Monday, June 1Serving the aftermarket
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Coronavirus and the aftermarket

As the world continues to struggle with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the automotive industry, in particular the aftermarket, could find itself slowing down for some time, even after the outbreak eases.

The global pandemic began in one of China’s busiest manufacturing hubs, and spread throughout a country that is synonymous with producing many of the parts the aftermarket relies on. However, now it is spreading through Europe, even more factories could face closure for prolonged periods, hampering supply chains around the world. When these factories do open again, it is likely that those who produce components for both OEM and the aftermarket, will focus more on getting carmakers stocked up before the factor shelves.

British spirit

While the situation is constantly changing, numerous garages around the country are stepping up and offering new services, including collecting vehicles for those who are self-isolating. 

This is a great idea, and allows businesses to stay open, however, these garages are also ensuring staff remain safe, by mandating the wearing of gloves and the use of seat and steering wheel covers. 

Some garages are going even further. RK Automotive in Tamworth has put measures in place to help out the local community, while also looking at how it can remain stable during these uncertain times.

“We have been networking with a lot of local businesses, especially as some are devastated with events being cancelled and staff off, says Roy Bickley, Director at the garage. “With support from the local authority, we have set up a help and support group for all effected. 

“Things seem to be changing hourly and we are already seeing lower footfall and enquiries, and even cancellations. From Wednesday we have offered to collect customers cars repair as necessary and return the car fully sanitised to make sure we retain customers. I’ve also spent time doing cash forecasts for the next three months to see what we can cut out or defer, all but the essentials. We are emailing all suppliers to ask for a deferral on payments to ensure we survive during this period.

That garage is also doing its best to keep those on the front line moving as well.  “In an effort to support the people who are doing their utmost for the sick and elderly, we have decided to offer a free MOT and health check at our costs to try to do our bit,” adds Roy. “The British spirit is alive and well in Tamworth.”

Managing strategy

Business must continue during the COVID-19 outbreak, and PR agency Impression Communications is doing its bit to help. The company is holding ‘crisis communication surgeries’ and has equipped many of its clients with the tools necessary to communicate with both employees and customers, while investing in extra resources. 

The surgeries will be open from 8am to 9am daily, including weekends. Those interested simply need to post a question on any of Impression’s social media feeds below or contact Mark Field, Impression Communications Director, on email mark@impressioncommunications.co.uk

“We’ve been speaking to many businesses in the automotive aftermarket including garages, motor factors and suppliers and advising them of how best to communicate during this very difficult time,” states Mark. “We have a responsibility as an experienced automotive PR agency to open this up to the wider industry as these surgeries will offer useful advice and tips to any business that needs them.”  

Industry advice

Meanwhile, the Independent Garage Association (IGA) has continued to keep garages aware of best practices during this time, with detailed advice on its website. The organisation has put together a list of useful links covering Government advice, awareness of scams, posters for the workplace, HR documentation and other information that businesses may find useful 

“Whilst the COVID-19 coronavirus is new and therefore represents an unknown, the UK population regularly deals with the Cold and Flu virus at this time of year; both of which can cause similar symptoms,” the organisation states.”

Tyre safety

COVID-19 has hit a number of production facilities in China, and the tyre market is likely to see a slowdown in the supply of cheaper-branded tyres in the coming weeks, and potentially months. 

However, TyreSafe warns that this could push drivers looking for cheaper rubber into the part worn market, and is urging them to consider the safety implications of doing so. Garages too can play a part in this education, so it is vital to be aware of a customer’s decisions when asking about tyre prices.

“Low-cost new tyres have become a popular choice in the UK for drivers on a budget and sales run into the millions each year,” toe organisation said. “The vast majority of these are imported into the country from China and across South East Asia where the outbreak of COVID-19 has led to governments closing facilities such as schools and factories to limit the spread.”

Business closures

Bosch, Continental, Brembo and Denso are just some of the aftermarket companies closing production lines, to safeguard their workers as the situation in Europe grows worse. 

With social distancing measures in place, a number of businesses are also scaling back their customer visits, with Denso announcing that sales and technical staff will not be on the road, although phone services are continuing.

“With recent World Health Organisation and Government announcements, it is clear that the COVID-19 situation is set to have a profound impact on everyday life in the UK and Ireland, as well as across the globe in the short to medium-term at least,” said a spokesperson from Denso.

“We would like to extend our thoughts to anyone affected by this pandemic. Whilst we are determined to protect our own staff and mitigate the risk of contracting the virus as much as possible, we have always prioritised customer support at Denso Aftermarket and will continue to do so in these uncertain times.”