Old-style independent car garages are on a road to nowhere

Record UK car sales could spell the beginning of the end for many of the traditional independent, under-the-arches motor garages, as owners of technologically advanced vehicles rely on the service centres of main dealers.

According to the National Franchised Dealers Association motor showrooms around the country need to recruit 15,000 workers within the next year to cope with the fast-shifting automotive retail market.

The Times reports that ladt year Britons bought 2.63 million new cars, a record. The sales boom is being underpinned by many motorists tying themselves into three-year ownership agreements after which they flip to a new model. The market has been further fired up by the rate of software-related technological change under the bonnet and on the dashboard.

According to the NFDA that means it needs to increase its 200,000-strong workforce to satisfy the service plans for the millions of new car owners and for the more technical work needed to look over cars running on manufacturers’ proprietary technology.

Because of the newness of so many vehicles on the road and the new technology of either hybrid or full-electric drivetrains or software-driven electronics, the NFDA says much of that servicing has to be done in dealerships tied to manufacturers – rather than in independent garages.

While traditional garages, often found in workspaces in the arches of rail viaducts, will probably have a role in servicing older vehicles, the rapid change in UK car ownership and technology is shifting demand for technicians into the main dealer service centres, according to Sue Robinson, the director of the dealers association.

“The franchised dealers are seeing record levels of aftersales work as the number of UK cars with highly technical equipment expands,” she said.

She says that the industry is having to not only upskill its existing technicians but to reach out to schools to attract young workers into the game, having failed to recruit properly during the financial crisis.

“After four years of continuous sales growth the need for highly trained technicians is at its peak and we are working hard to ensure that the skills gap is met,” she said.

Of the 15,000 jobs that franchise dealers need to recruit to keep pace with the sales boom, which is not expected to recede this year, about two thirds or 10,000 will need to be individuals to be trained, or retrained, to be skilled technicians.

Those skills will also need to cover new engine technologies. Last year 72,000 alternatively-fuelled vehicles were sold — electric, plug-ins and hybrids — and that figure is expected to grow exponentially as prices come down.