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How the Covid-19 pandemic has affected auto industry leaders

The Covid-19 pandemic will most likely go down in history as among the most life-altering global events in modern times, on level with the two world wars and the Spanish Flu pandemic. Such events leave a deep impact on virtually every individual on the face of the earth, at any age and at any social stratum, and carries over to future generations.

The pandemic’s initial—and recurring—consequence has been the lockdown or quarantining of wide swaths of the socioeconomic spectrum, virtually paralyzing all but essential transport activities. With this in mind, how have automotive industry leaders been affected by this ongoing pandemic, already two years running? Inquirer Motoring asked industry movers and shakers to share with us the most important lessons they’ve learned, and how this would influence their leadership decisions moving forward.

MOBILITY IS (STILL) ESSENTIAL

By Alfred V. Ty, Toyota Motor Philippines chairman

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been—and continues to be—a very rich source of learning and reflection. Being an unprecedented health crisis of untold proportions in modern history, it will be imprudent for us to ignore the lessons and insights that the past nearly two years have taught us.

1. My single biggest takeaway from the past 21 months is: Mobility is essential. When we entered hard lockdown for the first time in March last year, it was painfully evident that mobility was severely impaired. As a result, the capacity of first responders to contain the spread of the virus and provide timely treatment was adversely impacted. It was painful to see our essential workers having to cycle, scooter or even walk tens of kilometers to report for duty or return home after extended shifts. This motivated us to offer our fleet of vehicles for use by hospitals and local government units. We also donated 30 Vios units to the Department of Health to augment their mobility. As we reopen the economy, it is also abundantly clear that mobility is at the center of moving Filipinos back to work, to destinations and back to their lives. There can be no economic recovery without mobility.

2. Another revelation that was amplified beyond anything I have seen before was how the Filipino spirit of bayanihan and malasakit immediately came to fore and spread even more rapidly than the virus itself. Concern for others and offers of help came from everywhere and everyone. It was truly heart-touching to see Filipinos reach out and close ranks as only family can. This really inspires confidence in me that we will get through the worst of the pandemic—together. And I am even more confident that we can rebuild quickly as we emerge from this crisis. Indeed, we can count on each other.

3. I also realize more than ever that people are more resilient than we think they are. In the beginning, fear and panic prevailed. In a short time, however, we took a very sober look at our circumstances and understood that this was going to be a long battle with Covid. Quickly, we started to adapt and embrace the new realities that we needed to contend with. Fear and panic gave way to caring and sharing—for each other, our families and the organizations we belonged to. I would like to commend all the team members of Team TMP in this regard. They cast aside their fears and focused on the job at hand—preserving the plant facilities when it had to shut down, reaching out to all team members to assure them of each other’s help and the company’s support, restoring production when quarantine was eased—even producing masks when utilization of capacity was still low. Our dealers kept in touch with customers to reassure them of our service and their safety in the midst of all the uncertainty. In turn, our efforts were rewarded by our customers with their renewed support and very much valued patronage as businesses started to open their doors again.

4. The last two years were filled with lots of ups and downs as the government and the nation struggled to make sense of the pandemic. There is no playbook to work from; we have to write it from day to day. The biggest struggle is to find the very delicate balance between lives and livelihood. I now understand that they are two sides of the same coin and that it should not be a choice between one and the other. We can—and did—find a way of allowing lives and livelihood to co-exist. One without the other is not an option; they are inextricably bound. During the entire crisis, TMP did not lay off a single team member. In fact, within three months of resuming plant operations, we hired around 300 more workers to restore two-shift operations.

5. Finally, I learned that surviving a crisis has no significance if we lose sight of the better days that lie ahead. During this whole pandemic period, I am amazed at the amount of positive energy that flows from government, business, employees, friends and family. Expectancy of emerging from this crisis better and stronger than when it started is what drives people. Despite all the uncertainty, we kept strong and launched five new or refreshed models to the market, anticipating the eventual return of mobility demands. We also pivoted to digital initiatives in line with customers’ needs. And we even opened new dealers to enhance our ability to better serve customers when they return. Having said that, I am also humbled by the need to learn our lessons very well and assure our preparedness for that next crisis. Ultimately, this is what will make this whole unfortunate Covid episode truly meaningful.”

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