Craig’s Blog

How long before Electric Cars are Mainstream?

I talked to Marc Pons, a shop owner we work with in North Carolina, about this subject recently. If you read the Wall Street Journal or Automotive News out of Detroit, both well respected news outlets, you will see a theme. EV’s are on their way and there is no stopping it. You can slow it down with news stories bought and paid for by any large corporation that would not benefit, but electric drive is the future. You may choose not to believe it. Volvo and Tesla are believers. Many more OEM’s are making future plans that see the future as I do. But what about independent auto repair shops?  Where do you fit?  How will this change your business? If you have 3 techs and they work 49 weeks a year and your customers are loyal you need about 1,000 cars per tech, if your customer has one car each. Many customers are not loyal so 2,000 cars per tech is more like it. ACDC owns 2 pure EVs, a 2011 Nissan Leaf and a 2017 Chevy Bolt. If these cars were the only ones on the road and you only serviced them you would need about 10,000 loyal customers per tech if everything else was equal. That means you will have 90% less work. If I am off by 20% and pure EVs need more work than that, you will need 7,000 cars per tech. That changes your business model and the shop must change too. Can you still make it? Sure if we lose 70% to 90% of our service bays and techs? Will that happen? It is happening now.  Which side do you want to be on?

Right to Repair in Massachusetts and Tesla

In the fall of 2012 a referendum in my home state passed with a large margin to make Massachusetts the only state (still is) where an independent shop can sue the manufacturer of a motor vehicle (gas or electric) if the OEM did not keep the playing field level in terms of service information, replacement parts, tools, equipment, software updates, scan tools and training information. It is NASTF (National Automotive Service Task Force) with teeth. The law has never been tested but it is clear to me that Tesla is in violation. If your Tesla failed our annual strict safety test you must have it fixed at the repair shop that did the test or tow it to the shop of your choice. Every car in my state gets tested every year. Obviously our emissions test does not apply to pure electric cars. Most car owners bring their vehicles to the shop they like and if something is wrong it gets fixed. Most owners will drive to another shop if it failed safety not knowing it is illegal. Those are the facts. Expect things to change soon as Tesla delivers more Model 3 cars. Currently if a Tesla Roadster, Model S or X failed for a safety defect (like a loose ball joint) you must have it fixed by Tesla, even out of warranty cars. That is not allowed in Massachusetts the way I read it as any shop should be able to make the car safe again.

July 2017 .. My new “TLOB” … what a car

2017 Chevy Bolt 60 KWh pack.

2017 Chevy Bolt 60 KWh pack.

I sent a request to Identifix for some technical information about the new 2017 Chevy Bolt ACDC has just acquired. Well guess what? I received some great info about the Volt. Then an ACDC shop called about the faster charger on the Bolt and I explained that the Volt does not have fast charging. This was all in the span of 3 days so here I am with a communication problem that makes it hard to talk about two great GM cars, the Volt and Bolt. Then I remembered a trip to Berlin last year and a strange little car called the “Trabant” and I knew I had the answer to my problem. Now at all my spoken classes we have a Volt and Tlob. Yes, that is Bolt spelled backwards and it works. Easy to say “Till-ob”, just smoosh it all together and presto, no more problem. Everyone in the class knows what car I am referring to and now learning can happen. Welcome to my world of “Tlob”. 238 miles to a charge, fast, fun, affordable and no more gasoline. I may even call it a “Tlobant” . It has a nice ring to it. 

To learn more about the Chevy “Tlob” watch for an Email inviting you a Free (sort of) one hour live Webinar soon to help raise needed funds for some special boys.

May / June 2017 … Zen … Why I blog … EV Questions

When a monthly bog is done over two months, it means one thing, ACDC is busy. But writing this helps keep me sane. Some would say it is not working.

A Great Book

A Great Book

I fixed cars and motorcycles for a living from 1967 to 1977 for someone else and ran my own shop from 1977 to 2004. As a veteran of the motor vehicle industry I am sometimes amazed at the talent a technician must have to tackle a tough problem with confidence and determination. The sheer amount on knowledge is mind boggling.  Will Electric Cars make that job harder? That topic was discussed at a class I taught in New Hampshire recently.

Here are the questions to consider;

1.   How many ways can a gas (or diesel) motor vehicle fail that causes a check engine light or drive ability concern vs. a battery only car (EV)?

2.   How many sensors and systems does each car have compared to each other?

3.   Can carbon build up cause issues with EVs?

4.   Understanding the “wheel to grave” issues, are any cars carbon free?

5.   Knowing that CO, HC, NOx and CO2 are created just to travel on wheels (not included are foot powered types) what is your best choice?

6.   What type of electrical generation is used in the driving of EVs in your area?

 

These and many more valid questions we raised and answers given. There were no “climate change deniers” so no fights broke out. As the industry moves forward cars will change even more. Some of you may move with the changes. Trends will come and go (like fins on Cadillacs). Knowing the answers to questions is what technicians get paid to do. Installing the parts in secondary.

Lastly, if you are looking for a good book to read get a copy of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I read it when it came out in 1974. The author, Robert Pirsig, died recently so I ordered another copy. It has a way of lifting up those that can fix things.

April 2017 … Washington DC and Electric Cars

Love him or Not, Obama supported the US Auto Industry, Electric cars and clean energy.

Love him or Not, Obama supported the US Auto Industry, Electric cars and clean energy.

Will the new administration make it harder for an American shop to be successful in the hybrid or plug-in market? I have stayed away from any mention of President Trump so far in regards to my business dealings. So why bring it up now? I received a call from a shop owner named Larry in the mid-west that asked me that question. It was a thoughtful discussion. I didn’t ask who he voted for. We first talked about President Obama and his policies about MPG, CO2, EV’s, renewable energy and so on. I stated that the last administration took good care of my family, my interests, my community and ACDC thrived during a tough economic time. Larry was afraid that now may not be a good time to add hybrid and EV’s (he was already in the process with a charging station installed and some training). The call was over 20 minutes long (During a busy day for both of us). We agreed that no matter what, electric cars were here to stay and hybrids are mainstream now, even in southern Illinois. The EPA is considering easing up on CO2 pollution. The fuel economy federal standards may be pushed back. The $7,500 EV tax credit may go away. Gas prices may stay low. Doesn’t this all sound like the hybrid and especially the EV market will collapse? Here is what I have seen since mid-January; sales of the new Bolt are doing well as is the Volt. Tesla 3 still has about 400,000 pre-orders. The Leaf is moving slowing with a new model coming soon. The RAV4 HEV is a hit and Prii seem to be everywhere. The Ford Fusion HEV and PHEV are selling as well as ever. ACDC is still setting records for classes taught in one year and our overseas business is booming. People like these cars. EV’s are fast and quiet. Presidents come and go. Ford is using aluminum for the F150 and adding more fuel efficient cars and trucks every year. GM is totally committed to high voltage cars and Toyota continues to make good plug-ins like the new Prime. The Hyundai Ioniq HEV beats the Prii in MPG. Who would have thought that would happen. Do I like the changes in Washington D.C. in the world of environmental issues? Not at all, but the products are here and they are selling so don’t worry. In a few years things will change again. Yes, the political weather has changed (for now) so dress for the weather. Don’t get caught leaving your hybrid and plug-in customers out in the cold. They need you and want you to succeed. Don’t let them, your employees or yourself down.

For the Over 60 Shop Owner ..February Blog 2017

Those Days are Over

Deb and I are in our mid 60’s born 18 days apart. I am older by about 2 weeks, so that makes me wiser, right? OK, enough BS already. Deb and I have lunch together most days at home, which is a short walk from the office. The conversation turned to male shop owners over 60 and the frustration they feel in today’s world. Deb and I both get that. I ran my independent Honda / Toyota shop from 1977 to 2004. One shop owner said “While I am looking at a car and putting an estimate together these young kids are price shopping me on their phone in the waiting room”. Another mature owner “Fewer shop owners join trade associations and show up to meetings”. Still another “I feel all alone and I am making less money than before” or “Dealerships are taking away our customers”. I have been accused recently of “getting out of the business so why should I (meaning me) promote it?”  Let’s address this and find a solution or two.

 

1.      Send me a note and I will write up a policy sheet (free) that explains the relationship between the shop and customer

2.      I still believe that a shop owner should be a member of the local trade association and volunteer, but if money is tight or you don’t have an association then consider this:

a.      Start an over 60 shop owners club

i.      Membership is free

ii.      Meet at a shop and rotate the meetings

iii.      Talk about the stuff that drives you crazy

iv.      Look for solutions

v.      Don’t break the law and talk prices

 

3.      Why did I close my shop in 2004? ACDC was doing well. I was raising two boys and Deb was stuck at home with them too often. I also fell in love with hybrids and out of love with gas cars. It was never about the money, it was about the one life I have to live and what was important to me.

I encourage people to give their best and stay in the game, their game, whatever that is for them. If you are done running your shop, then do something else. You don’t have to prove to anyone else or yourself that staying in business is a must. But if you are in the auto repair industry, do it well and find a way to stay positive. It is your shop and you have the final say in how it runs.

 

Is it time to get deeply into Hybrids and Plug-ins? January 2017

Hybrid and EV Specialization. Is it time? Is it for you?

Toyota trades places as the largest automaker in the world depending on the year. Why Toyota? Scott Van Batenburg, my older brother, bought a new Toyota Corona in 1966, drove it during college and after he got married. He loved that little Japanese import and it influenced my thinking about cars. I was 15 years old then and remember it well. Six years later I was working at Westboro Toyota as a technician (mechanic back then), driving a brand new 1972 Toyota Hi-Lux pick up truck, with a Honda TL125 competition motorcycle loaded in the back. Back then Toyota was not taken seriously by the Big 3. Then in 1972 Honda imported the Civic, a quirky small front wheel drive car that was the butt of jokes. I remember a Honda salesman commenting on the rubber strips that hid a series of spot welds near the roof edge saying “this car is so small they had to put the body side moldings on the top”. Funny? Sure, but it tells us that those that mock something different, something they don’t understand and don’t take it seriously can end up missing the boat.

ACDC's Insight on Cover in 2000

ACDC’s Insight on Cover in 2000

Fast forward to 2000 and hybrid vehicles were being looked at the same way. The first hybrid sold in the U.S., the Insight, was one of weirdest looking cars since the Citroen SM.  I ordered my Honda Insight on October 15,1999 after internet photos popped up on those greenie web sites. They just didn’t show how strange it really was and when it showed up it was like trying to fall in love with an ugly dog at the pound. It needs a home but it has a face only a mother can love. The first hybrids were strange. Engines shutting down and starting up on their own. High tire pressures, dash board readouts that kept you informed of your fuel economy, and high voltage. Labels that reminded techs that “You will die” if certain covers were removed.  These “HIGH-BREDS” had high voltage battery packs that no one knew how long they would last, not even the OEMs.  Strange? Weird? You bet. Misunderstood by many. Ignore them, dismiss them, hate them, or embrace them but they are here along with electric cars and the new worlds largest auto manufacturer loves them.

I interviewed three shop owners from across America. I believe these shop owners have vision, those that look to the future while away from work but stay in touch the cars of today, their bread and butter, during the business day. These shop owners and many more are clearly planning ahead.

You can specialize, like transmission shops, and still provide other services. Van Batenburg’s Garage, Inc. was my venture into the aftermarket. Opened in 1977 VBG as it was known, worked on just three makes; Honda, Toyota, Datsun. Specializing was a good business plan. It allowed VBG to have proper tools, information, training, and we were able to fix cars efficiently most of the time. Once I received management training the profitability part was easier to achieve as I realized most customers are willing to pay more at specialty shops than general repair shops. VBG’s clientele were also ready to follow my advice, maintain their cars, and work with us on difficult problems as VBG was known as a credible and proficient shop within our specialization. It was a model that worked for over 26 years.

masterMany people ask me why I no longer own a shop. I think that is a fair question and the answer is simple. I started ACDC in 1998 as a response to Massachusetts upcoming I/M program. In 2000, running two successful companies, Deb, my wife, and I decided to adopt one more child, Will, a teenager is foster care. Something had to go. VBG was closed in 2004. Enough about me, what about other shops?

Meet Andy Fiffick, a former Ford Motor Company employee that has six shops in the Cleveland Ohio area that specialize in hybrid service. This is not to say that all they work on is a hybrid, that isn’t possible when less than 3% of the cars on the road are hybrids. RadAir was an existing radiator and air conditioning shop when Andy bought it thirty years ago. After looking at the market place other services were added, a corporate logo was used in promotion, and more shops were purchased, managers hired and partnerships formed. Andy first thought of hybrids when he attended an AMI class in Florida that Deb and I, both AAM’s, were instructing. In August of 2004 RadAir ordered an Escape Hybrid, took delivery in April of 2005. ACDC was hired to train the staff and the first ACDC qualified hybrid center was ready for business. The marketing has included articles in the newsletter RadAir sends to their customers. The company hybrid was entered in the Tour de Sol hybrid fuel economy event in the spring of 2005 with Andy and employee/friend Dusty behind the wheel.  First place, a trophy, and the bragging rights to go with it.  MPG was 42.98 over a 548 mile run. RadAir found it was not a large expense to get into the hybrid market, in fact the added free publicity has more than offset the upfront costs.

D.J.s Auto is owned by a bright middle aged New Englander, Danny Pothier. A 10 bay shop in a small Central Massachusetts town, it is one of the best shops in town. ACDC is only 30 miles away so Danny and I have know each other since ACDC started in business back in 1998. After being around the ACDC hybrid fleet it was just a matter of time before the new business cards were printed that included hybrids on the bottom line. Are there lots of hybrids in Leominster? No, mostly this is a blue collar town but Danny knows that his business needs all the customers he can get. One customer that goes to the local dealership is one too many.  Danny and his crew have been staying up on the latest technologies that are non-hybrid related, so adding hybrids wasn’t too hard as they were well trained to start with. Hybrids just add more electronics with the high voltage thrown in to keep it exciting. Danny bought an old Insight but still drives a truck, but I can sense him getting ready.

Art’s Automotive is located in hybrid country, which would be Berkeley, California. It is almost uncool to not drive a hybrid if you live in the area. It is politics, the environment, and economics that the owners of hybrids talk about when you ask them why they bought a Volt, Prius, C-Max, Leaf or any other hybrid or Plug-in on the market today. Hybrids are sold by almost everyone. The global warming concern and imported oil are reasons most often mentioned as to why they bought a hybrid. What does this mean to Art’s Automotive? His shop must be tuned into the customers concerns such as fuel efficiency, the war in the Middle East, renewable energy, clean air, bio-fuels, and many more auto and non-auto related issues. Hybrids are purchased by intelligent and successful people who choose Hybrids or EVs when they could afford any car they want.  Making them feel accepted is important and Art knows this. Arts techs are all hybrid trained and Art owns a hybrid himself. Art has a great web site that educates and helps promote his business.

The demographics are important. According to a survey from www.hybridcars.com  “Hybrid owners have higher income, much higher than the average car buyer—approximately $125,000 a year versus $85,000 a year for the average buyer.  They’re more likely to be female and hybrid drivers are a few years older than the average car buyer—closer to fifty rather than the average age of forty”.  This is a great population to invite into your shop.

Once you learn how to fix these cars and get the equipment, you just go out and get customers. Will your bays instantly fill with hybrids? No, of course not, but you will not have any hybrids to service if you don’t let the world know. And what about Van Batenburg’s Garage? It is safe to say we were the first aftermarket shop in the hybrid business in North America, maybe the world. In March of 2000 ACDC taught our first hybrid class. It was one evening, 3 hours, and I had a hard time filling the time with my hybrid knowledge so we all drove the Insight at break time. I think we had 6 techs show up, 3 of who worked at VBG. It was a start. Later that year ACDC and VBG hosted a hybrid rally. It was only Insights, all 6 of them. I did a consumer class, we drove to a restaurant, swapped hybrid stories, and answered lots if question to the other patrons that were dining that day. It was fun. VBG was on the hybrid consumer map. I loaned the VBG Insight to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, brought it to Earth Day, the local paper did a front page article, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, WPI, had a look and a drive, the water department asked me to explain hybrids (They eventually bought a Prius to read water meters) and customers borrowed the car when they were in for service. The ACDC Insight appeared on the cover of a national trade magazine in 2000. Overnight VBG was in the news. One of our young techs borrowed the Insight for prom night. He promised not to drink and drive. Seventeen years later the Insight is still drawing looks (pays to be odd), amazes people with its fuel economy and advanced technology.  Even though VBG is no longer in existence, the lessons learned can be passed on. The old garage is now a hybrid / EV training center.

electric-cars-or-gasoline-carsIf you are “just” a general repair shop, what will set you apart form the rest? Dealerships are the competitor you should be the most concerned about. Don’t leave your customers behind by dismissing the hybrids and plug-ins that travel down the street your shop is on. There are over 4.5 million hybrids and 500,000 plug-in in the USA, many in New York State. The numbers of hybrid and EV sales are growing every year. If you plan on staying in the repair business, then hybrids need to be part of the plan. Will you go deeply into it like Art’s Automotive, add it to your business card like D. J.’s, buy a hybrid and compete in a mileage race as RadAir did?

Hybrid technology is just a smart way to make any vehicle more efficient. That is all it does. Less fuel, less CO2, less imported oil. What is wrong with that plan? When your customers have a hard time justifying the car or truck they drive now, it only takes one trip to a dealership over the weekend that sells hybrids or plug-in cars to win them over. Using no gas is also a possibility for many. On Monday that great customer is no longer yours. And that is a sure fire way to keep loosing market share. No matter how you plan on integrating hybrids into your techs lives and service writers’ knowledge, one thing I am sure of is in your future there is a hybrid owner waiting to bring you their car.  Waiting just makes it harder to catch up.

Craig Van Batenburg  CEO   ACDC

edit 12/30/16

 

 

 

Legacy, Dave DeCourcey and ASA Massachusetts Dec. 2016

safe_imageI have lived in this state since 1963 when I moved from Utah. It has become a home to my wife, sons and many friends. To the east of Worcester is Boston about 40 miles away filled with people, cars and buildings. To the North are mill towns, forests and hills. Not too many people and a beautiful drive. To the South is one expressway that heads to Connecticut with mostly flat land and a haven for commuters that work in Worcester, but head west and you will find a part of Massachusetts that few ever really explore. In 1991 Deb and I had been married for a couple years and no kids. We decided that a chapter of shops from all over our state would help improve the automotive industry. Van Batenburg’s Garage was a member of the Automotive Service Association (ASA) based in Texas.  There were a few members scattered over the Bay State, so we decided to hit the road. After a couple years of enrolling shops with the idea “we were better together”, a chapter was officially formed.  That was in 1993. It changed everything. It was all volunteers, so naturally I was the president for the first 3 years and Deb was the VP. We had meetings from Boston to the Western towns, brought in nationally known and local trainers. Had events and a yearly weekend conference. This was all before twitter and Facebook, pre computer and internet. This was face to face and fun. It did not last. Once Deb and I became parents, leadership changed hands, ASA national had some issues, and eventually the chapter ended but the friendships remained. Many shop owners moved into the training business and many techs took over the shops. This a normal progression but this ASA chapter was special. Some “carpet baggers” from out-of-state came calling, but shops saw them for who they were and the shops in Massachusetts have been better off ever since.

main-logoA few days ago a man passed away that came out of that era. His “nick name” was Scooby. Dave DeCourcey was only 56. He was just a kid when I met him at a meeting in the mid 90’s. Skinny and smart. A tech at that time if I remember correctly. Later on his desire to help others was evident. He did mobile repairs and moved onto diagnostics. It was at a CAS meeting that he met Rick O’Brian that would become a close friend. Dave heard about Jim Linder when Doug Garriot came to Massachusetts and set up a booth. Vision in Kanas City was called Vision 2000 back then and as another ASA chapter event, it again was this great ASA group of shop owners and technicians that got together and headed out there. Dave became a well known and loved automotive technical trainer, but Dave was also a great part of an old chapter in the history books. Dave will be missed my many in this industry. And long before ASA was here, almost 25 years ago, Dave had his support in his family and friends.  Today Deb and I will go to see his wife and kids. It is his wake in Spencer, Massachusetts. It will be a sad 20 minute drive.

So what does all this teach us? Life can be short, follow your dreams, join your local trade association and pass on what you know.

November 2016 .. Thanksgiving is about Family. What if you don’t have one?

FAATCATS5_000If you have run a shop for any amount of time, finding and keeping good help is always near the top of the list. At every class I teach a few minutes are spent discussing the plight of American foster children. First the chilling numbers. Over ½ million American kids have been removed from their homes for their own safety. 130,000 have gone through, or are in the process, of legally being freed to adopt. In other words they need a new forever family. 25,000 of these kids will never get adopted and will age out of the foster care system at eighteen without being attached to a family of their own. 25,000 American kids (per year) will not have a family to spend vacations, holidays or their birthdays with. Those are the facts, as sad as they are. Each year it gets worse. You can help.

 

When Deb and I found out in 1992 that we could not conceive our own children, we were sad, mad, frustrated and lost. After some real soul searching and an education in all types of adoption, it was clear to us there were kids in our area that really needed parents, a home, love, family, discipline, and a future. We didn’t need to go outside the USA to help a child find a home, there were plenty right here. I respect all those that adopt from anywhere in the world as every child deserves a family.

 

At the same time Deb and I were building the Massachusetts ASA chapter, we were also preparing a home for what would be two foster-adoptions. Mike was first at age 5. We took him in as our own, adopted Mike and started our family. Will was next at age 15. Now the boys are 31 and 25. Mike is doing well after some very rough times. Will is not. It was more than worth it. We didn’t need baby pictures; we just wanted to be parents. Deb and I knew we could do a good job.

 

At Van Batenburg’s Garage, Mike and Will helped with trash, clean up, worked on company vehicles, and did some computer work. Recently Mike and I worked on his 2008 Civic Si that he bought (with the banks help) a few years back. Will takes the bus. Working with my sons added more than just a cleaner shop. It helped them learn, helped them develop skills they will need to succeed in the real world, a not so nice place at times. Both of my sons know how tough the world can be and learned at much too young of an age. What they need now is to learn survival and success skills. Fixing cars can do that.

 

If you have been employing young people, you have been dealing with some bad behaviors. You already know what to do keep young people in line. I have an idea. Why not learn more about the foster teenagers that live in your home town, visit with them and offer them a job, a future and maybe even a home. There is more to life than work. Why not make your career a place for foster kids too?

Happy Thanksgiving,

Craig Van Batenburg

October 2016 … American Trade Associations ..their future

logoIn 1991 Van Batenburg’s Garage (my former shop) joined the Automotive Service Association so we could get a discount on Indentifix (formerly called Autoline Telediagnosis) and started to receive their magazine. There was no chapter in New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut) so I did not go to meetings or interact much with the local shops in Worcester, my home town.  I did notice a management seminar taught by Mitch Schneider and knew him by reputation only.  Deb and I boarded a plane for Florida and I sat in a great class but it was more than that. Fifty plus shop owners and techs were there and they all got along well and we all had a great time. I learned something I knew little about, trade associations. I was hooked. Deb and I will the help of many shops formed a chapter in Massachusetts, I was elected President and Deb was VP. We look back at the early 90’s with a sense of belonging and contribution. It lead me to a multi-year writing gig with MotorAge and Auto, Inc. I still contribute to the magazine that brought me so much.

The last weekend in September (just days after my 3 weeks in Europe) I attended and taught in Cary, North Carolina for a trade association that brought me back 25 years ago. The IGO association did a wonderful job at taking care of their members, offering great training and acknowledging each other for what they do. Awards were handed out, a few too many beers were consumed and I can’t mention the “Moonshine” so don’t tell anyone!  I attended a class taught by Bill Haas and came back with so much more than I gave.

With all this I heard “the younger generation do not join things like this”, but I met many talented 20 something attendees, mostly family member of shops owners. Intelligent and thoughtful. They don’t want to be a baby boomer. Material things are not that important. Long working hours are a turn off. Social constraints seem so old fashioned. They were respectful and kept their cell phones at off while we visited, but they have their own way of seeing things.

Trade associations will not fail if you are willing to give up the old ways. Change is fast paced today. There will be fewer shops and techs as future cars need less work. It has already happened as the newer cars are just better. Don’t fight it as all will be well. Go with the flow as it is the direction we are going.