Electric future shock

Here we take look at the many challenges the independent garage sectors faces in an increasingly electric future

Published:  05 October, 2017

The need to adapt to changing vehicle technology is one of the main challenges of our time in the sector. Increasing connectivity and a vastly more complicated conventional vehicle provide a whole raft of obstacles on their own, before you even get to the rise of electric vehicles and hybrids.

Add to that a more uncertain legislative environment resulting from rules not quite keeping up with the technology coming in, and you’ve got yourself a whole host of issues that the entire industry needs to stay on top of if it is going to continue to offer a sterling service to customers.

Let’s look at electric vehicles. For Tom Harrison Lord from Fox Agency, the b2b marketing company specialising in the automotive sector,  Automechanika Birmingham offered a troubling glimpse into the future:  “This summer’s Automechanika Birmingham was entertaining and enjoyable as ever, but it also exemplified a worrying trend in the motor industry today. With the advancement of electric vehicles, there are going to be some rapid and stark changes ahead. The automotive aftermarket, however, seems to be burying its head in the sand.”

The key, as it has been in the past, is access. In this case, the right to be able to repair vehicles. Think that’s all sorted? Perhaps not:  “The rise of the electric cars and vehicles is something that could hit the automotive aftermarket hard – in particular, independent garages.

“Many, if not all, electric vehicles invalidate their manufacturer warranty if essential work is carried out on the electrical systems by someone other than the main dealer. What’s more, many cars with batteries, such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, have warranties on the electrical components lasting up to ten years.

“Having no choice but to use the main dealer for a full decade shows just why independent workshops will have fewer vehicles coming through the doors in the years ahead.”

So, what needs to happen next?

“The whole market needs to move with the times,” thinks Tom: “Adapt. Evolve. Diversify. As new challenges arise, so will new business opportunities – and with planning and preparation, there will be plenty around the expected increase in hybrid and electric car and van sales.

“The first step would be push through a new Block Exemption Regulation . Obviously, this happened before in the automotive industry. BERs can help provide security for independent garages and specialists, keep repair costs down, and ensure that motorists don't have to wait too long or travel too far for servicing or repairs. It makes sense for drivers, the aftermarket, and independent garages alike.

“This also brings the opportunity for a massive increase of mechanic and technician training courses and specialist garages. ‘Approved BMW i Experts’ anyone?  Third party brands could produce electric motors, CVT gearboxes and batteries too.”

Tom believes some in the sector have yet to realise the opportunity: “Back at Automechanika, there still seemed to be an air of resistance. Surely, now is not the time to put shields up and act as if the changing nature of the market isn’t happening. The scope is there for some opportunistic businesses to steal the electric and hybrid march. To specialise. To offer the required aftermarket parts and accessories. Then aggressively market their expertise.

“At the event, there was a distinct lack of electric vehicles on display, but this goes against what the manufacturers are doing in their R&D departments and their factories. Do a little research on this, and we can see that they all are busy refining the technology for future models.

“When we are in times of tremendous industry change, there can be trepidation from consumers. But they need reassuring; they need to know that garage team members are professionally trained to look
after their vehicle and fit the optimum parts.”

The evidence is out on the street, literally, says Tom: “For the garage owners and technicians who believe electric cars will never happen in large numbers, let’s consider hybrids. Try and find an Uber driver in the capital that isn’t driving a Toyota Prius – it’s not easy. In fact, they top the list for private hire vehicles with over 12,000 of them registered in Greater London last year. Using regenerative braking to reduce wear on brake pads and discs, plus a CVT gearbox with fewer moving parts means higher mechanical reliability. There are reports of some drivers receiving over 400,000 mostly trouble-free miles.
“Mild hybrids could also begin to take over from diesel cars due to the negative perception diesel has, and the possible future legislation against the fuel.”

Tom adds: “All of this means that it’s time to sit up and take notice. The aftermarket needs to look closely at these trends and adapt. An electrified future in the automotive business is happening now, so the independent garage sector and the aftermarket should begin preparing for it. It’s the first step to making your business futureproof.”

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