New Zealand has been on a state of emergency and full ‘Level 4’ lockdown for the past month. The latter was announced on 25th March to combat the novel coronavirus that has had severe effects on all fronts - socially, economically, and politically. The level 4 lockdown meant most auto dealerships were effectively shut down. Only those providing auto parts and servicing for vehicle owners working essential services were exempted.
Level 4 Lockdown
David Crawford, CEO of the NZ Motor Industry Association, confirmed that the automotive industry was in favour of these new measures. He also spoke of how cooperative the new vehicle distributors and dealerships had been in ensuring non-essential service remained closed.
“There is little appetite from the public for businesses to try and find reasons to stay open at this time. Pleas from businesses to stay open are met with disbelief and come across as self-serving money before safety. The only credible response is to shut down as much as possible,” added Mr. Crawford.
When he was asked if dealership should be open to supply parts and do repairs, he answered that dealers are expected to close shop but should be available on-call to provide service when needed during the Alert 4 period.
On the sale of new cars, Crawford declared that the sale of new vehicles wasn't allowed unless it was by those involved in essential services. He also made it clear that it was too early to discuss the possibility of a permanent shutdown of dealerships across the country. He went on to say that there was no indication of an extension of the 'Alert Level 4 – Eliminate' strategy, which was set for four weeks.
There has been some ambiguity regarding the whole level 4 lockdown in terms of what activities are prohibited and allowed. The NZ government recently shone some light on the situation through the regularly updated ministry of transport website.
Explaining the necessity of the full lockdown, he had this to say, “It is clear that if we are to stop the virus in its tracks, then we need to take strong and decisive action. The expectation is all services will close unless there is a clear and demonstrable need to keep vehicles operational for the delivery of essential services. The Motor Industry Association, along with the Motor Trade Association, endorses the government’s position that New Zealand needs to shut down to save lives.”
He also asked for the public’s understanding if requests for repair or service of vehicles would be declined.
New Zealand's PM, Jacinda Ardern, insisted that the situation called for such measures. She was firm in her statement saying, "Unlike so many other gravely inundated countries, we have a window of opportunity to stay home, break the chain of transmission, and save lives; it's that simple."
Moving to Level 3 Lockdown
After four weeks of level 4 lockdown, the NZ government eased things a little bit by moving to Alert Level 3 earlier this week. David Crawford confirmed that new vehicle distributors and dealerships could begin re-opening.
He made it clear that operating at Level 3 in the context of the COVID-19 crisis is definitely not business as usual. While the new alert level allows some establishment to open, it requires that they operate in a contactless manner to ensure that the workplace is safe from the virus.
He warned that operation resumption should be carried out carefully to avoid worsening the situation. The message emphasised non-contact operation, distancing, and necessary sanitation.
In terms of imports, the NZ automotive sector commands a large part of the country’s economy and is a serious contributor to the country’s GDP. It lies second behind the importation of oil. That being the case, the move to allow these businesses to resume operations will help the country’s economy recover slowly.
Crawford also pointed out that some requests may not be sorted until more restrictions are lifted. Car owners that are not in dire need of servicing and repairs, for instance, will have to wait a little bit longer and give way to those with a more urgent need for services.
Many in the industry are pleased with this move to ease down the lockdown a bit. Ross Hill, who owns BookMyCar - an online mechanical booking service said, "I am glad that the MIA has responded to Level 3 by clearly endorsing contactless servicing and the opening up of car repair workshops." His view represents the majority of those in the automotive sector.
He expressed his gratitude to people who have “gritted their teeth and kept going” such as supermarket workers, cleaners, nurses and doctors.
After the announcement, some distributors followed by confirming that they would be resuming operations. A statement from Hyundai NZ spokesperson read, "Customers will not be able to visit the inside of our dealerships, but we will have a range of pick-up and drop-off options, both at the dealership and at your home.”
They also announced that with the aid of video call technologies, customers would be able to familiarise with their car of choice before going for a test drive.
Others that have since announced re-opening their doors include Renault, Toyota, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, and Subaru.
Who is open under this lockdown condition?
According to Driven, here are the automotive companies and dealers that are in operation. Note that the level of activity for each may differ.
- Autolink Cars Ltd
- GVI Electric
- GVI Tauranga
- John Andrew Ford
- John Andrew Mazda
- Macdonald Halligan Motors Ltd
- Motor Co Ltd
- Tyre City
- West Auckland Nissan
We do hope that the situation gets better, not only in New Zealand but also in the rest of the world. Stay tuned to our site for more updates on the COVID-19 status and other news.
By Sam O.