Automobile garages have joined the growing list of establishments taking a beating from the global coronavirus pandemic, putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of about 5 lakh auto mechanics and technicians.
With people restricting movements to the bare minimum to reduce chances of contracting COVID-19, the use of automobile has significantly gone down.
Subsequently, plans to go over to the mechanics for servicing and repair work have been indefinitely shelved.
"Customer numbers nosedived since last month as most people are refraining from going anywhere, let alone a garage," said Zahirul Hoque, secretary general of Bangladesh Automobile Workshop Malik Samity.
With sparse work available, earnings have plummeted and workshop owners are surely to face a crisis as they tend to have loans to prop up their establishments.
"The loans need to be serviced regardless," he said.
Hoque puts the number of small, medium and large workshops existing across the country at about 20,000. They employ more than 5 lakh skilled and semi-skilled auto mechanics and technicians and annually generate several thousand crores of taka in revenue.
He estimates that about Tk 1,500 crore was spent by vehicle owners in 2019 solely on servicing.
A year's servicing charges for a five-year-old 1,500cc vehicle can amount to about Tk 18,000 on an average and 20 to 30 per cent more for those of higher engine capacities, according to market insiders.
Nevertheless, vehicle numbers have continued to rise, leading to a thrivingautomobile servicing sector.
Reliable data is hard to come by, but Haque believes the sector expanded by almost 15 per cent annually for the past five to six years.
This growth showcased promises for investors like Syed Samiul Huq, director of Japan SolarTech (Bangladesh).
He poured Tk 20 crore into setting up Auto Trade International, which boasts state-of-the-art tools and equipment, on a 25,000 square feet space in the capital's Tejgaon Industrial Area.
Huq said he has been running the workshop with 120 technicians who had been provided advanced training on automobile servicing in Japan and Italy.
Despite all this, service requests at his workshop is said to have currently crashed 90 per cent.
A decline in revenue for the absence of customers for the past three weeks has also hit HNS Engineering and Services, a concern of HNS Group that provides auto engineering services.
The entity's monthly expenses, including the salary of its 50-odd staff, is said to be to the tunes of Tk 16 lakh.
As per the government decision, HNS Engineering and Services will be closed until normalcy returns.
But, Mohammed Shahidul Islam, chairman of HNS Group, said he has no intention of going for lay-offs as his staff has been with him for years.
"The transport sector is always an essential component for keeping the economy vibrant as it is directly involved with the manufacturing sector."
According to him, the government should take up initiatives to ensure that the automobile service sector does not lose work orders as it plays an important role in providing logistic services to the transport sector.
NB Auto Servicing in Taltola area is another workshop that would remain closed for an indefinite period for the impending coronavirus pandemic in Bangladesh.
"During this period, I will have to pay the salaries of 25 employees, including diploma engineers," said Neuton Chakma, its managing director.
He said the payroll bill is upwards of Tk 2 lakh every month, while other expenditure, including space rent, will set him back by another Tk 4 lakh.
"If the situation prolongs, I will face serious challenges," he said, adding that his workshop's revenue had also dropped drastically since February 15 for the absence of customers.