Running a Shop Shop Life Columnists

Stokes: Don’t Panic About the Future, Prepare for It

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Cars aren’t like old TVs. You may throw an old TV away when a new TV comes along. That doesn’t happen with cars. Cars are a bigger investment. And since cars last so long, we have to pay attention to what's happening with electrification.

We don’t want to go broke trying to get ahead of the curve for something that's not yet affecting us. So I think the key question is timing. When do you buy the tool? When do you buy the machine that you “don't need yet” but you will, eventually? And I think for everybody, that's a question they have to answer: if you're closer to a larger city, you're going to see more of this; and, if you're in a more rural area, you're going to see less. 

I would also say that, even with all the changes, to look at the Toyota Prius. It’s roughly been around for 20 years. For that car to become mainstream and get near the amount that didn't even have on the road now has taken 20 years. So, it's going to be a long time coming, and it's not going to happen overnight. And we don't know that it's just going to end up being only electric. There could be a reverse hybrid, like the Volt. We could see some hydrogen products get introduced. Other gasoline engines are out there, so I think you got to be prepared for the change in gasoline, the changes with diesel, and the possibility of more advanced reverse hybrids that we're going to see. As battery tech and electric tech continue changing, you need to keep researching—you've got to be reading; you got to be watching.

You'll notice EVs prominently on the road in the next two to three years, but you won't see them in bays. It won’t be until that five to seven-year mark when you'll start seeing enough showing up in your repair bays, and that’s when you need to shift your business model. That's a long way out, but we have to keep an eye on it. Timing is everything. 

If you're too quick on the gun and you invest too much money, 1) when the proper tools come out—in droves—they're going to be cheaper. You paid the most because you bought in right in the beginning as an early adopter, and 2) a lot of these vehicles, when they debut with whatever new technology they're going to have on them, there's going to be different ways to fix them than we've even thought of. There might be an app on your smartphone. It’s like when everybody ran out to do ADAS stuff and bought big buildings, et cetera. And then we had manufacturers saying, ‘Alright, we're going to sell you a couple of fancy cones and give you a little computer’ and before you know it, it will be just something on your smartphone, and you'll set some stuff in an empty parking lot and program the car. 

Stuff is changing rapidly. We’ve got to be careful that we time this right. We don't want to get too far behind. We also don't want to be too far ahead. And so you got to think through it and then pay attention to what part of the country you're in because certain parts of the country will be quicker to adopt than others.

I think people like to panic and sell the story that all auto repair shops are going to freak out and go away. That's not reality. It's going to be a bit of a mix. You're going to see electric, diesel, and hybrid, and then more battery services and more gas; a mix of everything. And then all the new tech in the cars—the battery, the cameras, and the sensors—is going to keep all of us busy. Twenty years ago, none of us worked on sunroofs. Most cars didn't have them. Now, they're leaking all the time and the motors are failing. We didn't have seats with massage motors. Now, you can get a Ford F-150 and it massages your butt all the way to wherever you're going. So people will come into your shop with those features not working, and you’ll get to work on them. I think we all need to realize that's the future—there are going to be more features on cars that are breaking. That just means you’ve got to be even better. Plus, your pricing is going to be protected and your market share is going to be protected if you stick with it and keep up with the technology as it rolls out. Keep researching to stay on top of it, you've got this!

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