Johnny Ferreira (32) has a small garage in Turbenthal ZH.
Samuel WalderRingier journalism student
The automotive industry is in transition. Month after month, small garages close their workshops or are swallowed up by large car dealerships. Rural areas are particularly affected. Because away from the cities, there are fewer and fewer small garages that can be operated profitably.
A motion from the political center should provide countermeasures. Center Party President Gerhard Pfister (60) is committed to small garage owners. Specifically, the Zug National Council demands: The Federal Council should incorporate the vehicle notice of the Competition Commission (Weko), which has existed since 2002, into a binding regulation. This is not only intended to promote fair competition, but also to ensure the quality of the services.
Access to digital service books
In concrete terms, the motion is intended to help small garage owners in the following areas: They should be given clear conditions when purchasing spare parts, general access to digital vehicle data and free use of diagnostic devices.
One of them is Roger Kunz (53). He runs a garage in Wohlen AG and is President of the Association of Independent Car Dealers in Switzerland. “Today, SMEs and small garages cannot take legal action against large companies,” says Kunz. That should change now.
Not everyone is bad
Blick visits a small car garage in Turbenthal ZH. Two people work here. Johnny Ferreira (32) is the owner, he has one employee – a car mechanic. Ferreira earns money primarily with service work and tuning. He himself does not want to join in the lawsuits.
Ferreira has his regular customers, he specializes in the tuning business, which is doing well. But not everyone makes ends meet as well as he does, Ferreira knows.
The costs are too high
“The diagnostic devices are a big problem,” says Ferreira. Almost every car brand requires its own diagnostic device. And they are expensive. A diagnostic device can cost several thousand francs. In addition, you have to log in to the car manufacturers online to view the vehicle data. “I have to pay money to view the data – and that per manufacturer,” says Ferreira. There are devices that cover multiple brands. But a small garage can hardly afford that, emphasizes Ferreira. One solution: Regulated use of diagnostic devices for everyone and realistic prices.
He emphasizes that anyone who blames the big companies for the crisis is making things too easy for themselves. The technology has changed a lot, everything has become more expensive. “You used to be able to complete a mechanic’s apprenticeship and mend any car,” says Ferreira. Today that is no longer possible.
A new legal basis is needed
«Technology changes very quickly, as a garage owner you always need new tools.» Large car dealerships could afford to always be up to date and train their employees. Small garages lack the capital to do so. That’s why Ferreira hopes that the federal government will invest in training in the future. And will support the small businesses financially for the equipment.
Association President Roger Kunz sees another hurdle. “If a garage owner wants to buy a spare part from a large car dealership, they can say no.” The small garages have a right to the parts, but they hardly stand a chance if they take legal action against the big ones. “So it happens that the little ones have to buy from other people at higher prices and at some point they can no longer afford it.”
Amag adheres to the vehicle notice
“A solution must be found urgently,” says Kunz. With a legal basis, small companies could defend themselves and the big ones should no longer allow themselves a “no”.
“Amag Import AG supplies small garages and adheres to the specifications of the current vehicle notice,” says Marie-Therese Zell, spokeswoman for Amag. Therefore, a change in the current legal basis is incomprehensible. “The fact is that Amag supplies so-called small garages with spare parts,” Zell continues.
«Little ones want to be like the big ones»
Luigi S.* (42) also runs a small garage in Turbenthal ZH. He has an apprentice. In his small showroom, two sports cars sit on the neatly polished floor, covered and ready for sale. “I don’t think the big ones are crowding out the small ones,” he says. The problem is that the little ones want to be like the big ones.
A garage owner should be customer-oriented instead of trying to imitate the big ones. “A three or four-man operation does not have the capacity to bring the customer a coffee, set up a lounge, have a showroom with ten cars and run a workshop with twenty mechanics.”
appeal to politics
Luigi S.* reports on his experiences: “Customers are happy when the garage clerk in overalls, with dirty hands, explains to them what he has done on the car and hands the coffee to the customer himself.”
Association President Kunz appeals to politicians. “As soon as there is a legal basis, the little ones can defend themselves and no longer have to worry about having to close the shop at the end of the month.
General importers comment
The big general importers Amag and Emil Frey are dealing with the topic. Amag imports brands such as VW, Audi, Porsche and Skoda. At Emil Frey, the brands are BMW, Mini, Toyota and many more. Together they sell more than 40 percent of all cars imported into Switzerland.
Emil Frey AG admits that the framework conditions for the garage trade in Switzerland are becoming tougher and the earning potential is becoming smaller as a result. “Additional investments in employee training and work tools are necessary in order to meet the demands of the market, the safety requirements of the products, the manufacturers and, last but not least, politics,” says Peter Hug, spokesman for Emil Frey AG. “Even the Emil Frey Group, as a larger provider, cannot escape this development.”
Auto-Switzerland welcomes Motion
The Association of Swiss Automobile Importers (Auto-Switzerland) takes the matter seriously. Spokesman Christoph Wolnik says: “Certainly, the situation for small garages has not become easier with the increasing complexity of products in the automotive industry and the steadily growing proportion of electronics.”
The members of Auto-Schweiz have already adhered to the applicable rules in competition law in the past. “That’s why we welcome the enshrining of the regulations for all market participants in an ordinance, as required by the Pfister motion,” says Wolnik.
* Name known