ASA-CO symposium urges shop owners to gear up for significant change
Westminster, Colo.—Several speakers at the recent Automotive Service Association of Colorado’s (ASA-CO) Independent Automotive Professionals Symposium urged repair shop owners and personnel to embrace change and prepare themselves to service vehicles of today and tomorrow for future viability.
“The elements of what we provide the people of our customer base — basic transportation — is a need that will continue,” said luncheon speaker Ron Pyle, president of ASA national. “What it looks like will change.”
The daylong event, which took place Jan. 28 at the Westin Westminster, drew nearly 200 mechanical and collision repair shop owners and their staffs, who had access to eight training seminars and a platform to network with their peers.
“In the next five years, you’ll see technology that turns your business upside down, more so than the last 20 years,” said morning keynote speaker Chris Chesney, industry trainer and CARQUEST director of professional markets. The U.S. government’s 2017 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard of 35.5 MPG for an automaker’s entire fleet, and the 2025 benchmark to 51 MPG city/60 MPG highway, he said, are a driving force behind the vehicle technology under development, he said.
Chesney kicked off the symposium that featured sessions on topics ranging from gas direct injection to hydrogen fuel-cell technology to unibody vehicle construction and repair.
“I truly think this industry is at a crossroads like we’ve never seen before,” Chesney said. “You’ve got to do things right or you’ll be out of business.”
The combination of federal CAFE mandates, the economy, and the “green movement” have brought the industry to these crossroads, he said.
Gas direct injection, found on current vehicles such as the Kia Optima, is the technology that will drive the industry in the next few years, Chesney said, pointing out that aftermarket shops need to prepare to service these vehicles when factory warranties expire.
On the current model year Buick LaCrosse, the engine shuts off at an idle stop, he said, using a 15-HP starter to propel the vehicle from a stop as the gas engine fires up again. “How will a service advisor explain to the customer that the alternator for this system costs $1,500 to replace? That’s something you’ll have to communicate,” he said.
Fiat employs a MartiAir Actuator that uses oil pressure to control engine valves, he said, making the type of oil vital to operation. “Putting the right oil in today’s vehicle is the most critical thing you can do.”
Vehicles that will meet the 2017 standards are in the process of being designed and will likely be completed next year, as automakers equip their factories for production for that model year. By 2050, Chesney predicts that more than half the vehicles on the road will use hydrogen fuel-cell technology.
“Where will you go to fill up your hydrogen vehicle?” Chesney asked. An infrastructure must be set up within a decade, he said, adding that this is where the industry is headed.
To remain viable, it’s up to the technician or shop owner to obtain access to training and tooling before the customer arrives with that new vehicle, he said. “Just-in-time training doesn’t always work.”
Speakers at the symposium noted that because of rapid technology changes, longevity no longer ensures future success.
“It is not sufficient to rely on loyalty and history,” Pyle said. “Change is inevitable, never comfortable, but growth always comes from change. We have to change — it’s not a choice, but a requirement.”
However, the basic tenets of customer service remain intact when serving motorists, Chesney said, with time and convenience at the forefront.
“The one thing that will never change is that there’s only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week,” Chesney said. “What we need to keep in mind is that the most important thing that impacts our customer is time, not money. How are you managing their time and servicing their vehicle?”
Small things, such as personalizing a parking space with customers’ names and telling them to look for it prior to the appointment, save time and make them feel special, Chesney said. “It’s all about taking care of the customer, not just the car.”
“We have an obligation in this industry to be an example for our economy,” Pyle said. As markets change and the industry changes, adjustments are necessary, he said, pointing out that investments in tools and equipment are required. “That bar is being raised every year.”