Cambria Automobiles CEO Mark Lavery has called on car manufacturers to ease up on dealers operating in ‘incredibly difficult’ lockdown conditions.
Speaking to Car Dealer Live in an exclusive video interview you can watch above, Lavery calls on car makers to guarantee bonuses and relax the standards they expect of dealer partners.
Cambria – which operates under the Doves, Grange and Motorparks brands – represents a large portfolio of brands including Rolls Royce, McLaren, Aston Martin, Bentley and Jaguar Land Rover.
He explains how one car manufacturer called him this week and demanded he changed his entire demonstrator fleet – at a time when dealers are not even allowed to give test drives.
Lavery says this is a prime example of the ‘disconnect’ between manufacturers operating mostly from home on video calls to car dealers dealing with customers ‘on the front line’.
The Cambria boss has even introduced lateral flow testing for all his staff in the last fortnight, which sees his teams tested every seven days, in an attempt to improve safety for staff.
He said: ‘In the national sales companies there may be a lack of understanding as to what we are putting our people through every day and that’s an area certainly we all have to work hard to improve.
‘There needs to be a genuine empathy between the national sales company and the retailers.’
Lavery said he fully agreed with comments from dealers including Paul Hendy, CEO of the Hendy Group, who said dealers don’t need targets to incentivise them to sell cars at a time like this.
Lavery added: ‘We are on the front line with our people every day – the OEMs are sat typically behind a Microsoft Teams meeting or Zoom so they are not experiencing what we are seeing every day, like Track and Trace.’
The Cambria boss explained how one of the firm’s operations meetings was recently called off when the firm’s FD received a call from Track and Trace mid-way through the meeting.
And he explains how one of his luxury brand’s workshop teams were all sent home for 10 days to self isolate after one tested positive.
Lavery said some brands have gone ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ to help, while others have stuck rigidly to their standards without giving any leeway.
He said: ‘Look, we can run away from it, but we are going to be locked down during March.
‘The more pragmatic brands will be the ones that do well during lockdown three. Those that are waving standards around will not.
‘If there’s a target in place that if you miss your margin shrinks by 1.5 per cent, if you miss a mystery shop the margin drops by 0.5 per cent, if I haven’t got all my demonstrators on my margin drops by 0.25 per cent, then it gets to a point where it becomes economically unsustainable to sell a new car – that’s not in the OEM’s interest and it’s certainly not in ours.
Lavery said business at his firm was currently around 40-50 per cent of usual levels for this time of year, but ‘variable depending on brand’.
Cambria was the 14th most profitable dealer group in the Car Dealer Top 100 list with EBITDA earning of £17.08m on turnover of £657m. The group achieved 1.9 per cent return on sales.
Boss Lavery said consumer confidence was currently ‘a real challenge’, but he does think vaccines mean an ‘end is in sight’.
He said he thinks the furlough scheme (of which 20 per cent of his staff are still on), and the business rates holiday, will be extended by the government and is thankful for the help the government has offered the industry.
‘Genuinely, I don’t think we can ask much more,’ he said.
‘Our industry has been hit hard but if you compare to hospitality, airlines, travel agencies – we are pretty fortunate I think.’
Chatting about the fact some dealers have stopped operating completely during the lockdown, even refusing to offer click and collect, Lavery said he feels his sites have a ‘duty’ to stay open.
‘Our view has always been the safety and well being of our guests and associates is our number one priority,’ he said.
‘We have introduced lateral flow tests for all our associates two weeks ago, using the Excalibur product. That is voluntary and we can’t force an associate to do that, but we do request they take it on a weekly basis.
‘I accept there are some dealers that are not doing click and collect any more and that’s perfectly within their gift, but I think we have a moral responsibility to be here and serve the community.’
He added he was not asking his teams to do anything he or his directors aren’t doing themselves.
‘We’re on the front line every day so we’re seeing the damage the virus is doing, and the damage is profound,’ said Lavery.
‘That’s more so in lockdown three as the virus is a lot more prevalent now and we’re coming across a lot more cases where we are literally shutting down departments and businesses, deep cleaning, having to allocate associates that may not be up to speed, but we need to keep the country moving if we can in the safest manner that we can.’
Lavery said he was surprised customers are click and collecting at all price points – including at his Rolls Royce dealership – but admitted that volume brands were ‘finding it tougher’.
‘It never ceases to amaze me how much people are prepared to spend online – it’s been well into six figures,’ he revealed.
Lavery hopes that the vaccine roll out will continue at the speed it is for the rest of the year getting things back to something more like normal, and he’s positive there will be a bounce.
‘When you look at national savings at how much people have saved during the course of the lockdown, very few people will be flying to foreign climes this year, so I think there will be pent up demand,’ he said
‘I think we can look forward with some confidence that we’ll get a bounce back. There’s lot to be positive about.’