13 Jul 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

Auto-mechanik for the people

It was standing room only as Automechanika Birmingham bounded back into the NEC during June after a four-year hiatus.Over 500 exhibitors from across the world brought everyone in, and the seminar programme kept everyone hooked. The event was divided into three zones for convenience; Aftermarket, the UK Automotive supply Chain Forum, and the Big UK Garage Event.

Premier MOT Training was using its platform at the event to remind MOT testers of the importance of keeping up with training. Managing Director Donna Chapman observed: “We are trying to encourage MOT testers to do it bitesize chunks rather than all in one.” The training provider was also running a competition at the event where the prize was a free assessment and CPD for a garage with up to five testers.

Dayco was there to remind technicians about its BIO belt in oil, which is OE in a number of engines in cars made by PSA and Ford. While the system offers a number of advantages, they do need to be changed, and this is sometimes missed. National Sales Manager Steve Carolan observed that the company offers aftermarket replacement kits for garages: “There is uptake on the kits, and we are expecting higher demand for the next four-to-five years. If you do find an engine has an issue, you are helping the customer, and there is more business for the garage so it is a win-win.” As part of the BIO focus, the company was giving away a special measurement tool to visitors.

Growth area
For Ecobat Battery, the show was a chance to meet their clients face-to-face. Andy Waite, Product, E-Commerce and Marketing Strategy Manager commented: “We were last here in 2018. Since then, lithium battery recycling has become a big growth area for our business.”

Commenting on how Ring and OSRAM found the show, Marketing Director for Ring Henry Bisson said: “It’s always nice to meet people face to face and show them our products and demonstrate the benefits of having us on board.” OSRAM Lighting Marketing Manager Terri Clark added: “There’s such a variety of visitors that attend, and there’s always something for everyone on our stand.”

For Bosch, the focus was on its ADAS calibration and its secure diagnostic access offerings. With ADAS now largely accepted as mainstream in the parc, a major swathe of the Bosch stand was dedicated to ADAS demonstrations and discussions.

Moving over to HELLA’s stand, we spoke to Marketing Manager Helen Goldingay, who told us: “We are here to promote HELLA’s offering in the marketplace, which includes lighting, electronics, diagnostics and ADAS. We have for the first time ever two show offers, on the megamacsX and the MTAB high-voltage tester.” Head of Sales Julian Goulding then noted: “If you have the right kit you don’t have to turn cars away. This certainly applies to EVs.”

Important opportunity
Beyond the specifics of kit, The Motor Ombudsman was highlighting the recent expansion of the Service and Repair Code to cover mobile mechanics and more. Bill Fennell, Chief Ombudsman and Managing Director of The Motor Ombudsman, noted: “Enhancing the reach of the Code gives The Motor Ombudsman the platform to share its expertise and industry best practice to drive standards even higher in the mobile repairer area of the market.”

Another sort of opportunity was arising with the ongoing expansion of the MOTRIO Service Centre network. The Renault-backed chain, which currently has 30 members across the UK is looking to grow, as Senior Customer Support Manager Saqib Qureshi explained: “We are aiming to have 90 garages in membership in the UK by the end of this year, and 250 sites by 2025. We are working with Fixter to help drive work into garages.”

Also on the garage network front, AA Approved Garages used the show to launch a new package for garages wanting to be EV ready. AA Approved Garages Network Director Anthony Garbacz commented: “As the servicing, maintenance and repair industry shifts towards electric vehicles, garages are facing a unique set of challenges. With our comprehensive suite of propositions, we are confident they will help to equip garages to thrive in the future.”

Later on the first day, ALLDATA held a press conference to update the market on the company’s info offering to garages. “We have more than 200,000 technicians using our products globally” said ALLDATA President Satwinder Mangat. “The first reason we are the dominant player is because have more OEM contacts than anyone – 32 in total. The second is our speed of publishing. The third is the depth of our company, and the fourth is our customer service.” Senior Manager for Customer Relations Daniele Marra then went through the system, highlighting its searchability as well as the technical bulletins offered. “The information from the OEMs is not edited,” he observed.

Staying on the data side, InfoPro Digital was looking to highlight its presence in the market following its acquisition of Haynes in 2020. Commenting on their product offering, Global Head of Marketing Simone Strimber said: “It is not just information to fix the car; It is everything all around it.” The company has also recently enabled its management system offering to provide enterprise resource planning (ERP).

The second day saw the Aftermarket Keynote Conference take place, in association with Aftermarket magazine in case you were wondering. A packed-out audience heard from sector luminaries like LKQ Euro Car Parts CEO Andy Hamilton, IAAF Chief Executive Mark Field, GiPA UK Head Quentin Le Hetet and more, who covered all the major issues impacting on the industry.

Handily positioned right next to the seminar theatre, thereby gaining a ringside seat and a steady stream of visitors was ELTA Automotive. The company took this to their advantage in order to highlight the recently launched range of VXPRO heater and blower motors. “It’s a bit of a shift for us” pointed out Marketing Manager Tim Brotherton, “and we are using Automechanika Birmingham as a springboard for that.”

Also making the most of the promotional platform that Automechanika Birmingham represents was Straightset, who were at the show to highlight the ongoing development of the Supertracker brand under their ownership. “Our priority is to show that Supertracker is very much here” said Marketing Director Julia Blake. “We have had people coming on the stand who tell us they have been using the equipment for 30 years.” In terms of specific kit, the company’s laser aligner system was on show in the stand, with both the more conventional red-ray version, and its new green-ray stablemate that will enable users to perform alignments outside where necessary. Julia added: “We are taking wheel alignment and making it better. Supertracker is here to stay and it is evolving.”

Another thing that caught our eye on the way round was the electric London black cab on the TR Fastenings stand, for which the company has been helping provide lightweight components.

Our next stop was with The Verification of Lubricant Specifications (VLS), which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2023. The organisation also launched a specially-commissioned white paper at the show, looking back on developments in both the lubricants industry and VLS over the past ten years. VLS Chairman Mike Bewsey, who was also one of the original founding Board members, said: “We are confident that ten years after VLS was formed, the message around compliance is being heard, but as the industry evolves, a recent influx of cases shows that there is still work to be done to ensure an open and fair marketplace.”

The topic of lubricants and additives slid us into the third and final day at the show when we started our stint with a stop at the Kalimex stand. The company is the official supplier of JLM Lubricants products in the UK, and JLM’s International Sales Manager Jeroen Schutz was over for the show: “Kalimex is really supporting the JLM brand. They are doing a great job.”

Another well-known name that had a good show was Arnold Clark Autoparts, as Group Factor Manager Craig McCracken observed: “The show has been absolutely fantastic.” When we were there, visitors were being entertained by a magician, when they were not climbing over each other to take selfies with the Vampire drag racer. Craig continued: “We have showcased our products, and we had 250 sign-ups for our new trade website. By the end of day two, some of those new customers had already placed orders.”

One-stop shop
LKQ Euro Car Parts had a number of different stands at the show to cover all that they do, and Workshop Solutions Director Bob Wiffen noted: “We’ve had some great feedback., so it’s been really good for us. It’s all about dealing with change that happening right now. Some garages tend to believe hybrids and electric vehicles are a long way away, and I keep pointing out 40% of the vehicles sold last year were hybrids.”

Head of Support Lee Chapman added: “We’re trying to give a one-stop shop to every garage. Via LKQ Academy, we’ve got courses on anything the garage can possibly need.”

The training trend for us continued into the third day, which was officially student day, with hundreds of apprentice mechanics brought in from across the country to learn more about the industry. Autotech Recruit used the event to launch its new Toyota Talent Powered by Autotech Academy collaboration. The goal is to help increase the number of technicians working in its 240-strong Toyota and Lexus dealer network.

Toyota General Manager Customer and Network Support Greg Culshaw said: “Our retailers across the UK offer outstanding working environments, structured genuine career progression supported with excellent world-leading training. We are therefore excited that these opportunities have now expanded with our initiative.”

Autotech Group Managing Director Simon King added: “We will support Toyota’s recruitment objectives and ensure that each intern gets the best possible chance of securing a permanent position and long-term career at the end of the six months.”

We next stopped by the BM Catalysts stand, where Commercial Director Mark Blinston said: “It’s been a really good show. One focus for us has been new technology, particularly the SCR offering. Our main focus however has been future technology and the development of the MOT. People have no idea what is coming. We are trying to separate out the cold end from the hot end element. Our challenge is to make sure we are ready for it.”

Moving over to Melett, Country Manager Tom Irving said: “We have been reaching out to people. We want to make sure we are supplying what people want and what people need. We have been here to learn as much as possible.”

We then took a moment to enjoy the comfortable chairs on the WAI stand, and spoke to Director of Commercial Operations Dimitri van Schilt. “We had a lot of visitors, and we were able to introduce new products, including our EV range. We are in a transitional period, and we are looking to the future.”

Meanwhile, ISN Europe is looking to the future, while also bringing a name from the past back to life. The company used the show to launch its BALCO range, and through it is offering tyre changers, wheel balancers and wheel aligners. That isn’t to say that was all visitors found on the stand. “Our focus at the show is on Hofmann Megaplan and BALCO, along with Tyre Bay Direct,” said ISN Europe Head of Marketing Rich Swann. “With BALCO,” he added, “we are offering longevity, quality and ease of use.”

LAUNCH UK were on a diagnostic kick for the duration of the event, and according to Managing Director Dave Richards it was proving very popular with attendees: “I have barely been able to step off the stand all week,” he observed. “We’ve had incredible footfall, and taken loads of orders for our products.” Some of those on the stand were hoping for a selfie with DPF influencer Jimmy O’Reilly, who was available to interact with the crowd.

Over on the SNP Europe stand, Marketing Director Martin Turner said: “It’s been a really great show. It’s the first time we have exhibited at Automechanika Birmingham and I’ve been really pleased.”

We then made a stop on the TechMan stand, where Training and Implementation Manager Mickey Wyckes said: “We have met a lot of new businesses, as well as existing customers. We were promoting our new KPI board, with which users can review many areas in the system.”

Looking at what was achieved over the three days of the show, Marketing Director at event organisers Messe Frankfurt UK Alex Jones said: “We are absolutely blown away by how well the show was received. We’re so happy we could play a small part in supporting this wonderful industry tackle their vast and varied challenges head-on.”

It was then up to Managing Director Simon Albert to sum everything up: “This was undoubtedly the best Automechanika Birmingham to date – not just because of the quality and number of attendees, but because of the overwhelming positive feedback we have received from exhibitors and visitors alike.”

Looking ahead, the UK Garage and Bodyshop Event returns to the NEC 5-6 June 2024, with Automechanika Birmingham 2025 then roaring its way towards us from 3-5 June 2025.

There is also the matter of Automechanika Frankfurt 2024, taking place 10-14 September, but that’s a story for another day.