“There’s pleasure in driving.”
It probably won’t come as a surprise that the person who told me that is a retired ChampCar, IndyCar and NASCAR driver – Canadian Patrick Carpentier, who was taking part in a media campaign to talk about the dangers of distracted driving. In his home province of Quebec, distracted driving has surpassed drunk driving as the No. 2 cause of vehicle accidents (speeding is No. 1).
It’s not every day that I get to interview a professional racecar driver, so I indulged myself by asking him what he thinks about autonomous vehicles. That’s how the conversation veered to the joy of driving.
I thought it was such a profound statement. Perhaps it’s because I can’t think of anyone more credible than a professional racecar driver to remind us that, indeed, there is pleasure in driving.
I enjoy driving, and I’ve enjoyed it from the day I got my learner’s permit. There’s pleasure in driving. I’m hearing that some kids today are in no hurry to start driving – I can’t relate to that.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve found that there’s pleasure in writing too. After nearly 20 years in journalism, I still feel that way (well, most of the time).
When I was in high school, and starting to think about a career in journalism, I wanted to write about the auto industry – because that’s what I was reading at the time. I loved to read about the business side of the auto industry, and I was hooked on car reviews (I still am). I loved how the automotive writers so effortlessly wielded phrases like “taut suspension,” “supple ride” and “thrilling acceleration” to convey their perception of the driving experience in a cool way (at least I thought it was cool).
My life in journalism took a few twists and turns, but it eventually led me to the auto industry – and inside the assembly and machining plants that make our vehicles. A personal and professional highlight was a phone interview with former Ford CEO Alan Mulally.
For the past year and a half, I’ve been covering the collision repair industry, as senior editor for BodyShop Business (which also is part of Babcox Media). And that brings me to the present: Counterman. It’s where my career comes full-circle, taking me from the assembly line to the repair shop to the distribution warehouses, jobbers and parts retailers of the automotive aftermarket.
Even in my most stressful moments, I remind myself that at the end of the day, I get to write about cars. And I think you can make a similar statement about aftermarket distribution. At the end of the day, your job is about cars, trucks and SUVs (maybe a few vans and motorhomes too?) and the parts that keep those vehicles moving. There’s pleasure in driving, and you’re a key component of the equation.
Times Are Changing
It’s a fascinating time to be part of the automotive industry. Technology is having a truly disruptive effect on the way we design, manufacture, sell, buy, repair and service today’s vehicles – and that certainly applies to the automotive aftermarket and distribution space.
As a writer, of course, that’s manna from heaven. There’s so much to talk about these days, from advanced driver-assistance systems to the promise (or threat) of self-driving vehicles to the promise (or threat) of ride sharing – and data sharing.
Some might say that these trends threaten the car culture that has defined our country’s economic and social identity in so many ways for more than a century. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a narrative that the younger generations have less interest in owning and/or driving a car. A repair shop manager in the Midwest – who, like many shop managers, is desperate for skilled technicians – told me he’s seeing more and more kids wait until they’re 18 to get their driver’s license. He recently had to pass on an applicant because the young man had no license or reliable transportation.
Despite all of that, I don’t see these trends as threats just yet. Actually, I see this as the golden age of driving – at least for mainstream, middle-class consumers like me. Vehicles today are more fun to drive than ever, and vehicle technology – ADAS, in particular – is making the driving experience more pleasurable and, hopefully, safer. (Speaking from experience: On long drives, adaptive cruise control is a revelation.)
As for the younger generations, I can’t predict whether or not they’ll forswear car ownership, en masse, for some type of ride-sharing scenario. I can’t imagine not owning a vehicle. But I also like the fact that there are so many more transportation options for people to get from Point A to Point B, especially for people who can’t afford a reliable vehicle, or those who live in large cities where parking is a royal pain.
Still, my feelings about vehicle ownership are summed up in the Mr. Goodwrench ad campaign that declared, “It’s not just a car, it’s your freedom.” Is there any more basic freedom than the freedom to get in your car and drive somewhere, just for the sake of driving? After all, there’s pleasure in driving. (You might have pay to a few tolls along the way, though.)
Enough About Me Though …
That’s about as interesting as my story gets. That’s why I’d much rather hear your story.
Please don’t be shy in sharing your stories – your store openings, milestones, personnel promotions, anniversaries and successes. But not just that stuff. Let us know if you have an interesting hobby or did something nice for your community. And by all means share your cool car stories – and pictures – so we all can celebrate the pleasure of driving.
Of course, we want to know what you think about the automotive aftermarket – what you’re seeing, where things are heading. In our January issue, major program groups gave us some insight for the year ahead. In the June issue of Counterman, we revisit some of the groups to reflect on their first-half highlights and talk about their second-half plans and initiatives.
That said, we welcome letters to the editor, guest editorials, article submissions and comments on our website and social media. In 2018, there are a lot of ways we can have a conversation about the business of aftermarket distribution and sales. And there’s a lot to talk about.
So that’s a little about me. What about you? Give me a call at (330) 670-1234, ext. 254, or drop me an email at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!