© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Flat out of batteries

Violet French
IMG 2795
John Butson and his dwindling stock  Violet French

John Butson has been busy through lockdown, mainly replacing car batteries, but he's now worried about supplies.

Butson operates a State Roadside Rescue vehicle, based at A1 Auto 4 Services, on Fitzgerald Avenue. When he's not doing that or Warrant of Fitness testing, he's wondering when his container load of car batteries might arrive from the Philippines. 

During Covid alert levels 3 and 4, Butson says he was busy with roadside assistance callouts. "Numbers wise, we were up there quite considerably," he said.

Butson believes it came down to people being more vigilant, with a prepared-for-anything approach to the Delta outbreak of Covid-19. He said there seemed to be no hesitation from people needing to swap out a car battery, his most common fix. According to the Automobile Association of New Zealand (AA), battery replacements account for 63% of call outs nationwide (more than 11,000 calls annually).

"The socio-economic side of it didn't matter, they just had to have their car reliable" said Butson.

As for the impact financially for Butson, it's more about getting ahold of stock rather than any drop in customer numbers. He jokes that he "probably financially" is suffering from stock limitations or shortages, going on to say he "probably has more stock in the ute than on the shelf", gesturing to the sparse slats where spare car batteries are usually housed.

He explains that car batteries, being classed as dangerous goods, cannot be air freighted, coming instead by sea from the Philippines. That's a process that (pre-Covid) was cost-effective and efficient. He explains that "previously a container out of the Philippines to Auckland was $4,500, and they used to say it'll be there on Thursday,"

That isn't quite the case now. "Now, you gotta pre-pay $10,000 for the same container, and it'll turn up when it turns up, they can't give you an ETA." 

The AA's Hayley Twort says their supply is under control, but the organisation has seen significant price increases however, as the suppliers look to offset the increasing freight costs.

Butson's confident that he can make it work too, saying he's 'been in the game a while', adding "so [I] know the alternatives for options for different vehicles."

He says "there's no real excuse to not have a registered car, unless it's unwarranted of course"- in which case, he's here to help.