Its such a drastic, hopeless situation that now is the time to call it a day, declare defeat, and shut up the garage for good. It feels like all your customers have abandoned their cars on the side of the road, like some kind of derelict highway scene from a zombie movie. It was going to be tough enough in the face of forthcoming prohibition of petrol & diesel vehicle sales, but now coronavirus has sent shockwaves across the entire automotive industry. What was the true extent of our apocalyptic-scale stoppage of vehicle usage? And how do we get on the road again?
We have all seen the pictures of city pollution dissipating and revealing sights not seen for decades, such as the ability to see the Himalayas in India for the first time. Travel by road & by air dropped like a stone practically overnight. Reports show inner city congestion which normally fluctuated between 60-70% in 2019 has been more like 10-20% since late March*. Traffic passing through tolls in some European countries dropped to as low as -81% in Italy, -83% in France, and -85% in Spain at their worst compared to their equivalent week in 2019^.
While it is an obvious conclusion that of course, cars will not have been driving around as a state lockdown has rolled across nearly every country on the planet, it is imperative that we draw some conclusions from the data we have. We can understand that, at best case scenario, only 30-40% of vehicles have been in operation. It is no wonder that our customers reported a drop to 40% or less of normal expected volume through the workshop**.
It also is likely that people won’t have been spending money on the ones that were still in use, in the form of basic servicing or non-urgent repairs, unless they absolutely had to. The conditions which are creating such a turbulent time for workshops are complex.
Understanding its true scale is important so we can acknowledge the impact on businesses, in order for them to get the support they need, and to understand what the outlook is from here.
No Movement, No Good
It’s imperative to know the impact on vehicles which haven’t been operational, not just from business survival viewpoint, but to know the scale of the opportunity that awaits. It doesn’t do a vehicle any good to not move. “Cars are made to be driven” isn’t just the mantra of the car fanatic, it’s a factual statement. Any machine with moving parts that suddenly becomes static for a longer time than usual will have problems and the same is true for a car.
There are some circumstances where this might be done on purpose, for instance keeping a classic car off road (sometimes referred to as ‘laying up’) and it is possible for a car to not move for an extended period of time.
However, in these situations there will have been some preparation of the vehicle before it becomes stationary to minimise problems later and it also has checks and services done afterwards to make sure it is roadworthy again.
Recovery in Sight
There is some hope in sight. By looking at multiple traffic data sources you can see a trend beginning to appear. There was definitely a time period in this coronavirus outbreak that saw the ‘peak’ of the loss of travel in many countries, all around the same time at the end of March and beginning of April approximately.
It is possible to conclude that the ‘peak’ of movement restrictions has passed and all these traffic trackers are now also showing consistent recovery beginning to build incrementally across recent weeks.
Believe us; we are definitely not looking at this data with rose tinted glasses. Vehicular travel is not recovered to pre covid-19 levels and it is clear from the statistics that it won’t be recovering as fast as it disappeared. However, it is possible to say that recovery is on its way based on the data available.
Knowing the scale of and rate of recovery is vital as workshops & garages can begin to anticipate the upcoming needs of these vehicles.
In this instance, it is not likely that anyone was able to do comprehensive off-road preparation for a pandemic. Now that vehicle movement is on the cautious but steady rise, it is likely that vehicle owners will now be discovering any problems that may have developed in this time. From battery drainage, wheel & tyre damage, brake seizing, to fluid leaks & corrosions, and rubber deterioration the negative effects on a vehicle from sitting stationary are very real.
This is a fantastic opportunity for the garage to provide essential services for their customers, play a central role in the rebuilding of our communities, and begin on the crucial road to recovery that businesses everywhere are desperate for.
*TomTom Traffic Data 22.05.20. ^Atlantia GroupData, May 2020.** Hartridge customer questionnaire May 2020.