Automobiles in the Time of COVID

Our village has become a community of sellers since the start of the pandemic. My neighbors have become online entrepreneurs overnight which is a welcome development as it has allowed many residents to stay home and do their marketing, mostly of food items, online. Imagine my surprise when I came across an ad on our village FB listings that offers cars for sale on a buy-one, take one promo. This was into the third month of the ECQ lockdown and it was also around this time that several dealers of a well-known car brand have been reported to close shop for good. It was one of those signs that the auto industry, like all other businesses, have been pummeled by this pandemic

                Yes, the automobile industry is in crisis. According to Karl Magsuci, head of Autos of Carousell Philippines, in the ASEAN automotive market, “Carmakers have significantly cut their projections as the corona virus stifled demand for automotive products. Thailand, ASEAN’s automotive hub, being the largest carmaker in the region, projects a minimum decline of 33% and a worst-case projection of 50% decline vs. the previous year.” In the Philippines,  the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of Philippines, Inc (CAMPI) and Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors (AVID) are forecasting a 30-40% drop in overall sales of new vehicles by the end of the year,” Magsuci adds.  

                But despite this bleak forecast, we all know that mobility, even in a pandemic, is something that we cannot do without. The lack of efficient public transportation and now, as we return to MECQ, restrictions  have once again been  placed by the authorities on the mode of transportation for the public. As experienced during the initial phase of the lockdown, it has magnified the role that the automobile plays as the country struggles and hopefully, builds back our institutions after this pandemic. Private vehicles are not only a vital means of transport for many people to get to their places of destination but also provide some measure of health safety for those who have to go out either for work or for essential errands. Magsuci, in fact, noted that there has been a 64 percent increase in search activity in the Carousell site’s automotive category. 

                And there is room for optimism according to AllCars owner James Ugarte whose company’s sales performance has also risen dramatically as the country eased into GCQ last June. “The current situation in the local car market’s pre-owned sector is very robust,” he says. This was cited also by Jet Aquino, Car Empire co-owner, who saw the massive increase in their sales in a span of two months immediately after the ECQ. This piece of good news from used-auto dealers is welcome news for an industry that has been badly hammered by this crisis. AllCars and Car Empire are just two of the hundreds of sellers who will be participating in Carousell’s first ever online used-car sale in the Philippines. The campaign, “Car-O-Sale,”  according to Magsuci, was also designed to help loyal automotive merchants who have been long-time listers in OLX which is now owned by Carousell. He also felt that used cars can be of huge benefits for Filipinos as “the need for a safe, convenient and affordable way to commute has been highlighted during this difficult time.” 

Magsuci observed that for used car buyers, the factors they generally consider are: price of vehicle vis-à-vis its mileage and condition; credibility and trustworthiness of the seller and yes, coding day of the vehicle. Ugarte, for his part, advises buyers “not to let the price of the unit dictate their decision to purchase a vehicle.” He believes that vehicle condition, legitimacy of the paperwork and reliability of the dealer should be the first and foremost consideration of the buyer. Jayson Paz, Batman Motors co-owner and another merchant, disclosed that the bestseller and fast-moving brand now is Toyota. “Toyota is known for providing the best value for money, given its quality, reliability and relative affordability,” Magsuci observes. Ugarte observes that vehicles that are very attractive to buyers are those that are “the perfect marriage of compact design, sleek aesthetics, dynamic driving and handling capabilities.”  

                Unfortunately even in these difficult times, there are those who try to scam innocent people into parting with their money and this is what Magsuci says they try to prevent in their online platform. “We have invested heavily in new technology such as Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to moderate and filter sellers and ensure that only legit and quality listings are presented to our users,” he says. Apart from features like allowing the users to rate and review the sellers based on their transaction, Carousell  also calls on the strong relationships that it had established over the years with its car dealer partners. “These partners have grown their business in our platform over the years,” Magsuci explains. For prospective sellers, Magsuci shares these three simple steps : Snap. Chat. Sell. “Our free mobile app allows you to be able to conveniently post and sell your items anytime, anywhere. We have different visibility products that you can use to increase your listing’s visibility and its chances of getting sold quickly.” The platform also has a chat function that allows for quick communication between the seller and the buyer via smartphone.

               Car buyers come in various shapes and sizes but there was one whose reason for getting a car, according to Paz of Batman Motors, really touched him. A medical frontliner, in need of a vehicle she could use to take her to the hospital, inquired about a second-hand Mirage. Unfortunately, her cash on hand was not enough to cover the down payment. “We really felt she could use this car given the lack of transportation at this time so we made sure that we took the extra effort to endorse her and get her financial requirements approved.” Paz admitted that the objective to have a sale was there but the bigger goal of helping this real-life hero acquire her car was what gave them more fulfillment. 

The author may be reached at [email protected]

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