Car and truck dealers say their sector must be allowed to return to work as quickly as possible to prevent the loss of jobs and businesses.

The government has been asked to allow vehicle manufacturers to resume production of export vehicles to prevent overseas competitors from taking over their orders and protect companies in  the local components supply chain.

However, Mark Dommisse, National Automobile Dealers Association chair,  says dealers also have a role to play — not just in providing a retail outlet for manufacturers but also in repairing vehicles and keeping SA’s transport sector moving.

“The motor industry plays a critical role in getting people, and products and services to market. It is therefore imperative that dealerships be among the first businesses to commence work when lockdown restrictions are eased,” he says.

There’s also the importance of saving jobs and investments. SA's 1,600 franchised new-vehicle dealers employ 60,000 people and have about R48bn in investments.

Combined Motor Holdings CEO Jebb McIntosh says dealers’ financial liabilities are mounting daily during the lockdown. Most have millions of rand locked up in stock and continue to pay salaries to staff and rentals to landlords. With no income, cash resources are being drained.

“Every day this continues means an increase in the number of dealerships that will never open their doors again, and a greater number of retrenchments at dealers that do open,” he says.

Dealers argue they are well-equipped to implement Covid-19 infection-control measures.

“Dealerships generally have low footfall and spacious facilities — positive factors to consider in ensuring effective social distancing and mitigating the risk of virus transmission. Appointment scheduling and access-control measures, which were largely in place before the crisis, can ensure the total number of people within facilities is monitored and controlled,” says Dommisse.