ATOM addresses two issues: the physical transformation of the workshops and providing the owners with training to help them manage their business better.
My first car was a Datsun 120Y, and boy, was I delighted with my set of wheels. I was finally as free as a bird. I always joked that my car would have been a dream car – if I was driving the car in the early 1970s!
However, driving the Datsun 120Y in the 1990s meant I was often bypassed by other cars while on the road. Going up slopes and hills took effort. Driving on the North-South Expressway equals staying on the far left lane unless there were other antique cars on the highway which I could then gleefully overtake.
Yet, for many years, my Datsun 120Y deposited me safely home every night – thanks to my very diligent neighbour mechanic. He operates from the Castrol petrol station. When I last saw him, he was still operating a bare-bone workshop with one assistant.
My story probably resonates with most of us who knows at least one mechanic who operates in our neighbourhood, and works very hard to make a living. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to be able to make much headway in his business despite sweating blood and tears.
Now, there is an opportunity for our friends to grow their business with ATOM or the Automotive Workshop Modernisation project. ATOM aims to address two issues: firstly, the physical transformation of the workshops and secondly, by providing the owners with training to help them manage their business better.
To facilitate the physical transformation, we provide a soft loan of up to RM100,000 and RM50,000 to car workshop owners and motorcycle workshop operators respectively. The loan, obtained from Bank Rakyat, has a repayment term of 15 years and comes with a 3% interest.
However, we don’t just hand out money. Prior to the loan approval process, an advisor will evaluate the applicant’s operations and make recommendations on the necessary renovations and equipment purchases.
In addition, training is provided. The areas covered include management accounting and ways to increase customer satisfaction. This helps to ensure that the program will provide a long-lasting impact on the businesses, further enabling the owners to enjoy a sustained increase in income.
Since ATOM was launched in 2011, the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operative and Consumerism in collaboration with seven associations and companies, has transformed 108 workshops.
For VK Suhumaran, Kampar, ATOM is a blessing. He operates a bare-bones motorcycle workshop, and had always experienced cash flow problems. With over 30 years of experience, he works seven-days a week, and rarely goes home before 8pm.
With the loan, Suhumaran bought a scissor lift for motorcycles. This helps him in his work as he doesn’t have to bend down so much anymore. He said it is less tiring and there is no back pain.
ATOM has also enabled him to order more spare parts, and jazz up his shop. He added that he would like to know how to handle a computer.
For Surhan Jubri, ATOM enabled him to purchase two sets of scissors lift for cars. The lifts were a great investment as soon after the purchases, his business went up by 30% to 40%. He wasn’t able to expand his business earlier as he wasn’t able to secure any bank loans.
Liu Yeong Huei of Cameron Tyre & Car Centre at Tanah Rata said the same thing. With the loan, he brought the most sophisticated wheel alignment system in the world – a 3D system that cuts 20 minutes from a typical wheel alignment job. The machine cost RM90,000.
He also took the advice of the ATOM advisor and bought another tyre changing machine, and a nitrogen-based tyre filling system that pumps pure nitrogen into tyres. Like Surhan, Liu found that he is now able to charge more, and sell more value-added products and services to his customers.
It’s gratifying to see business owners are increasing their revenue. As there are many benefits to ATOM, we’ll like to encourage more Chinese and Indian participation. At the moment, 76% of the participants are Malays.
To facilitate this, we have tied up with co-operatives such as Suria (Indian community), KOJADI and Koperasi Peralihan Usahawan Cina Malaysia Bhd (Chinese community), Koperasi Jaringan Sepadu Malaysia Bhd (Malay community), Koperasi Pembangunan Masyarakat Maju Sabah Bhd (Sabah) and Koperasi Automobil Kuching Sarawak Bhd (Sarawak).
We have big plans for ATOM. The physical transformation and management training are only the beginning.
Our ultimate aim is to implement quality and standards in this unregulated industry by introducing star ratings. Owners and operators who undergo training provided will graduate with certificates. The training can cover many areas, including automotive technology, advanced automotive technology and others.
The higher their qualifications and hence, competencies, the more stars they will receive. With this star rating, they will be able to approach insurance companies. With the assurance of quality, insurance companies can now become referral points who can recommend these operators for repair jobs.
In addition, we are currently in discussions with insurance companies to reduce the premiums imposed on car owners who use the services of workshop operators recommended by the insurance agencies.
This is going to be a very challenging task but we hope that we will be able to transform the industry and make a difference for the workshop owners and their families.
We are very excited about ATOM and strongly encourage those interested to apply at their respective Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism state office and/or the relevant cooperatives listed above. We still have a budget to transform 50 more workshops this year.
Come and be transformed.
Ravindran Devagunam is the Wholesale & Retail director of Pemandu (Performance Management & Delivery Unit), Prime Minister’s Department.