Are You Ready For the Next Generation of Vehicles?

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I recently spent an hour-and-a-half on the freeway, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, on my way to Toyota Motor Sales’ Torrance, Calif., campus.

Please don’t misunderstand: I look at all of those cars and trucks as the opportunity that they are—not just as traffic. I’m genuinely grateful for every one of them, even if it took the better part of four hours to drive the 60 miles there and back.

I braved the traffic to spend the day with a colleague, getting a good look at what is literally coming down the road.

With 3.5 percent of the traffic presently on the road made up of “nonconventionally powered vehicles,” and with that percentage growing daily, I wanted a little insight into current and future energy storage technology (a sexy way of saying batteries).

Since Toyota has the lion’s share of both the market and the technology in use, the Torrance facility seemed like the logical place to start.

It may sound strange, but being able to say, “I’ve seen the future and it is both fascinating and terrifying” was more than worth the gridlock. The reward was the opportunity to crawl all over one of Toyota’s Hydrogen-powered, 300-mile-per-fill-up, fuel cell–powered Highlanders. More than that, it came with the opportunity to drive it!

Toyota Global

But, incredible opportunities are generally accompanied by some kind of risk. In this case, risk took the form of a series of very uncomfortable questions, the answers to which are nothing less than critical to the future of our industry.

One of these questions is something I’ve talked a lot about in the past: the concept of service readiness, the ability to bring together all the resources necessary to ensure a successful repair or service experience. That includes tools, training, technology, support and technicians. But it isn’t the only readiness challenge we are hard-pressed to meet.

You see, there’s a lot more to this issue of preparedness than just service. There’s more to talk about than just the critical issues of tools, training and technology. There’s more to be concerned about than where we’re going to find the next generation of technicians, or what to do with them.

There is the issue of business readiness to consider—whether the majority of automotive service businesses across the nation are or will be ready or able to accommodate these “service ready” technicians if or when they appear. There is the very real question as to whether or not we are capable of creating an environment inviting and/or attractive enough to sustain and retain them if they come.  

Is the business model adequate to generate the margins it will take to invest in ongoing technician education? Can we afford the tooling, benefits and compensation? Can we create a new and different compensation model, one that reinforces and rewards the kind of behaviors we know it will take to succeed? Can we create the right kind of value proposition—one actually based on value? Or, will we continue trying to solve tomorrow’s problems with the same 19th century solutions we dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century?

Realistically, service readiness will prove itself almost irrelevant if we are unable to create a new and different level of business readiness for the aftermarket.

But, I’m not sure that will be enough. We must create a new level of industry readiness, a new and different paradigm for the automotive aftermarket built on respect, appreciation and mutual cooperation.

If the industry isn’t ready, service readiness and business readiness are both moot points. And, when all is said and done, we will find ourselves tasked with the creation of a whole new level of cultural awareness, a readiness to accept the newest generation of automotive technologists for what they really are: knowledge workers engaged in a high-technology occupation, committed to lifelong learning, and responsible for the care, safety and mobility of the motoring public.

I went to Torrance to talk about batteries, alternative technologies and energy, and left concerned. And, yet, I was still energized by an even greater commitment to you, our future and this industry.

My concerns are real, but the opportunities are great! The discussion of our readiness as an industry to serve the wants, needs and expectations of the motoring public is long overdue, but it is a discussion that has already begun. The road ahead will not be smooth or without its share of difficulties and challenges, but then again, when has anything worthwhile ever proven easy to achieve?

All I really know is that I’m ready for whatever comes next, whatever it will take to move this industry forward. And, I won’t allow it to slip backward. I’m ready for the trials, tasks and tests to come. Are you?


Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at mschneider@ratchetandwrench.com.

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