New research commissioned by UNI Global Union’s commerce sector highlights the challenges facing car dealers due to the shifting dynamics of the automotive retail sector and the increase in manufacturers selling to directly to the public. The findings show that trade union representation and collective bargaining are more important than ever to ensure a just transition for car dealers.
Some key findings of the research paper titled “Transformations in Automotive Retail” are as follows:
- Massive workforce: There is a large workforce in automotive retailing, that is currently taking a growing share of jobs in the automotive industry as a whole. For example, in Japan and the EU, workers in automotive sales and services outnumber workers in automotive manufacturing. In Japan, while 890,000 workers are employed in manufacturing, one million people work in automotive sales and services, 571,000 of whom are directly employed in retailing.
- Impact of Covid-19 pandemic: The global sale of light vehicles dropped by 13.4% in 2020 compared to 2019 and a full recovery is not forecast until 2024 at global level. Moreover, many markets in the Global North including the USA, Western & Central Europe and Japan, will still have lower sales volume even in mid 2020’s compared to the pre-pandemic era while China, India and ASEAN countries will lead the global recovery with a stable and steady increase in sales.
- Electrification: Full electrification is taking place much faster than estimated with 4.8 million battery electric vehicles sold in 2021 while plug-in hybrids vehicles hit 1.8 million sales One in three new vehicles are expected to be semi or fully electric by 2028.
- Servicing and used car market: As electric vehicles have fewer parts, they require less after-sales services including repair. It is estimated that car owners’ after-sales spending on parts will drop by 40 per cent, which may negatively impact the related repair and retailing services. However, the massive growth of the used car market is expected to compensate the adverse impact of electrification in the short and medium term.
- Further growth in online sales: Car manufacturers estimate that – excluding test drives – almost 80 per cent of new vehicle purchases will be completed online by 2030. In addition, the share of online sales in the used-car market is expected to reach 18 per cent in the USA and almost 10 per cent in Europe.
- A new car dealership model: Tesla is pioneering a new car dealership model based on a direct sales network without third-party car dealers and with a major shift from brick-and-mortar sales network to online sales. Many other leading companies including Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Stellantis, Toyota, Volvo and Ford are adopting the same strategy through replacing third-party independent car dealers with their own sales network. According to one estimate, 40 per cent of new cars will be sold directly to customers by manufacturers by 2030.
- Less but more direct employment: This new model is expected to cause 3 to 7 per cent decrease in total car retailing employment and to trigger a major shift in employment. With the expansion of the direct sales model, the share of carmakers in total car retail employment is forecasted to increase from 10 per cent to 25 per cent. Substantial reshuffling of employment between dealers and carmakers might be a bigger issue than aggregate job losses in the car retail sector.
- Mergers, acquisitions and “mega car dealers”: An acceleration in mergers and acquisitions is highly possible as the environment is becoming more challenging for small companies. The emergence of mega car dealers through mergers among independent car dealers is on the horizon as the increasing pressure from car makers is pushing conventional car dealers to come up with better strategies to survive.
- Skill set changes: The transformations in the sector will also redefine the job description and the required skill set for car retail workers and make trade union representation and collective bargaining more important than ever to ensure just transition for car dealers.
The UNI Commerce Car Dealers Network was established two years ago following a proposal by UNI’s Japanese affiliate JAW (Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers’ Unions). It had two online meetings in 2020 and 2022 to discuss the trends in the sector and to explore further opportunities of growing union power for car dealers through international exchange and solidarity.
JAW will hold a presentation at UNI Commerce’s upcoming global conference in Atlanta in December, focusing on the challenges identified by the research and the work being done at national and global level to overcome them.
Mathias Bolton, Head of UNI Commerce, said: “The transformation of the automotive sector through electrification and online sales is impacting workers at every stage of the supply chain. Now it’s time to gear up for car dealers and build a stronger global trade union movement that will make just transition for these workers a reality.”