Car service centers lag way behind market development

Newsroom 14/04/2008 | 15:57

Recently the media has spilled a lot of ink writing about the spectacular sales of both producers and importers in the automotive industry.
The Association of Car Producers and Importers (APIA) estimated that the local market reached 360,000 units last year, a 20 percent increase compared with the previous year.
And it looks like market players will report strong profits in the coming year as well. Porsche Romania, the importer of Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda, Seat and Porsche, estimates this year's sales will go up by at least 10 percent against last year, to 65,000 units.
Romcar, the Ford importer, registered last year sales of 21,732 units, a 60 percent increase from the previous year.
Brands such as Toyota or Mazda have reported even more spectacular rises.
Toyota Romania sold last year 10,458 Toyota and Lexus units, 70 percent more than the previous year.
“We plan to continue the record series this year as well. Our target for this year is set at 14,000 Toyota and Lexus cars to be sold by the end of the year,” said Mihai Bordeanu, commercial manager of Toyota Romania.
But despite this positive trend there is one aspect that the automotive industry is lacking: after-sales services and service centers. Drivers forced to wait days just to schedule an appointment to bring their car in for service, expensive inspection fees, costly spare parts and a poorly qualified workforce offering little in the way of customer relations are just a few of the problems in this field.

High fees but few specialists
Whether the workers from certain service centers change spare parts when inspecting your car or not, you often end up with a EUR 130 bill for a simple check.
The sum rises consistently when you really have to fix something. “Annual car inspection costs depend on the model and engine capacity. For the Mazda 2, the first check costs EUR 100 and for the Mazda 6, which runs on gas, the expenses reach EUR 125. There is no waiting period for service for Mazda models,” Cristian Rigu, country manager of Mazda Romania, told Business Review.
Due to the significant sales, Toyota Romania representatives admit that the service activity is constantly increasing. “In Bucharest our capacities are not sufficient, but we have tried to find solutions. We introduced two shifts and the Express Service concept for periodical maintenance,” said Radu Petrescu,
after-sales director at Toyota Romania.
According to him, the standard wait time for a service is three days, a target which is met in 95 percent of cases. “Service costs for a Toyota Yaris are EUR 65 and reach EUR 295 for the Land Cruiser model. There is a waiting period of up to five days for out-of-stock spare parts,” added the Toyota Romania representative.
In order to attract new customers, companies which sell brands like Mazda, Kia and Hyundai offer additional services. “In February this year, the company launched a new facility: free of charge assistance anywhere in Europe through Mazda Europe Service,” said Cristian Rigu.
Even for premium brand cars such as Mercedes-Benz a driver has to wait two days get an appointment for a service.
“Some 430 cars are processed on a daily basis, but we can say that there is a capacity of 470 cars per day. A customer has to wait from half a day to a maximum of two days to get an appointment for service repairs. For the spare parts which are not in stock the wait is maximum four days,” said Daniel Mojilian, after-sales director at Mercedes-Benz.
According to him, Mercedes-Benz has 17 authorized centers in Romania, which employ 860 workers, and is aiming for 23. Last year, the company's service centers worked on 32,039 cars and 34,542 commercial vehicles. Meanwhile, Toyota Romania saw 40,000 cars pass through its service units last year.
Another difficulty in providing a decent after-sales service is the lack of professionals to staff the service centers.
“It is true that the absence of specialists from the automotive industry is a current problem. We are in the midst of the development process on the Romanian market and we plan to expand our team of specialists,” said Rigu.

Expansion plans
The main car importers on the local market have already announced million of euros in investment plans in showrooms and service units, all over the country.
Citroen Romania plans to invest EUR 8 million to expand its dealer network with another five units by June 2009.
Meanwhile, BDT Cars has plans to build next year in Bucharest an integrated complex for the Mazda brand involving a total investment of some EUR 3 million.
Due to impressive sales increase registered by this brand, the expansion plans for Mazda do not stop here. “Mazda's target is to have 20 operational showrooms by the end of the year. We plan to open new sales and service points in Galati, Brasov, Bacau, Ploiesti and Craiova. Presently, we are in discussions and negotiations with companies from northern Romania regarding collaborations both on the sales and service sides,” said Rigu.
According to him, the company has nine Mazda service units in the country, in Bucharest, Constanta, Braila, Focsani, Iasi, Timisoara, Cluj and Pitesti.
Radu Petrescu said that Toyota Romania plans to reach 30 service units by 2010, from 18 at present. “Taking into consideration the location and the number of workers, the investment could be between EUR 1 million and EUR 10 million,” he said.
Romcar also has strategic plans to expand the dealer network, from 30 showrooms and 30 service centers as it stands now. Company officials said that they would invest EUR 30 million in 14 new show-rooms and service units, in Bucharest, Targoviste, Caransebes, Deva, Slatina, Bistrita and Oradea.
Meanwhile, exclusive brands like as BMW are also taking measures to expand. Automobile Bavaria Group recently opened a new center in Cluj, where the total investment reached EUR 4 million. The new facility occupies 11,500 sqm and has a service unit that can repair 11 cars simultaneously.
“We will continue to invest in this part of the country, in order to consolidate our position,” said Michael Schmidt, GM of Automobile Bavaria Group, at the center opening.

By Dana Ciuraru

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