Automakers help source and pay for PPE needed by dealers.

Dillan Defoy, an employee at Subaru of Niagara, wears some of the personal protective equipment required during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dealers tasked with implementing health-and-safety protocols are getting varying degrees of automaker support ranging from sourcing sought-after personal protective equipment to covering part of the cost of supplies designed to combat COVID-19.

Alex Digenis, who owns two franchised dealerships and a used-vehicle store in Ontario’s Niagara region, estimated the bill to install plexiglass barriers and purchase such items as gloves, masks, hand sanitizer and hazmat suits for his vehicle-cleaning crew at his Subaru store, alone, is running into the thousands of dollars. The automaker, he said, has pledged to cover half of his costs.

“Subaru has been gracious enough and understanding enough to say, ‘this is a new reality’ and … they’re going to help share the expense, which I thought was quite lovely of them to do,” said Digenis.

Julie Lychak, Subaru spokeswoman, said the automaker has set a maximum limit on the amount it will subsidize, although she did not elaborate. Eligible items, “include all PPE and some communication materials,” said Lychak.

“It is a comprehensive list and the intention is to work with the region and dealership needs rather than produce a definitive list.”

Across the country, dealers are in different stages of reopening their stores as provincial governments loosen stay-at-home restrictions as long as businesses comply with new health-and-safety guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of the highly infectious novel coronavirus. In Ontario, which had removed vehicle sales from the list of essential services, began allowing dealerships to reopen their showrooms by appointments only as of May 4.

But demand for equipment, such as masks and disinfectant, is outstripping supply, prompting automakers, like Volkswagen, to use the “power of bulk purchasing” to help dealers buy supplies at cost.

“We sourced plexiglass shields for them to place at customer touch-points to protect staff and customers and made them available to our dealers,” said VW Canada spokesman Thomas Tetzlaff. “We moved a lot of those in just a few days.

“Same goes for signage, like the floor signs you see in stores that instruct people to ‘stand here.’ We are also working on sourcing sanitizer.

“All of the stuff … is made available to our dealers without markup. We’re just covering our costs.”

It’s a similar story at Mazda Canada, which has a team “working on sourcing PPE and supplies such as plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizers, commercial-grade disinfectants, and point-of-sale signage for our dealer partners so they don’t have to source it themselves,” said company spokeswoman Sandra Lemaitre.

General Motors Canada is helping dealers source the “proper PPE through an exclusive portal to purchase hand sanitizers, masks and protective shields,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Wright.

While supplies were scarce during the early weeks of the lockdown, they’re starting to flow more steadily, said Andrew Harkness, director of aftersales and quality assurance at Nissan Canada, which is also helping dealers source PPE and disinfectant tools at cost.

“To our knowledge, many of our suppliers are finding sources of PPE, as more and more global suppliers come online and we believe the supply chain will adapt to the new demand for PPE,” Harkness said.