IF YOU’VE been paying close attention to the recent deluge of auto news online, beyond the heartening work that many brands are doing amid the quarantine — this clichéd “new normal” that’s anything but — you would have noticed that a number of marques are bracing to open shop as soon as the government gives the thumbs-up. It has indeed happened in a number of areas now under the less severe, so-called “general community quarantine (GCQ).”
For the rest of us still under lock and key, the light at the end of the tunnel is appearing once more. Though the chance for a renewed extension remains very real, business surely can’t wait to get in gear.
As we’ve discussed in this section over the course of the past weeks under lockdown, the auto sector (just like other industries) has been hemorrhaging. Once bustling showrooms and service centers have been rendered into ghost towns, minus the tumbleweed. And really, did we even have the opportunity to rejoice and savor pump prices in free fall because, well, when was the last time you even got behind the wheel — much less had the need to gas up?
But there’s no time to get down on ourselves. Rather, we need to use the time that we’ve got plenty of these days to engage in positivity and apply ourselves on what we can change and improve. That COVID-19 virus is not going away soon, or even next year. So, in the absence of a vaccine, we have to work around it, and apply ourselves toward making sense of that much-ballyhooed “new normal.” Thumbing our noses at the virus and going in denial is not going to help in any way — unless we want more of us to get sick and die.
Last Tuesday, automotive portals Carmudi Philippines and Zigwheels Philippines presented a webinar predicated on the findings of third-party business analytics, research, and advisory firm Praxis Global Alliance. “Preparing for a Post-COVID Future: Impact on Car Buyers” attempted to divine the future of the Philippine automotive scene by looking at the effects of the pandemic, considered by many to be a “black swan” event. The theory developed by essayist, scholar, and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to a high-profile yet improbable occurrence — and pandemics obviously fit this description. The webinar ascertained the “economic shock” on the business environment, and looked at the business indicators in China to reckon what lessons or similar trajectory we can expect here. Praxis also interviewed close to half-a-thousand Filipinos looking at buying a vehicle, whether brand-new or used.
Among the findings is that people are now, more than ever, keen on doing digital transactions — from browsing and even buying vehicles. To be clear, this does not sound a death knell for brick-and-mortar dealerships, but this new reality does ask them to take a long hard look at how they should conduct business in this time of COVID-19.
I posed a number of questions to dealer principal Vincent Licup, who is involved with the following brands (in alphabetical order): Chery, Chevy, Foton, MG, and Nissan. He expressed confidence in the industry being able to bounce back. Interestingly, Mr. Licup reported that, contrary to logical assumptions, there were vehicle sales completed during the lockdown period utilizing online channels. Yes, not all has been gloom and doom. “One dealer group even reported almost 4,000 applications online for 50 days,” he shared.
Here’s our exchange with Mr. Licup.
TALK BOX: How will the showroom experience change in dealerships?
Vincent Licup: Showroom visits will be by appointment. Norms like temperature checking, disinfecting, and the wearing of face masks will be strictly followed.
Will there still be room for sales associates?
We are looking at one group on duty per day. Those who are not on duty will work from home online.
Aside from the obvious option to browse online or digitally, how can potential customers choose or examine vehicles?
We recently pioneered a demo through Facebook live featuring one of our dealerships. It garnered 30,000 views in five hours, with 600 inquiries.
What if they want to test-drive?
This will also be for appointment, and with social distancing. We recommend a maximum of three people in the vehicle, including our representative.
How will a typical customer lounge look like?
It’s going to be the same, but there will be disinfectants/sanitizers in every corner. We obviously have to limit the number of people there as well.
Do you see a change in the layout of a typical dealership?
In the future, yes. I think boutique dealerships will be the norm.
How are you aiming to redefine traditional car displays in places like malls?
This is a bitter pill we have to swallow. There will no longer be mall displays until the antivirus or vaccine is developed. We’re looking at rolling out FB live features and YouTube channel demos, at least for our dealer group.
How will vehicle marketing evolve in this new normal?
One hundred percent of it will be done online.
When people go for their PMS or any service for that matter, what changes can they expect — aside from having to schedule an appointment in advance to manage traffic?
We’re even anticipating payments to be done online — through PayPal, GCash, and other gateways. And while we’re promoting physical distancing, customers don’t have to feel like they’re out of touch. We will be installing a CCTV camera in each repair bay so they can monitor the work done on their car from the comforts of their home via an app. Speaking of repair bays, the Philippine Automotive Dealers Association is also suggesting to keep adjacent repair bays vacant for proper distancing of our technicians. There will be one technician per bay as well.
As far as staffing goes, we see that under GCQ, government is mandating that industries or establishments work on skeleton force or even 50% complement. What does that mean for the dealership work force?
As much as possible, we want to keep our existing work force intact. We look at it as another CSR (corporate social responsibility) effort. One idea is to have a three- or even four-tier dismissal time: 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.