By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
New car sales will take at least "a 50 percent hit" due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a major dealer is forecasting, having already slashed his orders for the next three months by some 60 percent.
Fred Albury, the Bahamas Motor Dealers Association's (BMDA) president, told Tribune Business he was "just leaving the office revising my ordering forecast" with the industry among those businesses forced to close by the government's nationwide lockdown.
Confirming that his Auto Mall dealership had been closed from the start, Mr Albury argued that the "next 30 days" will tell whether the Bahamian economy is "deep up the creek without a paddle or sailing smoothly" as a result of this nation and the world bringing the pandemic under control.
Indicating that his forecasts were open to further revision, depending on how long COVID-19 and the associated economic shutdown last, and how deep they go, Mr Albury said he and one of his vehicle brands had started from the basis that the impact will be at least as bad as the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
"They expect to take us back to 2007-2008, when the financial crisis hit," he told this newspaper, "so we're working along those lines when we saw the auto industry drop 57 percent; the new car industry. That's the original benchmark we're working with. Falling on the side of caution, I've altered my orders considerably for a number of reasons.
"Orders placed now will normally arrive in June, July and August, which are the slow months, and I already have a fair amount of inventory. I'm just being cautious in the next 30 days until we know more about what's happening out there. The immediate impact on the economy and tourism will be tremendous. We've got to prepare ourselves for some future belt tightening."
With the number of identified COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas on the rise, there is every indication that the nationwide lockdown will be extended beyond the current April 8 expiry and through Easter. And the US and other major world economies may not pass the infection peak until the end of the second quarter, which is mid-summer, further dampening the outlook for auto sales and other industries.
"Our ordering has probably dropped a bit lower, more like 60 percent below what our original forecast was at the end of last year," Mr Albury told Tribune Business. "There's nothing we can do. We can't eat the inventory. I have enough inventory in the pipeline if things suddenly turn around. It will take a couple of months to clear out existing inventory and start the 2021 model year fresh once this thing dies down.
"I think the next 30 days is definitely when we're going to know more, and the amount of cases will manifest itself. In the next 30 days we'll know whether we're deep up the creek without a paddle or sailing smoothly that's my prediction.
"For the rest of this year it's going to hit the economy pretty hard. I think we're going to see at least a 50 percent hit to new car sales. When you look at vehicles used for taxis, jitneys, commercial vehicles, business will be down.
"It is what it is. I'm going to hunker down, lock myself down, and take it easy. I'm going to be popping into the office to do certain things, but will do a lot of work remotely."