Industry Issues and IdeasPosted 1/14/2003
By Levy Joffrion
With the new year comes new opportunities for mechanical shop owners. A lot of factors indicate 2003 is going to be a banner business year. However, some nagging issues remain. Issues that greatly impact the bottom line of independent automotive repair shops.
The Automotive Service Association is aware of the issues, and rest assured that ASA is doing all it can to address them. After all, as the mission statement of ASA's Mechanical Division says, its goal is to "elevate the professionalism of the automotive aftermarket repair industry by providing ASA members and industry allies with information and services that will benefit the repair industry and the motoring public."
Among issues getting the association's attention are shops' need for information and keeping up with technology, getting - and keeping - good technicians, technical training, emissions testing and shop licensing.
Largely because of the work of ASA members for many years, independent shops should have the same access to service information, diagnostic tools and training as dealer shops by Aug. 31, 2003. That's according to the information availability agreement ASA helped negotiate recently with automobile manufacturers. Twenty-one of the 22 automobile manufacturers signed the agreement.
In fact, it looks like shops will have all those things even earlier. Representatives of 11 manufacturers who were at the Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) in November said independent repairers would have the information, tools and training it needs in the first quarter of this year. Also, the same diagnostic tools made available to dealerships will be made available to independent repairers at a reasonable cost.
ASA has been working on this issue for years. After a U.S. Senate hearing, the agreement was reached. Indicative that the agreement has "some teeth" in it: Congress has asked for a periodic report on the status of information availability for independent repairers. Robert L. "Bob" Redding, ASA's Washington, D.C., representative, and others are monitoring the issue day by day. The first report to Congress has been written.
Also part of the agreement is a problem resolution process through the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). Because independent repair shops are dealing with so many automakers with various business philosophies, there will be issues that arise for repairers. NASTF will serve as the point of contact for repairers who have difficulties obtaining service, tool and training information (see sidebar).
Getting and Keeping Technicians
Shop owners don't need to be reminded that getting - and keeping - good technicians has been an ongoing problem.
Doing everything it can to address the concern is ASA's School-to-Work Subcommittee.
Members of the subcommittee will continue to seek opportunities to work with various groups and associations in a concerted effort to recruit young people into the industry and retain technicians once they are hired.
The School-to-Work Subcommittee is working with the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC) to create a publication, "ATMC Technician Recruitment Guidelines." The subcommittee and ATMC have already completed "Guidelines for Automotive Technician Retention." It's available to ASA members for $15.95 and can be obtained by calling ASA's Membership Department at (800) 272-7467, ext. 246.
Once you've got a technician, you've got to keep him or her up-to-date on the ever-changing technology.
With that in mind, the Mechanical Division is working with Melior Inc., a provider of Web-based technical training, to provide instruction for ASA national members at a discounted price.
Top-quality technical training classes are provided annually at CARS, and throughout the year, courses are offered by the Automotive Management Institute, which ASA supports.
Emissions testing continues to be a concern, including state implementation programs (SIPs).
ASA's board of directors supports each state's right to develop the type of program it determines is appropriate for that state. However, especially in light of the emphasis on clean fuel and clean engine technologies, ASA is concerned about the future of emissions inspection and maintenance (I/M). Members of the Mechanical Division Emissions Testing Sub-committee have met with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as members of the industry to discuss the future of I/M.
For the past several years, as a prelude to CARS, there has been a forum on emissions inspection and maintenance to raise the awareness of I/M issues affecting the automotive industry, consumers and regulators. Among those invited to attend are state and federal regulators and administrators, automotive repair professionals and other interested parties.
The forum affords attendees an opportunity to exchange ideas on emissions inspection and maintenance, an opportunity to promote industry strategies that would put more cars in the shops, and a chance to discuss the future direction for I/M.
Whether shops should be licensed by the state has been an issue for years ... one that ASA has addressed for a long time and will continue to address.
Indicative of the importance of the issue is the fact that 68 percent of mechanical shop owners who responded to an ASA survey in February 2001 felt shop licensing should be a requirement for professionally servicing and repairing automobiles.
The Shop Regulations Subcommittee, which consists of both Mechanical Division and Collision Division members, believes ASA should serve as a resource for members seeking information about shop licensing. With that in mind, members of the subcommittee will work with Redding to develop "best practices" for shops to become licensed. Included will be "shop criteria" guidelines that could be used in a legislative bill. The guidelines would provide an outline of the basic areas to be addressed and allow each state to fill in the specifics for its respective state.
The basic areas to be addressed include registration; repair orders; estimates; insurance; training; board to govern; enforcement; equipment; unfair or deceptive practices; compliance with local, state and federal regulations; funding; certification of technicians; and consumer education and protection.
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