Car firms are on a hiring spree

Potential car buyers and members of the public at a Toyota showroom.
Potential car buyers and members of the public at a Toyota showroom.PHOTO: ST FILE

They ramp up headcount as COE supply grows but experienced staff are hard to find

The motor industry is on a hiring spree as car sales return to the fast track on the back of growing certificate of entitlement (COE) numbers.

Companies are, however, tempering their recruitment with caution as they know they will have to start firing again once COE supply plummets six to eight years down the road. There will be an estimated 70,000 COEs available to car buyers this calendar year - more than double the supply last year.

Next year, the figure is expected to hit 100,000.

Leading motor companies such as Borneo Motors (which sells Toyota cars), Cycle & Carriage (Mercedes-Benz, Kia, Mitsubishi and Citroen) and Tan Chong Motor (Nissan) said they have already ramped up staff numbers for their sales, after-sales and pre-delivery inspection departments.

Jardine Cycle & Carriage managing director of motor operations Eric Chan said he has doubled the number of sales staff for Kia and Mitsubishi, with smaller increases for Mercedes and Citroen.

Mr Karsono Kwee, executive chairman of Eurokars Group (Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Mazda and Mini), said his Mazda sales team has grown by nearly 70 per cent to more than 50 people.

Headcount for the group's vehicle pre-delivery inspection department has doubled to 50.

Tan Chong Motor general manager Ron Lim said his sales staff number has grown by 50 per cent in the past six months to more than 70. "The property market is down, so a lot of people are returning to the car trade," Mr Lim said.

But this may not be enough to fill the vacancies.

"There's no new blood," he said.

The industry is also grappling with a dearth of experienced staff in areas such as pre-delivery inspection - a multi-step process which involves sprucing up a car and making sure everything is in working order .

Cycle & Carriage's Mr Chan said "a lot of skilled workers who left have not returned, and the new ones are slower".

Like other motor traders, he said the fluctuating COE pattern "is not good for the industry".

"You may say we can hire, but these are not the same skilled people," he said.

"They take longer to do a job. So, we're actually going backwards in productivity."

Because of the cyclical market, Mr Chan said, "we're careful in scaling up". "We'd rather stretch a bit," he said. "Because if there is no (government) intervention, there'll be another crunch."

According to the Motor Traders Association, authorised motor agents accounted for 4,000 jobs last year.

The figure excludes parallel importers and supporting businesses such as leather upholsterers, accessory shops, and logistics providers like car transporters and warehousing firms.

The association has made repeated appeals to the Government to flatten COE supply. Its last formal appeal was filed last December.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said in Parliament in March that there were "no immediate plans" to smoothen the cyclical COE supply pattern by holding back some certificates in the coming bountiful years for the next dry spell.

She said that it was difficult to arrive at the right number to hold back.

"The upshot is that this is not a straightforward exercise."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline 'Car firms are on a hiring spree'. Print Edition | Subscribe