OPINION | Digital purchases are easy, but it should not be an alternative to dealerships

Ford Ranger bakkies heading off to a dealership (QuickPic)
Ford Ranger bakkies heading off to a dealership (QuickPic)

• New vehicle sales are picking up slowly in South Africa.

• Dealerships that are experiencing success should not rest on their laurels.

• Businesses need to adapt to changing economic conditions.

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The South African retail motor industry is getting to grips with the 'new normal' after a demanding and challenging trading period through the heavy stages of lockdown.

Most dealerships have right-sized and tightened financial controls over the past six months to counter the downturn in vehicle sales, service appointments and parts sales. If a dealer is not at least breaking even at this stage, heading into the last quarter of the year, then its management must act quickly with remedial action.

new car,new vehicle sales,new car sales

(Mohssen Assanimoghaddam / Getty Images)

Management must act quickly

The term 'Retail Darwinism' is appropriate now more than ever. If we take a page out of the book on evolutionary theory and apply it to business, it is survival of the fittest at the moment. Businesses need to adapt and evolve in the changing climate to survive.

It's really tough out there, and industry can't bob and weave its way out of trouble at this stage. We must face the challenges head-on. I think of it as being in the relegation zone in the English Premier League; you don't want to be there, but if you are, then you better quickly make a concrete action plan to step-up and get out of the danger zone.

Even if dealers are making some profit, this is not the time to rest on laurels. There is still worrying economic news on the horizon including a shrinking car parc with relatively few sales to rental companies and a slow wave of unemployment in the middle class, which makes up an essential component of our customer bases. Hopefully, operating in Level 1 of the lockdown, some of the retrenchment flow will be stemmed.

The lessons learned from lockdown are resulting in changes being made in the way dealers do business, but some of the headlines during the lockdown period were somewhat over-zealous, stating that South African dealer models are old-fashioned and not keeping up with the times. It's important not to let trends in global markets influence expectations in a uniquely South African environment. 

Digital channels have and will continue to grow as convenient communication and engagement tools, but should not be considered an alternative to personal interactions at physical dealerships.

Taking ownership of a new car (iStock)

Dealerships still needed

The bottom line is that in South Africa, the final stages of a transaction should be facilitated through a dealership together with a Sales Executive and qualified F&I Manager. The personal factor remains essential, particularly when arranging trade-ins and selling used cars. Motor dealerships are still best for providing ideal trading environments for customers, and this well-proven approach won't change drastically any time soon. 

Our ongoing commitment to maintaining strict safety and hygiene protocols at our dealerships in efforts to keep the disease at bay, goes without question. Our members are fanatical in the way they operate their dealerships to ensure that the OHS protocols are firmly in place, at all times.

NADA's focus going forward in the medium term will be on several significant issues, including the critical issue of transformation, which is being led by the recently appointed National vice-chairperson of the organisation, Marcia Mayaba, CEO of Barloworld Motor Retail. The Association will also continue to work extremely hard to enhance and build on the good relationships that have been fostered with key industry stakeholders in various governmental departments over the past seven months.

I have full confidence in our members' ability to adapt to the changes we are all being forced to make under the 'new normal', particularly in terms of making far more use of digital methodology, while still maintaining personal relationships with our customer base.

Mark Dommisse

Mark Dommisse is the chairman of the National Automobile Dealers' Association (NADA).

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