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When you go out on essential errands like buying food at the grocery or supermarket, medicines at the drugstores, or driving your healthcare frontliner relative to the hospital or clinic, you bring a private car. Now that public transport has been suspended due to government’s enforcement of the enhanced community quarantine, anyone who needs to go out has to bring his or her own vehicle.

Therefore, cars are an essential means of performing essential services. And by extension, car servicing by dealerships should also be considered essential, right?

Apparently, the ones in authority, and those who control who or what gets out on the streets nowadays, have a different view. Dealership services are still classified as non-essential, and therefore not allowed to operate during the enhanced community quarantine period.

In an April 16, 2020 letter of appeal by the Philippine Automotive Dealers Association (Pada) to the Department of Trade and Industry’s Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, the group of “more than 200 auto dealerships across the country” asked DTI to allow them “to open on or before April 20 on a limited engagement”. PADA further wrote: “Our main objective is to ensure that private transport are maintained and readily available for use in emergency situations and purchasing essential needs.”

Inquirer Motoring tried to reach Lopez since this Monday to ask for his statement, but have not received a reply as of presstime.

Pada’s appeal was signed by its president Willy Tee Ten and directors Paul Ching, Cosco Oben, Tey Sornet, Ray Jarina, Lisset Laus-Velasco and Johnny Fetalvero and copy furnished to the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. (Campi) president Rommel Gutierrez and Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors Inc. (Avid) president Fe Perez Agudo.

Tee Ten told Inquirer Motoring yesterday: “DTI acknowledged that they received it, but we are still waiting for the response.”

He added: “Since there are vehicles on the roads for various purposes, we believe these vehicles need servicing and maintenance, that’s why we are requesting the government to allow us to operate even with skeleton workforce. Our people need to feed their families also.”

Gutierrez told Inquirer Motoring that his group “supports” Pada’s appeal.

Department of Transportation consultant Alberto Suansing told Inquirer Motoring: “This is more of a trade matter. If Pada members are allowed to operate, their category (casa/vehicle servicing) should be essential. They should also furnish a copy to IATF.

“But, PADA is right, that it has to be referred to DTI. Although it involves transport, it should fall under DTI. For instance, shopping malls, groceries, medicines are essential. Pada has to prove casa/car servicing is essential as transportation is needed in activities to purchase food, medicines, groceries. Right now, car servicing is classified as non-essential,” said Suansing.

In part, Pada’s letter to DTI goes: “On a skeletal work force basis we will render aftersales services on a ‘by appointment’ and ‘limited’ engagement only: Skeletal Force Attendance (50 percent of service staff will be reporting on a rotation basis); workday utilization (each technician will work one bay apart to ensure physical distancing); strict sanitation (ensure high traffic customer areas are regularly sanitized by using disinfectants, application of protective material to the vehicle including seating and steering wheel cover, use of disposable gloves and proper protective gear by service team and technicians, use of disinfectants to thoroughly wipe interior and exterior vehicle component surfaces); customer protection (all customers will be required to wear a mask, screened for body temperature, and will be provided with hand sanitizers placed in strategic locations in the customer areas. All reception areas will have a clear plastic divider between the customers and service advisors).”

Pada further pointed out: “During the Extended Quarantine Period, we have received several calls for emergency repairs on cars and trucks used by our customers for their personal use (grocery and marketing), work (frontliners), to be used on the conduct of their business. However, we need to decline their repair request in respect to government mandated lockdown. After several online group meetings, we decided to file this appeal…with the objective of ensuring that private transport were well maintained and readily available for use in emergency situations, purchasing essential needs and upon lifting of the ECQ.”

US, Thailand, Singapore in opposing views

In the United States, auto sales are added to US guidelines on essential workers. In a Bloomberg story dated April 18, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency was quoted as saying that “workers critical to the manufacturing, distribution, sales, rental, leasing, repair and maintenance of vehicles and other transportation equipment are essential.” The story said that “electric-vehicle charging stations and supply chains that enable auto operations to help essential workers travel are included.”

The story added that “updated guidelines are a win for dealers that lobbied the White House after initial guidelines the agency released in mid-March listed vehicle and supply manufacturing, maintenance, and repair facilities as essential but didn’t reference vehicle sales or leasing operations. The agency added car rental and leasing employees on March 28.”

Quoted in a March 18 Forbes.com article is a March 17 letter of the National Automobile Dealers Association and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represent  automakers. The letter is addressed to US President Donald Trump, and other officials. It partly reads: “Given the importance of safe transportation in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, we have an obligation to ensure that motor vehicles remain safe and are properly maintained.”

A source from Thailand says that dealers in the country are open, although sales and service bookings are low. Dealers are given option to close if they are losing in terms of operational expenses. A source in Singapore says that all car dealers are not classified as essential services and none of the car dealerships are allowed to open during the lockdown period.

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