THE retail motor industry is facing increasing pressure to address standards in servicing and repair. The recent Trading Standards Institute mystery shopping report has placed the sector, once again, in the firing line.
The National Consumer Council (NCC) has also criticised the industry, and specifically targeted the RMI by proposing that it must gain full Office of Fair Trading (OFT) approval of its Code of Practice by March 2006 or else the sector should face Government regulation.
The RMI does not believe that bad servicing is endemic in the sector and does not believe that Government legislation is the solution to addressing the problems caused by the small number of rogue garages. The motor industry is no different from any other sector in that there are businesses at both ends of the spectrum.
There are around 26,000 businesses serving some 25 million motorists who have cars serviced or repaired a few times each year. Monitoring of consumer satisfaction surveys repeatedly reveals that the vast majority of motorists are satisfied with the service they receive and the reliability of most vehicles is testament to the fact that they are serviced properly.
However, the industry is not complacent and the RMI and others are working hard to address any consumer issues.
If Government legislation was introduced, it is likely that it would be in the form of statutory licensing. This could be bureaucratic, costly to implement and ineffective. Rather, the RMI believes that the consumer is best served by an industry that is effectively self-regulated and independently monitored. There are a number of ideas that could help the sector improve standards. One of these is technician accreditation.
Automotive Technician Accreditation (ATA), which is governed and administered by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), is designed to recognise current technical competence, raising the professional status of skilled individuals, providing a benchmark for technician recruitment and career development and improving consumer confidence in the retail motor sector.
The scheme has the support of all key industry stakeholders, including the RMI, vehicle manufacturers and sector skills council Automotive Skills. It has been developed over two years and piloted with a number of founding partners, including BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Durham Constabulary, Ford, Hertz, Nationwide Autocentres, Toyota and Unipart.
The scheme underlines the industry’s commitment to addressing the issues of quality and skills recognition and could go some way towards improving the image and performance of our sector.
The good overall standard of service provided by the retail motor sector was recently recognised by Government, as was the role played by the RMI. Gerry Sutcliffe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Consumer Affairs, spoke out to support the sector, following questions tabled in Parliament by Charles Hendry MP, Shadow Minister for Industry. Sutcliffe commented on the low number of cars used in many of the surveys, in comparison with the millions of services performed every year.
This kind of recognition is vital and with the continued support of Government we will be able to work toward even higher standards right across the sector.
The federation is continuing to consult with our members, Trading Standards, the OFT, the NCC, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and other industry stakeholders on proposals for an effective self-regulatory scheme based on our strict Code of Practice. This dialogue will help us to ensure that our next steps lead to a scheme that is not only deliverable but effective in raising the levels of service in our industry.