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  Special Feature

CARS 2003 Recap

Posted 12/13/2003

CARS 2003 goes into the history books as one of the largest so far.

More than 600 people were in attendance last month when the Automotive Service Association held its annual Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) event at the Tropicana Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

"Automotive Service - The Next Generation" was the theme of the convention and was highlighted in the educational programs offered throughout the event. This year's CARS offered eight technical courses and four management seminars, all taught by some of the leading instructors in the industry.

Among the subjects covered in technical courses were advanced electronics, the future of OBD II, driveability diagnostics, experienced-based service tips, and technician procedures and skills.

George Zabrecky, Jessica Levy, Chris Frederick, Chris Chesney and Bill Haas led the management seminars offered at CARS. Each provided insight on how to better manage a repair facility in today's changing industry.

This year marked the second time CARS was officially part of Industry Week activities simultaneously held in Las Vegas. To mark the opening of CARS, Thursday, Nov. 6, was Service Professionals Day at the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX). ASA representatives cut the ribbon officially opening that day's AAPEX.

Thursday night, more than 850 professionals convened for the second annual Service Professionals Industry Reception, co- hosted by ASA and the International Automotive Technicians' Network (iATN). Rounding out that event was an exhibitor's showcase featuring 50 exhibiting companies and ample networking opportunities.

Bill Sauer, founder of Identifix, served as the CARS 2003 chairman. Larry McReynolds, one of NASCAR's most successful and recognized crew chiefs, served as this year's keynote speaker.

Bob Redding, ASA's Washington, D.C., representative, provided an update on the association's legislative activities, emphasizing the evolution of information availability and ASA's agreement with vehicle manufacturers to make service information available to independent repair facilities.

Valuable prize giveaways, the fourth annual Forum on the Future of Emissions I/M, and Saturday night's Chairman's Reception completed this year's CARS. CARS 2004 will be held Nov. 4-6 at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

Chairman Encourages Attendees to Drink from CARS 'Fountain of Wisdom'

Bill Sauer, chairman of CARS 2003, delivers the General Session opening address.
"If you own a shop or fix cars for a living, this is the best classroom in America. CARS is knowledge central. The automotive service brain trust can be found right here."

So said Bill Sauer, chairman of the 2003 Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS), as he delivered the traditional Chairman's Speech at CARS' recent annual meeting, telling 600 attendees he was honored to lead the event. "Having attended every CARS since its inception 18 years ago, I am probably its most enthusiastic cheerleader. I know the impact CARS has had on my business and I want you to have that same experience."

CARS is sponsored annually by the Automotive Service Association (ASA) Mechanical Division. This year's show was held Nov. 6-8 during Industry Week in Las Vegas.

Sauer, who has more than 40 years in the automotive service industry, said he especially liked the theme of this year's show: Automotive Service - The Next Generation. "There are days, I'll admit, when I feel like the past generation. Today is not one of those days."

Highlighting the educational programming that's central to CARS, and the collective experience of CARS attendees, Sauer said, "CARS is the fountain of wisdom. It's enthusiasm and knowledge captured. We have left our businesses, homes and families for a few days, so it's our responsibility to take full advantage of what's here. It's our obligation to drink deeply from the CARS fountain."

The CARS fountain, he said, exists in different places and takes different forms. It exists in the CARS classrooms where eight technical courses and four management seminars were held. Sauer challenged attendees, saying, "Engage your minds in the classrooms. Leave the pressures of your shop where they are. You are not there. You are here and so is the fountain.

"You'll find more fountains of wisdom in the people sitting next to you. They speak your language. They have many experiences that are very similar to your own. They also have many experiences that are unique. The most nourishment will come from tapping into as many different fountains as you can while you're here," Sauer said.

Contemplating what lies ahead for the next generation of automotive service, Sauer said the best indicator of the future can be found by contrasting what the industry looks like today with yesterday.

The founder of Identifix, Sauer said he recently went into his company's library and measured the 1980 General Motors Corp. factory service manuals. They took 18 inches of shelf space. He then measured the 2003 GM service manuals. They took 11 feet.

The next generation of automotive service isn't "somewhere off in the future," Sauer said. Daimler Chrysler recently announced plans to introduce 25 new models in the next three years. By CARS 2004, they will have introduced 10 new models.

"In August, Automotive News reported there are 1,366 new car and light truck models for sale in the United States. How does that number compare to 2002? Well, in just one year, it increased by 53 models," Sauer said.

"If I took all the factory service manuals we have in the Identifix library, and stacked them on top of each other, they would reach as high as the Empire State Building," Sauer said.

To really stay on top of evolving technology, a technician would need to spend 100 hours in the classroom this year. "I won't ask for a show of hands from those of you who are making certain your techs are getting 100 hours of classroom training this year," Sauer said.

Sauer told CARS attendees the automotive technological explosion of recent years has accelerated dramatically. Projecting forward, advancements will come even faster. So fast, Sauer said, "we can be scared to the point of paralysis and get left behind. Or, we can react with a thirst for the new.

"I hope you thirst for the new. Even though my career reaches back to a past generation, I am thirsty. I want to drink in everything I can. My next drink will come from the CARS 2003 fountain of wisdom. I'm so glad you're in line to get a drink too."

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ASE, Babcox Awards Presented at CARS

Mike Lowe, owner of Performance Automotive in Sarasota, Fla., - an ASA member-shop - received the ASE Top Score Award during a ceremony held at the Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS). The award recognizes the Automotive Service Association member with the highest score on the 2003 National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) test.

Bill Filley, ASA's Mechanical Division director, and Tony Molla, vice president of communications for ASE, presented the award.

Lowe began his automotive service career in 1977, and opened his own business in 1981. Performance Automotive provides comprehensive diagnostic and repair services for import vehicles. Including Lowe, the shop employs three ASE master certified technicians.

Claire Cummings was recognized as the recipient of the 2003 Tom B. Babcox Memorial Scholarship. The $1,000 scholarship is presented annually to an owner or employee of an ASA mechanical division member business who has demonstrated a desire to improve their management skills.

The financial award, sponsored by the Automotive Management Institute (AMI) and Babcox Publications, enables the recipient to attend AMI seminars held at CARS.

Cummings is the service advisor for Colchin Automotive Inc. in Arvada, Colo. AMI Chairman John Francis Jr. presented the award.

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McReynolds Speaks on Racing, Team Building, Running a Successful Business

Larry McReynolds, Fox Sports broadcaster, delivers the CARS 2003 keynote address.
Larry McReynolds is a busy man. One of NASCAR's most successful and recognized crew chiefs, he left "pit road" at the end of the 2000 season and ventured into the Fox Sports broadcast booth to join Mike Joy and three-time Winston Cup champion Darrel Waltrip. And after a trip to Rockingham, N.C., on Friday, and before traveling back to Charlotte, N.C., for a weekly NASCAR television show taped Sunday night, McReynolds made time to present Saturday afternoon's keynote address at this year's CARS convention. He shared his racing experience and thoughts on team building and management skills.

"It hasn't been an easy road," he explained to CARS attendees. "But racing has been awfully good to me."

Born in Birmingham, Ala., McReynolds explained he started in the automotive industry working in an auto salvage yard. His NASCAR career began in 1975, but he took his first crew chief job in 1985. He said it was a tough decision to walk away from racing and join the Fox Sports broadcast booth.

"As a crew chief, I always knew how I was doing. I had immediate results," he told attendees while explaining the biggest difference between being on the track and being a broadcaster. "But as I stepped into the broadcast booth, all of the sudden I started hearing about Nielsen ratings. The people at Fox Sports didn't say much. But I learned that no news was good news."

But broadcasting suits him fine. He recently signed on to Fox Sports for another five years. "My schedule is much more hectic now," he said.

McReynolds-led teams finished in the Top 10 in the Winston Cup point standings six times and finished in the Top 5 three of those times.

"When I look back at the success I've had in Winston Cup racing, I'd say that the drivers were honestly my best friends," he said. McReynolds believes it was the teamwork and camaraderie that really contributed to his success as a crew chief. "If there has ever been a team sport, it has to be racing," he said.

McReynolds also compared his crew chief duties to running a successful business. He advised CARS attendees to strengthen their own teams within their shops.

"Success is due to surrounding yourself with good people," he said. "I continually had to strengthen my weakest link."

McReynolds also hit on several points in running a successful business. First, he explained, you have to listen to everyone in your business. Sometimes the best ideas come from the least likely person. Shops should employ versatile people. You should never have just one person doing a job. Cross-training is essential. "You must saturate your business with good people," he said.

"When something goes wrong, you have to determine what you can do to prevent it from happening again. Don't just blame one person," he said. In addition, he stressed that there is a time and place to talk to your employees when you're unhappy with their performance. And that place is never in front of other employees.

McReynolds also strongly advised delegating duties. He believes you can't do everything yourself.

His final advice to attendees focused on dedication and commitment to their businesses.

"Don't sweat the little things, especially things you can't control. But you still have to make sure you pay attention to the details," he said. "You have to stay focused, dedicated and committed to your dreams. Try to do something better tomorrow than you did it today."

As an added treat for CARS attendees, McReynolds later signed autographs at the Chairman's Appreciation Reception Saturday night.

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Redding Delivers Capitol Hill Update

ASA Washington, D.C., Representative Bob Redding delivers his Capitol Hill Update at CARS 2003.
Robert L. "Bob" Redding Jr., ASA's Washington, D.C., representative, provided CARS attendees an update on the association's Capitol Hill initiatives.

Redding said that on Nov. 5, one day prior to the start of CARS, a press briefing was held in Las Vegas to provide an update on the Service Information Agreement ASA secured in 2002. Representatives from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance), the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM), the Equipment and Tool Institute and ASA reported at the briefing that all automobile manufacturers are in compliance with the agreement by providing the aftermarket the same level of service information, diagnostic tool information and training that is provided franchised dealership shops.

Redding reported that ASA President Ron Pyle received a letter in September, jointly signed by the presidents of the Alliance and AIAM, affirming the automakers' commitment to the agreement and their desire to continue working with ASA to ensure its members and the entire aftermarket have ongoing access to information and training.

ASA's efforts to garner independent repair professionals access to service information date back many years, Redding said. In 1987, the association took the forefront on discussions with automakers and the U.S. Congress, working to ensure the independent repair sector would not be locked out of service information. "The product of those conversations is in the language of the Clean Air Act of 1990," Redding said.

The dialogue didn't end in 1990. There was concern the act and subsequent 1995 regulations did not give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sufficient enforcement authority and there was no means for ensuring service information would be made available to independent repairers.

In an effort to strengthen the act's provisions, Redding said, the EPA was sued by every major aftermarket association except one: ASA.

ASA pursued a separate course of action, seeking a new EPA emissions service information regulation, which was successfully finalized this past summer. The 1990 Act requires automakers to provide complete access to information related to vehicle emissions. The bill's final regulations were published this year and do give the EPA sufficient enforcement authority.

Redding reminded CARS attendees ASA was one of the two original supporters of the Motor Vehicle Owner's Right to Repair Act that's still being considered in Congress. During ASA's 2002 Annual Convention, association members rallied on Capitol Hill, calling on members of Congress to co-sponsor the bill. That effort resulted in a doubling of the number of House sponsors for the bill and a member of the Senate was secured to introduce the bill in that chamber.

During Senate committee hearings, ASA and the automaker representatives were instructed to resolve the issue outside the legislative realm. Working from that Senate directive, the September 2002 Service Information Agreement was tendered.

The agreement calls for access to both emissions and non- emissions information. Less than a year after the agreement was finalized, the aftermarket has that information available via the manufacturers' service information Web sites. "We have the information in real time, not five or seven years later," Redding said.

The focus should now move from information availability to specific issues about the Web sites. One concern ASA has is the disparity in fees charged by the manufacturers for information. While some sites are free, the paid sites have fees that vary significantly from one manufacturer to the next.

Redding concluded his discussion on service information by reminding CARS attendees it was a long effort undertaken by ASA that culminated in the agreement and the availability of information. Now, ASA members and other aftermarket professionals must access and use the manufacturer Web sites. "If you don't use them, I think we could lose them," he said.

In other matters, Redding urged ASA members to voice their support for the Association Health Plan (AHP) legislation pending in the U.S. Senate. Having already passed in the House of Representatives, Senate Bill 545 is stalled in the upper chamber.

Rising health care costs is one of the largest problems facing small business owners. AHP legislation will allow businesses to purchase group health coverage through trade associations. A sample letter ASA members can send to their senators seeking support of S.B. 545 is available in the Legislation section of the ASA Web site,, Redding said.

Redding also reported ASA's Washington, D.C., office has completed two significant reports of interest to association members, a state-by-state mechanics lien law report and a titling report. Both are on the ASA Web site and available to members. An updated emissions report covering regulations in all 50 states has just been completed, he said, and will soon be available online.

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