Auto dealers fear some won’t survive lockdown measures

Bahamian auto dealers said yesterday they fear some of their businesses may “fold in” if the government’s emergency lockdown measures persist much longer.

Vice President of the Bahamas Motor Dealers Association (BMDA) and General Manager of Bahamas Bus and Truck Ben Albury said while most companies in the industry operate conservatively, without consistent revenue, the industry will seize up.

“If this continues to go for a long period time, I think you will see a number of motor dealerships fold and possibly other businesses that are related to them,” he told Guardian Business yesterday.

Albury said motor dealerships, as well as vehicle parts and service companies, are losing millions of dollars because of the lockdown. He said they should be considered essential operations and remain open.

“In a lot of countries, automobile dealerships as well as service centers and parts centers have remained open throughout this, unless obviously if there is a lockdown, because they are considered to be an essential service. People that are essential need their cars repaired, they need their parts. I had people whose vehicles came into my service department prior to this happening and we checked their vehicles and were repairing them and then they shut us down. That may have been their only means of transportation,” he said.

“You may have doctors or nurses, at BPL (Bahamas Power and Light) or any number of entities who may experience difficulty with their vehicles and would need to get them up and running as quickly as possible. Also, people have been contacting me wanting to buy vehicles. When buying a vehicle it is very easy to practice social distancing and to service cars, there’s no need for people to come in contact with our mechanics. We can do curbside pick up, we can do emailed orders, there are a lot of ways that I think our business can function safely.”

Last month, Dwayne Higgs, the general manager of Whim Automotive – which is a member of BMDA – told Guardian Business he tried with no success to get approval from the government to allow his company to continue to sell auto parts through its fully operational e-commerce system, which would allow customers to purchase parts online and pick up their items using a drive-through operation.

Albury said he has heard similar stories from other BMDA members.

“As the BMDA, we have not had any correspondence with the government, but it is something that we’re looking to do in the near future. There are some members of the BMDA that have told us they have sent numerous emails and called and the response has been nothing. I know the government is probably overwhelmed, but I think this is a discussion that needs to take place,” he said.

“I’m hoping that this week we can reach out as a group to the government and begin some sort of dialogue about how we can do this safely and how we can still offer service to people who may be in desperate need of it. I think it’s probably a discussion the government will want to have. The sector does employ a lot of people. We’ve seen unemployment is growing rapidly and I think the government can also benefit from the revenue from transactions.

“Millions of dollars have been lost. I know that some of the auto dealers are trying to hold onto as many employees as they can. I know some are going to be taking advantage of the NIB (National Insurance Board) program, where they can lay people off temporarily in order to save the company’s cash flow, with the intention of rehiring them once we’re allowed to reopen. And I think some will take advantage of the Ministry of Finance’s program where you can continue to pay your staff and receive a credit.”

Albury said until the association is able to meet with the government, members will meet regularly, virtually, to determine the best moves going forward.

“I think the prime minister did allude that he is interested in getting the economy back up and running as safely and quickly as possible, which for me as a businessman was very encouraging to hear,” he said.

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