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THE heart of Australia’s automotive industry will remain under severe pressure for at least the next two months as Covid-19 plans outlined by the state premier, Daniel Andrews, bring to an almost standstill the ability for dealers and service centres to conduct business.

It comes as industry bodies warn the shutdowns will damage business to such a degree that a recovery could be a decade away and countless jobs – including apprentices – will be lost.

At the core of its response to the premier’s “road to recovery” is what the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) says is a complete misunderstanding of the retail sector and the diverse way in which different parts of retail operate.

VACC CEO Geoff Gwilym told GoAutoNews Premium that the Victorian government and Mr Andrews had “failed” in suppressing the virus and the decision to keep businesses shut was “a disgrace”.

“The government is treating the automotive industry like a coffee shop,” he said.

“It can’t discriminate between a shop full of people selling coffee or groceries or whatever, and two blokes in a large warehouse servicing cars.”

He added that it was important to note that under the premier’s plan,Victoria will need to have less than five Covid-19 cases a day before dealers can open up again.

“Yet NSW is open with 10 to 18 cases a day,” he said.

Mr Gwilym was also angry that the VACC and other industry bodies including the Motor Trades Association and Australian Automotive Dealer Association “had engaged for weeks in conversation with the government about keeping servicing open for motorists”.

“Yet they didn’t listen to anything we put forward,” he said.

“The meetings and conversations were going on right up until Friday and we were told we had a case,” Mr Gwilym said.

“Then on Sunday it all changed (with premier Andrews’ four-step plan). I think the government has shown a huge disregard for the industry and to the motorists of Victoria.”

Mr Gwilym said the government had appeared to be negotiating with industry but had ignored representation from a range of industries, not only automotive.

“We will have vehicles needing servicing and repair that will be likely driven in an unsafe condition,” he said.

Geoff Gwilym

“We will have apprentices put out of work and are unlikely to return to automotive. We will have dealerships closing and people sacked.

“When the situation improves, we will have a three-month waiting list for people wanting to get their cars repaired or serviced.

“All because the government can’t see the difference between a packed coffee shop and a workshop with two technicians.”

A recent VACC report now expects that the 68 per cent drop in sales of new cars in August will be higher in the September market report.

“Any gains made in the past months have been completely obliterated,” the report said.

Mr Gwilym said that the attention of the industry now focuses on getting vehicle servicing back to a normal footing, providing work for dealers and service centres.

“It is important to note that the premier also reiterated that the next planned stages, from September 28, would all be dependent on health advice at the time and only be activated if the daily average of new cases remains between 30 and 50,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) has called the premier’s road map to recovery as a “massive blow” and a “kick in the guts” for the state’s businesses.

VCCI CEO Paul Guerra said it was “a road to nowhere” and input from Victorian businesses had been ignored.

“This does not deliver for the thousands of businesses that are trying to keep this state going and trying to keep their doors open,” he said at a press conference.

“We can’t continue to let business and jobs be decimated on the way to controlling the spread of the virus. This has to end. Business needs hope.

“The heartbreak for members, and in fact business owners today, is the realisation that many of them who have been desperately hanging on for months will see their businesses fold and they will have to look their employees in the eye and tell them that they no longer have a job.

“We need to get the virus under control. We are lockstep with both the federal and state governments on that aim. But we can’t just let business and jobs be sacrificed on the way.”

The rules for dealers in Victoria as published in on August 4.

By Neil Dowling