No industry sector in SA will be the same after March 26 2020

25 March 2020 - 09:54
Manufacturers such as Ford, Isuzu, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan are halting local production due to the coronavirus.
Manufacturers such as Ford, Isuzu, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan are halting local production due to the coronavirus.
Image: Supplied

The national lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa looms closer. From midnight, March 26, mandated isolation will see us fighting to “flatten the curve” more fervently than before.

Before the announcement, we had been working on two reports as potential lead stories for the Sowetan Motoring print section this week, a related title to TimesLIVE, both part of the Arena Holdings stable.

First, our focus was directed towards the impact of Covid-19 on the public transport industry and additional precautionary steps on the cards to protect commuters. Second, we sought to survey brands with a local manufacturing presence, to discuss how the pandemic would be impacting on South African facilities, including jobs in the sector and potential sales.

Such questions are now perhaps rendered moot, in the short-term anyway. With the nation at home, minibus taxis, trains, busses, aircraft and e-hailing operations will be parked. And in the simplest terms, we all know that without people, there are no hands to build cars. With an immobilised population and reduced earning capacities, the need and wherewithal to purchase vehicles diminishes.

Numerous carmakers have stated that global plant activities have been halted. Some have even shared plans to produce essential health care machinery such as ventilators, pledging their role to help fight the deadly coronavirus. The business of marketing and selling new metal has taken a back seat for a while as automobile companies bandy ideas for the betterment of humanity. Traditional, touch-and-feel product launch plans on the horizon, and likely beyond into the latter part of 2020, have been placed on ice.

But the ecosystem extends far beyond just that of production and retail. Consider aftermarket service providers. Think about small businesses with ancillary enterprises. It could be the car wash or fitment shop down the road. What about the parking attendant at the neighbourhood grocery store, who relies on drivers’ surplus change?

Or the entire micro-economy of the roadside flea market? Found at virtually any set of traffic lights in a major South African city, where merchants peddle their wares to waiting motorists. The pragmatic decision to contain citizenry and restrict movement will have ramifications that are self-evident, of course, but as a collective we acknowledge that it was a step that simply needed to be taken.

And certainly, one that required a great deal of courage and fortitude from the leader occupying the highest office in the land. “While this measure will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, on the life of our society and on our economy, the human cost of delaying this action would be far, far greater,” our president said in his address on Monday.

“Our country finds itself confronted not only by a virus that has infected more than a quarter of a million people across the globe, but also by the prospects of a very deep economic recession that will cause businesses to close and many people to lose their jobs.”

A return to normality seems unlikely when the period of confinement ends on Thursday, April 16, at midnight.

Only then will we be able to begin a full assessment of the true outcome this disaster has wreaked. Please take care.

TimesLIVE Motoring will continue to deliver comprehensive coverage of Covid-19 and its effects on the automotive industry.


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