Now that the festivities
of the holidays have become memory, it’s time to look at a few of the
changes we can expect to see in automotive service during 2010.
retrospect, the “economic meltdown” of 2009 obviously caused major
adjustments in the way automotive manufacturing, parts distribution and
aftermarket service does business. According to anecdotal data, many
shops are seeing a more sporadic or declining work flow while many
jobbers are experiencing overall declines in gross sales. Since major
economic events have combined to affect everybody working in the
automotive parts distribution and service areas, let’s take a look at a
few of the major changes we’re going to see and how they might affect
the automotive service market during 2010 and beyond.
can argue climate change, but what we’re seeing in automotive
manufacturing is the philosophical change in focus from conventional
vehicle platforms to hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric vehicle
platforms. Not that the technology is new. My experience goes back to
the mid-1990s when I reported on the energy companies and auto
manufacturers that used Colorado’s Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb to
showcase new fuels and technology. At that time, the technology was
already in place for electric vehicles.
During the mid-90s, one
major domestic manufacturer raced a small-sized full-electric electric
truck that was posting more than 80 miles per hour near the top of
Pikes Peak’s summit. This was an extraordinary performance for an
electric vehicle because, up to that time, most experimental electric
vehicles barely had enough battery power to race up the 14 miles of
steep, twisting dirt road to the Peak’s 14,000-foot summit.
I asked the executive in charge of the company’s motorsports program
about what the company was using for batteries, he merely smiled,
explaining that the batteries were “different.” I immediately suspected
that the truck was equipped with the then-exotic and prohibitively
expensive lithium ion batteries.
Today, lithium ion batteries are now becoming a practical part of
and electric car technology. While their major impact is perhaps five
years out, electric vehicles have become part of government energy
policy and also part of what auto makers perceive as a more
environmentally friendly or “green” image.
At the service level, hybrid and electric vehicles use regenerative braking to slow vehicles.
to the growth of this technology, we’re going to see the brake market
dwindle as well as most of the current vehicle maintenance technology.
Instead, we’re going to see much more complex vehicle control,
powertrain and battery technology take the place of the traditional
under-hood and under-car services. We’re not going to see hybrid and
electric vehicle service as part of the do-it-yourself market because
it requires specific equipment and training to address service issues.
Quite to the contrary, new equipment is required and new technicians
must be trained to meet the demand.
Last, let’s not forget that
turbocharged diesel technology is achieving efficiencies and levels of
performance heretofore unheard of in gasoline engines. Auto
manufacturers have spent generations building diesel passenger cars in
Europe, so look for electronic diesel technology to play a vital role
in domestic passenger car production.
NEW SPIN ON OLD TECH
a more practical note, we’re going to see more new cars equipped with
turbo charging and direct fuel injection. Turbo charging has become
more refined in throttle response time and has become more reliable
whiledirect fuel injection allows gasoline to be consumed more
efficiently by injecting it directly into the combustion chamber.
technology is fairly simple with a conventional low-pressure in-tank
fuel pump supplying fuel to a mechanically-driven high-pressure pump.
Depending upon driving conditions, the high-pressure pump develops
approximately 1,000 to 2,000 psi at the fuel injector. The major issue
with this system is that direct fuel injectors live in a very hostile
operating environment and are thus more susceptible to failure. Look
for this deficit to improve with advances in gasoline and fuel injector
Next, look for even more service challenges posed
by body control systems that incorporate the electronic vehicle
stability controls, traction control, and electronic steering devices
that are now becoming standard equipment in most vehicles. These
systems lend themselves very well to being networked with other
electronic chassis devices, so vehicle electronic body control systems
will become more complex. Servicing body control electronics requires
specific training and equipment; so again, we’re not likely to see the
DIY mechanic purchasing parts for these systems.
control technology means to the parts professional is that many
replacement parts will require an initialization process to become
functional in a specific chassis system. Currently, OE manufacturer
scan tools are required to initialize modules that perform common body
control tasks such as exterior lighting control. Some aftermarket tools
have limited capability, but the challenges posed by module
initialization are far from being met in aftermarket parts and service.
General Motors, among others, is joining the ranks of many European
imports in requiring vehicle-specific engine oils. The underlying issue
is that, rather than being determined by specific mileage intervals,
oil change intervals on most vehicle platforms are now determined by a
computer-monitored system that predicts oil life according to driving
conditions and turns on a warning light that illuminates when an oil
change is required.
The key point is that these engines require
lubricating oils that match the mathematical formulas built into the
PCMs or computers. Because of this change in engineering philosophy,
substituting non-OE equivalent oil can accelerate engine wear simply
because the longevity of the oil will be exceeded by the expectations
of the software programming in the PCM.
THE TECHNICIAN SHORTAGE
education and training isn’t a technical issue, we still need competent
technicians to service the new technology. What’s misunderstood about
the current automotive employment market is that the range of required
skills has vastly increased.
At one end, we have the trade school
graduate or mechanic’s helper breaking into the trade. At the other
end, we have the ASE Master L1 technician who is well-versed in today’s
complex vehicle electronic and mechanical operating systems. In
between, we have a multiplicity of service generalists who keep the
nation’s wheels rolling.
But more to the point, we aren’t
suffering from a shortage of competent technicians as much as we’re
suffering from a shortage of well-paying jobs for competent
technicians. Right now, the independent shop stands to profit by the
number of experienced dealership technicians now pounding the pavement
in search of work. When that supply of experienced technicians is gone,
the employment market must again rely on an educational establishment
that mistakenly channels academic underachievers into what has become a
very complex and specialized profession. This unfortunate situation
will continue to be aggravated by educators and shop owners whose
technical acuity remains rooted in 1970s and ‘80s technology and
methodology. Without fundamental changes in career education, we can
expect declining results.
On a closing
note, jobber training has become more important than ever before. For
years, the three-hour, evening classes traditionally sponsored by local
jobbers have been denigrated as a source of relevant training. But
recent changes in systems like battery, starting and charging
technology have, for example, turned the diagnostics of these systems
upside-down. Without training updates on these systems, we can expect
increased warranty claims and dissatisfaction with charging system
When it comes to relevant jobber training, anything
well done is the cornerstone to success and that’s one aspect of this
industry that’s never going to change over the course of time.