Despite the pressure, due to the pandemic crisis, the car market showed resilience, according to Pilakoutas Group CEO, Charalambos Pilakoutas. Furthermore, he expresses his optimism, that it will return to strong growth after the end of the pandemic.
In his interview, Mr Pilakoutas expresses his estimate that used cars, are increasing the age index of the car fleet of the country and this raises serious road safety issues and environmental concerns.
At the same time, he explains why it is of utmost importance for the government to reinstate a new modern plan to withdraw older vehicles.
He comments on the management plan of the pandemic crisis by the government and separates the health crisis from the economic part, saying that it is rather difficult practice to protect public health and human life, while making sure that the economy is functioning, in such unprecedented pandemic conditions.
-The vehicle trade sector was among those infected by both the economic crisis in 2013 and the pandemic now. How far back has this sector gone during the last year? When are new vehicle sales expected to reach normal levels?
It is true that the industry has been under pressure in the last year of the pandemic. That was expected, because of the great upheavals and the uncertainty that we all experienced. At the same time, though, and despite the difficult environment, the car market sector has shown signs of resilience. Car manufacturers presented new, sophisticated models, and consumers, to a lesser extent, made purchases. This creates restrained optimism about the near future. Step by step and with the expansion of vaccinations and by acquiring immunity, the normality in our lives will eventually return. The prediction for strong growth rates after the pandemic will lead to the strengthening of the car industry and the whole economy in general.
-Before the pandemic crisis, the Government had announced a withdrawal plan for old vehicles and their replacement with new ones, with low emissions. Do you believe that that it should come back and if yes, what will be the differences?
A modern plan with clever motives for withdrawing old cars, will only have benefits. The positive effect on the environment is of utmost importance, as through such a plan old, technology polluting cars are withdrawn and replaced with new ones, that are much more friendly for the environment. Given the fact that the development during the last years is impressive, showing respect to the environment, the withdrawal motives form an essential move in the direction of protecting it. At the same time, with such a plan, in difficult times for the economy, the owners of old, polluting cars with have the affordable opportunity to replace them. Furthermore, an industry with thousands of jobs is strengthened.
-How would you characterize the fleet (mainly of saloon cars) in Cyprus? Good, mediocre or aged and why?
In recent years, with the introduction of used saloon cars in Cyprus, the age of the car fleet has increased. This has an impact on road safety, in mechanical maintenance – the cost of use and of course the protection of the environment. This is why, as stated before, a modern plan of withdrawal for old cars, with smart motives is necessary.
Old cars in the streets of Cyprus
-What does the fact that Cyprus is flooded with used cars from abroad mean for the country?
The general principle is that used cars that are on the roads, are also increasing the age index of the country’s car fleet. In this sense, a lot of aged cars are out in the streets of Cyprus. This is where we need to act and be given incentives for the renewal of the fleet.
-A large part of buyers in Cyprus turns towards used, imported cars, because of their lower prices. How do you comment on that?
A used car is an unknown car. With risk. There are also many examples of car owners who were misled into buying an imported, used car, in supposedly good condition and price, but eventually faced major problems and high repair costs, realizing that the used car cost them more than a new one, if we also take into account the resale value. For Great Britain, especially, after Brexit and the imposition of state duties on cars that are bought there, the purchase of used cars is not worth it. In Pilakoutas Group, we have achieved special prices from the factories we work with, and as a result, the price difference with an imported car is reduced to a minimum. The dilemma in this case is simple: uncertainty and risk or certainty and trust? Taking into account all the data in a useful period of use and by comparing that with a new one, the cheaper imported used car is ultimately more expensive.
Time to turn the page
-It is a common secret that there are gaps in the control of used cars, like for example the real number of Km traveled or being involved in serious car accidents, suffering serious damage and extensive repairs. If you agree, why do you think that the state has allowed this to be happening for decades?
What really matters is to turn the page, learn from the mistakes of the past and not repeat them. There is a gray control zone, with gaps in procedures, that allowed the circulation of problematic and dangerous vehicles. This must change. It is clear that a strict and inviolable institutional framework is required for the control and reliability of used cars. Their actual condition needs to be correspond to the one presented to the customer. In this way, trust is built and the customer is protected.
The market in Cyprus is small, with difficulties
-As a Group, you represent today a number of car brands (BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mini, Nissan, Rolls-Royce, Dacia, Renault and Mitsubishi). Many brands are also found together in other Groups. Don’t you think that this has negative impact on healthy competition?
Such is the size of the local market that the division would work neither for the benefit of the consumer, nor for the benefit of individual brand representatives, many of whom are unable to survive. It would not be possible for them to bear the operating costs and meet the requirements for technical support, the adequacy of spare parts and full customer service. All these can be ensured by Pilakoutas Group to its customers. Furthermore, regarding our Group, it is worth emphasizing that the brands that we represent, have a separate, distinct entity and autonomous commercial policy. In this way, they operate in the context of competition, providing the customer with the reliability and confidence of a strong Group at the same time. Also note that large car manufacturers internationally are in a constant process of acquisitions and mergers, which in turn causes brands to gather under specific group “umbrellas”. Their target is the creation of synergies and the reduction of operating costs.
-What new is your Group working on for the post-pandemic era?
Pilakoutis Group, because of its object, is literally constantly on the move. The car manufacturers we represent are preparing new, fascinating models for every financial opportunity, need and personal choice. Therefore, we are constantly living this evolution, something that leads in new quests. For example, the constant upgrading of the support services, before and after sales, with an investment on human resources, in technological infrastructure and processes. We have already started and offer our customers new services and the first BMW ‘virtual showroom’ Is already in operation in Cyprus, a unique digital browsing experience in new models and their features. Our scheduling expects all the brands of our Group to have their ‘virtual showroom’. We intend to bring the customer closer to his future car, through interactive digital applications. We also work on personalized services, by utilizing new technology and communication channels, like live chat, which is available on the website of the Group Char. Pilakoutas Group | BMW - Jaguar - Land Rover - Mini Cyprus. Meanwhile, the technical support units and the showrooms are constantly being modernized, to be quality reference points in the industry.
Cyprus needs a new model of development
-As a successful businessman, how do you assess the management of the pandemic crisis by the government and what needs to be done, so that the economy recovers immediately after the end of the crisis?
Independent international bodies and performance indicators that evaluate these countries, according to the way that they managed the pandemic to date, have ranked Cyprus into one of the highest positions. This should always be said with absolute respect to human losses and to our fellow citizens whose health has been tested. Of course, for every society, the pandemic is an issue and the economy is another. A particularly difficult exercise, the protection of public health and human life and at the same time the functioning of the economy in unprecedented pandemic conditions. It is clear that the effort is common and the result depends on our personal and collective responsibility, the existence of an effective plan and the consistency in implementation. The end of the crisis has to be the beginning of the economic recovery, through a new model of development. With its characteristics, sustainability, innovation, extroversion, youth entrepreneurship, attracting healthy investments. We need a different way of thinking and new growth forces in new areas, that frame the existing ones, like tourism, services, land development, shipping etc. Everything around us changes and we need to change too.