On April 10, the government announced that it would allow certain businesses in selected economic sectors to resume operations moving into phase three of the movement control order (MCO) from April 15 to 28, in a move aimed at slowly reopening some aspects of the economy without imposing on the workings and interfering with the conditions of the MCO.

Conditions for reactivation are not automatic for any of the defined sectors, and it was stated that businesses would have to apply for clearance for that with the ministry of international trade and industry (MITI), with the process being carried out online from April 13 onwards.

Among the industries and activities permitted in the latest phase are some elements associated with the automotive industry, namely in the export of CBU vehicles as well as that of tools and components. Also permitted was the resumption of after-sales service, be it in the form of workshops or authorised service centres.

On April 12, however, entrepreneur development and cooperatives minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar clarified that the lifting of restrictions would only apply to “green zones” within the country, and not for the whole country. Given the lack of green zones, you’d think that was that.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case, because it’s a go, green or no, as the announcement of the reopening of selected authorised service centres by UMW Toyota Motor yesterday shows.

It isn’t the only company to have obtained approval from MITI to do so, because BMW dealership Auto Bavaria also received approval to provide service and maintenance as of April 21, informing its customers about that on Monday via SMS, and Mercedes-Benz dealership Cycle & Carriage has also announced that it has been given the green light to resume service centre operations as of today (April 22).

We understand that other companies have also submitted applications to reopen service centres. The last, we have been informed, is a selective process, and not blanket to a brand. What this means is that each application has to be done individually. As such, a principal cannot apply for every business concern associated with the brand, but only for outlets it runs, should it have those.

This means that dealerships have to make their own application for reopening, but we understand that MITI has given an allowance of 10 applications (essentially, that for 10 branches) to be made at one time, which would make it easier for a larger dealership group with many outlets to apply for that ruling lift. Aside from the go-ahead from MITI, approval from the local council is also needed.

Those are the technicalities, but what about the larger picture beyond that? There’s nothing wrong with resuming SC operations, but there are inevitable questions (we won’t ask about what happened to the green zone ruling), and they don’t have anything to do with safety per se at the premises.

After all, conditions laid out include the need for all directives issued by the authorities to be obeyed, with any breaches resulting in the revocation of approvals, and we can expect that protocols and safety-related guidelines will be in place and observed at all times.

Likewise, health guidelines. You can’t walk in as you please as well, because an appointment has to be made first, and all vehicles will need to be dropped off, with no waiting on-site allowed.

All good and fine, but there is less clarity in the movement around it. In UMWT’s case, it has been clearly stated that its service centres that are allowed to operate again can only do so at minimum capacity to meet emergency and urgent service requirements.

The last is important to note, because not everyone – or MITI – seems to be making it clear if this is the case or a mandatory requirement, and so consumers may think that routine servicing can be performed. Which should not be the case, really.

That’s because it has already been established that maintenance and routine servicing is not essential, given that just about every car company in town has said that it will provide extended service and warranty grace periods post-MCO (whenever that lifts) for customers whose vehicles are due for servicing or with warranties expiring during the period.

Doing otherwise (i.e regular servicing) gives unnecessary reason for people to go out when the MCO says you should be staying home. Other questions spring to mind. If you have to pass the cops at a roadblock on the way to the SC, is servicing the car an acceptable reason? Should a letter stating the intent be provided by the service centre as cover?

If you drop off the car, is it mandatory that you use a ride-hailing service to get home? Because the last thing you want to do is get someone else to come along in another car to pick you up, adding to unwanted traffic and effectively contravening the one-person-per car ruling for individual vehicles, twice over (to and fro). Also, does the 10 km limit of movement apply? And, what are the operating hours?

Greater clarity is needed from MITI – which should detail the guidelines – as well as from companies with regards to the level and scope of servicing that can be offered during the order period. It’s all good to want to resume business, but it should be made crystal clear what can, or cannot, be done.

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