Almost all of us in this industry can identify with the circumstance where we are explaining to neighbors, friends, acquaintances, relatives and even strangers the industry in which we work. It can be a daunting task, with answers ranging from using the term “aftermarket” to a detailed explanation that notes that we are the ones who provide service and parts outside of the auto dealership. Even when they get a reasonable understanding of who we are, the usual follow up involves some type of conversation complaining about a recent experience in getting their vehicle serviced, or a cynical comment or two concerning the cost of diagnosing and repairing today’s vehicles.
My friends are just like yours, and even if they are financially secure, we have all been exposed to the ever-present questions about why it costs so much to repair today’s vehicles, why the parts are so expensive, and why there is seemingly no repair that doesn’t hit the wallet with a major impact.
The answer, though, is not a simple one – and it goes back to some of the fundamental challenges this industry has faced seemingly forever.
We all know that today’s vehicles are complex beyond comprehension. For example, last year, Lexus announced that it is creating two new positions at each of its 230 dealers around the country: a “vehicle delivery specialist” to show buyers how the cars work during purchase and a “vehicle technology specialist” to troubleshoot snafus after the sale. Cars today might have as many as 50 microprocessors on them with modules controlling airbags, doors, the cruise control, the climate control system, the anti-lock braking system, ad infinitum. Without a special piece of computerized system analysis equipment you aren’t able to know exactly what is wrong with that car, beyond “it won’t start.” And we all know that emission controls alone have a myriad number of sensors feeding electronic control modules and electronic control units – a high-tech array of computerized components mastering our mechanical systems.
Add hybrids and alternate fuel vehicles to the mix, along with government-mandated fuel efficiency standards, and these complexities will continue to drive the so-called problem even deeper into the perception of most vehicle owners.
Yet, all along the way, this industry has done little or nothing to educate consumers regarding what they get for what they pay. And that lack of consumer education, coupled with the constantly reinforced perception that shops are purposefully ripping off consumers, leaves us falling further and further downward in a spiral of negativism about what we do.
Even with the complexity of today’s vehicles aside, this industry has done very little over the years in informing consumers regarding what we provide in the independent aftermarket – the ability for Americans to move freely, safely and conveniently for a reasonable price. We have always missed the boat on explaining our value proposition to consumers, and with today’s complex vehicles with high-end and expensive electronic components involved, we have done nothing to counter a perception that we are just looking for a bigger invoice with each transaction.
Too many consumers believe we have them over a barrel and really believe we don’t care what it costs because the consumer has to get to work and transport the family. But the fact of the matter is that today’s vehicles last longer than ever before, are more reliable than they have ever been, and are environmental friendly in a world that needs that benefit.
As with such complex issues, there are no simple solutions – and I certainly don’t want to seem like I am accusing the industry of any purposeful negligence or indifference regarding these negative perceptions. But, as we continue to move forward, we need to be actively cognizant of this negative perception and begin to look at ways individually and collectively to reinforce the value proposition of this industry.
Though the perception is otherwise, we keep America on the road, effectively, efficiently and at a reasonable overall price. We need to make sure that is understood, clearly and concisely.
Gary A. Molinaro
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