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  Guest Editorial

New Vehicle Features Demand Better Technician Skills

Posted 12/13/2005
By Stan Stephenson

A 40-year veteran automotive journalist shares his thoughts on topics of concern to the automotive service industry in 2006.

I am often asked by service dealer friends of mine, and others I address at industry association meetings, about my take on industry issues. Because I am now being asked for my future thoughts, I have come up with some items that should be of concern to all independent service shops.

First, the American economy will not suffer from higher gasoline prices than we have been accustomed to. I believe many will accept them as affordable. Gasoline pricing will decline somewhat over the short term. But I believe it will go up to around $3 per gallon over the next few months. By the end of 2006, we could be looking at $4 per gallon in some - if not a majority of - markets.

Second, the average motorist does not seem to be concerned today about the per-gallon price to fill up the tank. I travel on East Coast interstates and turnpikes several times a week. As I cruise at a steady 65 mph, where I know my engine runs well and delivers good mpg, many other vehicles go flying by. An 80 mph speed is common, so is anyone thinking about their use of gasoline? Not from my driver's seat!

Third, trends within the original equipment manufacturer design business continue to move steadily toward extending service periods, and possibly to eliminating them entirely wherever possible. That may take some time. But it is an engineering goal, and new design innovations and new materials may make it possible. The recent announcement that GM will add a diagnostic component to its OnStar system - and that it will be standard as of the 2007-08 model years - is serious stuff!

It is clear that electronics and in-vehicle software still have miles to go in terms of how both will interface with the driver. As they continue to develop, expect much more to come in about how effectively and efficiently electronics will continue to make vehicle ownership as painless as possible.

None of the above will eliminate the technician. But all shop owners and technicians are going to have to face up to the need for a much greater level of high-technology diagnostic and service skills as the next few model years come and go. Training and retraining are the keys to customer satisfaction, if that is of interest to any of you reading this! The motorist continues to expect the right fix, the first time.

A major element of shop management is the need for a periodic review of tools and equipment. Shop owners should consider whether the shop's existing equipment can still do late-model vehicle work in a time-saving manner with higher levels of precision and accuracy. Diagnostic tools also should be reviewed for replacement, and equipment software should also be updated for expanded capability.

Think of it this way: Vehicles of the 21st Century cannot be serviced with technician skills of the '90s, and shop equipment of the '80s. Today, automotive service is a high-tech business, heavily diagnostic in its orientation, and demanding in terms of the constant skill improvements that must be learned as we proceed into the future. Are you ready?

StephensonStan Stephenson is well-known to many in the independent service industry. For more than 40 years, he has been a trade press automotive journalist. Stephenson was editor-in-chief of Motor Age magazine for 19 years in the days of the now defunct Chilton Company. He currently writes an opinion column for Motor Age, but is better known for his future views of automotive service technology and his thoughts on how these may affect service shops, shop owners and technicians.

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