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Point Of View: Are We Ready For The HEVs?

“Hybrid vehicles are the fastest-growing segment of the light-duty vehicle market” 2011, National Research Council – Assessment of Fuel Economy Technologies

“The number of registered HEVs in the U.S. grew to nearly 2 million [in 2012]” – State Clean Air Index

“Nine of the 10 most fuel efficient vehicles today are hybrids or electric vehicles” – Fueleconomy.gov’s Top Ten EPA-Rated Fuel Sippers

Maybe it’s my age, but it is amazing to me how quickly and decisively things have changed in our business. Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that we were shocked that we were able to do a simple parts look up on a dedicated computer equipped with electronic cataloging capabilities. And now I’m seeing detailed ads for parts look ups on my smartphone with pictures, related sales opportunities and information on how to install the part.

Not that long ago, cars were being equipped with 8-track tape players, then CD drives, and now vehicles are Internet capable with Pandora, Sirius and iTunes dominating our entertainment possibilities, while that connectivity allows the car to communicate with service centers, sending diagnostic information and helping to set up an appointment.

And, just as quietly and quickly, alternative fuel vehicles have entered the aftermarket fleet, and this industry has begun the daunting task of preparing our shops and technicians to service vehicles beyond the usual internal combustion powered vehicles we have been dealing with for more than a century. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that, in 2011, there were nearly 11 million alternative fuel vehicles in the United States. This total includes nearly 10 million ethanol-flex fuel vehicles, of which about 1 million actually used E85.

For example, the Automotive Maintenance & Repair Association in conjunction with its Motorist Assurance Program is having its Fall Tech Committee meeting at DePaul University’s O’Hare campus in Chicago Sept. 10-12, and one of its major technical presentations is titled “Retail Service Opportunities For Hybrid-Electric Vehicles,” addressing this growing need and what our industry may need to do to act upon this prospect.

As the AMRA/MAP info on the event states: “Many of the HEVs on the road today are old enough that they are no longer covered by the OEM warranty. And, the owners of those vehicles are looking beyond the OE dealer – to find reputable repair shops that can perform all the same basic repairs and maintenance services that they’ve trusted our shops with in the past … Maybe that 6-year-old HEV needs a coolant pump replaced. Certainly you don’t [need] specialized training and tools related to high-voltage electrical motors and batteries to change a coolant pump … or do you?” The presentation promises to answer that question and others related to this cutting-edge issue facing today’s service shops.

So, as with other changes in our industry paradigm, are we ready for these vehicles that can become part of the service mix? Or will we fumble the ball in the early stages, missing opportunities that could be there for the taking?

I remember when the flood of Asian imports hit our industry back in 1980s and into the 1990s, when we were less than responsive to a burgeoning opportunity sitting on our doorsteps. We were at best reactive in providing the parts and trained service needed to support that significant market segment, when a more proactive approach could have been beneficial.

We have since caught up in that import segment, but we need to stay on top of this alternative fuel vehicles opportunity so not only are we able to cash in on the additional business possibilities, but so we are serving the American motoring public as we always have.

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Gary A. Molinaro
Publisher

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