,r we consider that we are doing okay”.
He added, “We have also had to cut staff but the ones who remained are those who have families and on so on and they now have to multi-task compared to last year,” he said.
At another business opposite Bobby’s the faces were grim.
“Since this morning there has been approximately $500 in sales, whereas last year on a Friday we would have already sold $2000 to $3000 in parts by midday,” said one employee who didn’t want to be named.
A cashier who sat behind him showed the receipts from that morning with a tally of $450.
Exempt hybrid vehicles
“After the lock-down things were not like before,” said Babwah.
He explained that “With industries such as AcelorMittal and Petrotrin closing down, this was already a big blow to us but Covid-19 got us to the bottom of the pit”.
He admitted however that the upcoming budget had caused a slight spike in sales as those in the market for a new or used car would want to purchase now in case prices go up after the budget is read.
He lamented that after the budget is read, this spike will disappear.
Babwah also explained that since the end of March this year when the PDZ series came out, to date there are just over 5,000 registered vehicles both new and foreign used. He said this represents\ a 45 per cent drop in the industry compared with between March and September last year.
Babwah proposed that Government keep hybrid vehicles exempt from taxes as this represents a lifeline to their industry.
“A hybrid car costs more to manufacture but people have lost their jobs and have less spending power so more citizens have become conscious of the fuel savings with a hybrid as gas consumption goes down to 30 per cent,” he said.