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.
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.
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.
Many 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.
If 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
I 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.
A 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.
If 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?
Craig Van Batenburg
In 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.
September means Europe for ACDC. For about ten years Deb and I have flown to Europe, sometimes a couple times per year. We have been invited to teach in amazing places. As co-owners of ACDC we have spent some time together when not working but enjoying what the area we are in has to offer. That has included the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Ireland, Iceland, England, Poland, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and other fun places. I spot all the interesting cars and charging stations…Deb knows where to eat and what museum to visit.
Today I find myself in Berlin and this is day 4. It has sunk in now that East Berlin, where our hotel is, was not available to me 30 years ago. A wall did not keep me out, it kept East Berliners in. Open mindedness is an ACDC value. It applies to our industry, electric cars, climate change and those that ACDC serves. But in order to keep the wall down our customers must also be open minded. That my friends, takes some doing. If you just want a class about hybrid or electric cars, watch out as ACDC will challenge what you know. We will ask you to keep an open mind and be a Berliner. Want to change your viewpoint about our educational system, what we drive, how we teach our young automotive students, tools and pay plans? If growing an industry that values its people, its contributions and the air, ACDC is your kind of place. No walls, nothing to protect. Let it all in when you work with us. We have a world view and so you don’t need to live in a bunker.
First let me make my case as to what is not working. Generally Speaking, Auto techs feel they do not make enough money and shops are having a harder time than before attracting and keeping automotive technicians. Cars are more complex than ever and even dealerships have a hard time fixing their own brand. The best shops are not as stressed, but they are affected by unhappy customers they have not even met yet that went to a shop that did not keep them coming back. There are 3 big players that need to change. They are government, OEMs and independent shops and schools.
Here is what the Local and National elected officials need to change:
What Shops need to do:
What schools need to do:
How will the first three fix things?
If Government acts it will take a decade or more to see the effects but by then the licensing will shut down the illegal and incompetent shops and bad techs will be doing something else, hopefully well. The techs paychecks will be consistent and quality work will trump fast. Pay checks will award great work and not dishonest or one-sided pay schemes. The work will be much better because the techs will have a lot of great training before “learning on the job as the consumers’ expense”. The partnership between shops and schools is a key part.
Shops must have licensed techs and can’t pay flat rate so quality work is now front and center where it should have always been. By suppling all the tools the remaining techs will take home more by not giving the tool man part of their paycheck every week. As this is not the “law” not every shop will do it but those that do will keep their techs as without tools they are less likely to leave you. Why would they leave anyway as clearly you are their side. Those techs that love their job can mentor and bring in the new techs that you will be able to hire because you supply the tools. This has another benefit as you can hire a poor kid with a rich brain.
The local high school and community college benefit in a huge way as their funding must go up. If Shops partner with the high school and really get involved they can bring in an intern and when the best match is made, hire her or him and help them along the way. After years of knowing this young star they will be “job ready” after they get their “Master License”.
All three “Government, Shops and Schools” must do their part and over time the automotive repair industry will mature into a high skilled job that anyone in America can aspire to and achieve no matter what their situation.
Other benefits: Car owners will have a better repair experience, techs will be safer in the workplace as high voltage systems are more common. Repair Shops and Dealerships will have the workforce they need in the future. Parents will not be burdened with debt for private automotive schools that rarely get the student more than a certificate and a bill for $30,000 plus. The five year retention rate for graduates in an automotive two year program in under 10%. Foster boys and girls in that age out of the system could have a good job but cannot afford the tools and even the free education offered is not enough. Prisoners released without a skill most likely will re-offend and cost the state more money and we also have failed them. Note: Salem State Penitentiary (Oregon) has a great program. I was lucky enough to get inside and teach some classes.
Big ideas? Sure but they are doable.
Craig Van Batenburg
What an extraordinary time to stand at the kick off of EVS29 in the breezy sunshine with YVES RACETTE who is our French Speaking teacher (and well known ambassador of Hybrid/EV technology in the Montreal Area), FELIZA RACETTE who manages the ACDC Website, and Nicolas Piguet, a teacher at the College with YVES who is enrolled in UYV! 45 October 2016 and will be assisting YVES as they create more extensive Automotive Program focused on Hybrid/EV technology and repair. It is always very clear to me when I am in Quebec, that the Province is moving forward very rapidly in adopting and funding a wide sweeping range of energy efficient initiatives. ACDC has done a lot of training in Montreal and Quebec City…2010, 2011, and NACAT 2014. Each time we are impressed with agreement of the citizens and the support they and the government provide to move ahead in living and driving green.
I have been to other EVS conferences along with Craig and also EDTA, Electric Drive Transportation Association, events where we learn the newest and most innovative products and programs in the Green Drive Industry. It also where you learn how all the different parts of the US and CANADA are doing in accepting and adapting to cars that perform and sometimes feel different. I divided my time this year (Craig was teaching an eight day class) between workshops focused on battery technology, battery storage, and strategies about activating consumers, strategies of two car household owning an EV, and Global E-mobility. So, some hard data stuff and then more soft marketing focused information. I am of course more comfortable in the soft focus workshops where I feel my experiences are worth sharing. (ACDC is well known at this conference). I attended quite a few tech workshops, but always find myself (Deb) thanking God that he did not make me an engineer!
A very interesting workshop dealt with Battery Tech and one presenter had done elaborate research on the fire and explosion risks of lithium ion batteries. Grant money was used to put these and NiMH batteries in a variety of flame inducing situations culminating with putting the cells in a kiln. Have no fears. The conclusions were that the batteries do NOT explode, or ignite in any dangerous fashion. Heck we could have told ‘em that after UYV 40! (Safe and Supervised Examinations were conducted)
What seems to stand true at this year’s conference and previous years as well, is that the Industry of Green driving and all it‘s adjunct businesses do not understand why the US is so slow to adapt to technology that makes great sense. It is the same issue we discuss at every hybrid class we teach and every public service presentation we do. It is clear that Green driving is smart in so many ways and yet so much of the general populations remains uninterested and unenrolled. Clearly Europe has a different demographic with the countries being much smaller and the government being highly and visibly supportive. But thousands attend conferences like these and acknowledge how far we have come and how far we need to go.
One of my favorite presentations compared a very extensive list of technology developments from the portable hairdryer to the microwave oven, cell phones and DVR. The study researched and recorded how long it took the US population to first express interest, then try out something new, then purchase the new item, become enrolled in using it and then go from early adapter to main stream users. It was a wonderful way to look at the market process. So this Hybrid/EV bandwagon is fast rolling and the future looks great for big increases of purchase, use and belief in these automobiles in the very near future.
Report by Deb Van Batenburg
When my dream of opening Van Batenburg’s Garage (VBG) back in 1977 was realized, I was a 26 years old. So much has changed and so have I, but my desire to make my way in the business world hasn’t. For those of you that have trained with me, you may have heard this story.
My minister, Rev. Aaron Payson, gave a great sermon a few years ago. He explained to the congregation that sometimes you will meet someone that you just can’t understand and maybe don’t like. It is not uncommon to say under your breathe “What is wrong with that person?” Aaron suggested that that is the wrong question. “What happened to you?” is much more informative. With that in mind let me explain what happened to me.
In the fall of 1972 I was “voluntold” that I was going to Cherry Hill, New Jersey to Honda school for a week as the Civic was coming to America. I was a Honda motorcycle mechanic and I was not too thrilled with the idea of hoods and fenders in the way but I went. Something about payments on my Toyota Hi-Lux and an apartment.
What happened to me changed my awareness in a way that set me on this road for life. Honda had invented a unique cylinder head design called the CVCC. See my previous blogs for more on this. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created that year and the automotive industry was either fighting the new regulations (guess who) or designing engines to comply. Honda was doing the latter.
At Honda school, the first four hours on the first day, had nothing to do with the Civic. We all went back to science class and learned about HC, CO and NOx. We saw pictures of smog in Los Angeles and smoking tail pipes. We learned about lung disease and asthma. We were told about the EPA and what was coming. It wasn’t pretty. The job was in front of us was clear; clean up the air. I drank the cool-aid and never looked back.
Honda was “the leader” back then in compliance and innovation when the CVCC engine made its debut. It made an impact on me. Technology doesn’t have to be bad for the planet. Two years later VBG opened up and we specialized in Honda for 26 years.
When the Honda Insight hybrid went on sale that 21 year old kid (now 50 years old) bought the first one sold in Massachusetts (still have it). Cars got a lot cleaner and safer (unfortunately the drivers did not) and my passion for a cleaner planet never died. Today, it is about reducing carbon in the atmosphere. Honda is responsible for me (and a lot of others) in seeing a brighter, better and cleaner world where cars (and motorcycles) are not burning fossil fuels but charging up on sunlight. Honda had a dream and shared it with me over 40 years ago. We still have a lot of work to do.
So that is what happened to me. Now you know “What is wrong with you Craig?”
Sometimes you do something in business that can’t be repeated or duplicated but the story lives on just because it was so unique. At Van Batenburg’s Garage such a story happened. A woman brought in her car and it had, as we say, “hit everything but the lottery”. We put it up on the lift and assessed the car. It had problems. I asked the woman for a $500 authorization knowing the work would be at least that much. She signed on the dotted line and left. Once the car was apart and diagnosed, the estimate was a lot of money. The woman was hysterical and verbally abusive on the phone when given the estimate. So I said bring me $500 cash, we’ll put your car back together, call a tow truck, and get it off my property. She brought the $500 in cash, caused a scene, the car left on the hook.
The registered letter arrived and she was suing me for the $1,000. No surprise there. I offered her $500 to get her to go away. She wanted $1,000. Off to court. I put on my suit and we meet in small claims mediation. It’s unpleasant, as many of you know. I had decided that I was going to give her the $500 back because she was expensive trouble. The thought of it made me nauseous as our shop had done our job. The mediator asked if I was prepared to refund the $500. In that moment I had a brilliant idea. I said “I will do better than that, I’ll make it $1000 but the check must be written to the customer’s favorite charity.”
And so it was. Months later one of our A+ customers was in dropping his car off. He was a lawyer. He said WOW what you did was great. I was perplexed and returned a blank stare. He said, “you know about the charity check deal with that woman”. Oh! I said, Thanks! He said, “sometimes a good story just has a life of it’s own.”
She never got a penny of my shop’s money but some poor kids had clothes and a meal. I had a tax deduction. She has meet her match.
Craig Van Batenburg
Here is an Interview with a Battery Engineer
What dangers do lithium-ion batteries pose?
You can get six times the energy density in a lithium battery that you can in a lead-acid battery and two or three times as much as in a nickel-metal hydride battery. Any time you pack more energy into a smaller space, your safety concerns go up. All the lithium-ion systems being tested right now use an electrolyte that is flammable, so one of the safety issues that we are very concerned about is how these electrolytes can burn when the cells have been ruptured. They can also be heated to the point where the electrolytes break down into gases that the cells vent.
What kinds of abuse tests do you perform on the batteries to simulate real-world scenarios?
One of the mechanical-failure scenarios we test is a crush. We’ll take a fully charged cell or a full pack and put it into a hydraulic fixture where we slowly crush the entire pack at a very controlled rate. We have temperature sensors all around the pack and real-time gas analysis to monitor the gases coming out of the cell. We test for flammability by using spark sources around the room to ignite the gases. Sandia also has a radiant-heat test facility where we can take a full battery pack, put it inside a system surrounded by quartz lamps and heat the pack to 932 F in about 60 seconds to simulate the entire pack being suddenly engulfed in flames.
Does your research suggest lithium-ion batteries are safe for cars?
Well, that’s a difficult question, because no one has defined what safe means. The energies that can be released are certainly less of a concern than driving with 20 or 30 gallons of gasoline. Are there scenarios in which the battery may get into an accident or an environment that causes it to burn? Yes, it can burn, but you’re not driving around in a bomb. There are some significant advances going on right now that are making these much safer to use.
Craig’s Note. The above article was sent to us. If you know the author we will post it.
Hybrids, Utah and Baby Boomers
I was born 5 years after WWII along with lots of other people. I grew up in Ogden, Utah and yes I went to a Mormon Church. My Father, Raymond, was a Navy man for 10 plus years and loved cars, mostly Fords. I grew up with a 57 T-bird, a 40s Continental, tan 63’ Galaxie 500 and many other cool cars. Van Batenburg‘s Auto Sales was on Washington Boulevard and I spent my time there as a kid. My Mother, Shirley Caroline Finacom was born in Worcester, Massachusetts and was an East Coast girl. The two of them had six kids, I was sandwiched in the middle. They have both passed away but left me with some valuable lessons. Here are a few things this “Baby Boomer” learned from Ray and Shirley.
1. Push your chair in after you get up from the table.
2. It takes just as long to do it right as it does to do it wrong.
3. It is OK to buy some else’s used clothes.
4. Drive a 4 cylinder car. That is all you need.
5. Go to Church
7. Vets have defended our “freedom of speech”, so speak up.
8. Take care of your grandparents.
9. Take a young person into your home if they are homeless.
10. Keep your car clean.
11. Homework before TV
12. Play Music, Sing and Dance.
13. Bring your friends home to meet your parents.
14. Get out into the woods and enjoy nature.
15. Wear a seatbelt.
I have has many young interns in the last year and I have come to realize that they want more than to learn how to fix a hybrid. They want to learn the lesson above and many more. I hope they enjoy learning as much as I enjoy their discoveries. Running your own business is so much more than making a profit. It is always the people that give it meaning.
Some Special 17 year olds are looking for a role model.
If you have been involved with auto service (and all the related fields) for any amount of time, finding and keeping good help is always near the top of the list. When I travel and present classes around our great country, I included a slide that speaks to 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. Once their parents get their problems under control, their kids can return to a safe and loving home. About 130,000 have had gone through this process but the family is so broken they are removed permanently from their homes and are in need for new families. 29,000 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. Those are the facts, as sad as they are. Each year it gets worse. You can help. Boys in foster homes over 10 years old have few chances of having a forever family.
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.
At the same time Deb and I were working at Van Batenburg’s Garage and preparing a home for what would be two foster/adoptions. Michael 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 30 and 24. Mike is doing well after some very rough times. Will still has lots of issues. 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, cleaned up, worked on company vehicles, and did some paper work. Recently Mike and I are working on a 2008 Honda Civic. 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.
I have an idea. You have been dealing with bad behaviors for a long time. You already know what to do keep young people in line. With the shortage of help at your shop and foster kids needing a home, why not learn more about these teenagers that live in your 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? What to know more check out FAAT CATS.
Craig Van Batenburg
I just got back to my office after a 2 week vacation, a Birthday and classes in Puerto Rico. What a great month so far. Climate change is keeping things warmer in Massachusetts than normal. The forecast is 60 F (15c) for Christmas. Normal is about 30F (Oc). ACDC had a record breaking year. All the associates at ACDC are doing well. The training center is getting a lot of use. More equipment, a Toyota Camry Hybrid was added recently and we are building lift fixtures for removing EV batteries. One of the best new things at ACDC is our intern program. 10 college students from Holland and the USA spent 6 to 8 weeks at ACDC. Our office is also a home for two students. Pairs of bright young automotive grads (2 to 4 years of college) lived and breathed hybrid and EV technology. No one wanted to go home but now they are much better equipped with some real world lessons.
December 20 is also the birthday of Deb and Van Batenburg’s Garage. I won’t mention the year Deb was born (hint: same as me) but I started my shop in the twentieth of December 1977. 38 years ago. I have lived in the same house for 30, married to Deb for 26 but ACDC (Formerly VBG) has been a rock for me. I have been blessed to work in an industry that keeps me thinking. ACDC has younger people here that keep us all young. Deb is awesome and adds the glue here. I see myself as the “Techie” with a vision of a better planet. And without you, our customers, none of us at ACDC would have the jobs we have. Thanks for your business over the years.
Merry Christmas, whether you are Christian or not, it is a great time of year.
November is National Adoption Month and thousands of American teenagers sit in foster homes believing no one cares and guess what, they are right. OK, they don’t care enough. How much is enough? Enough to set aside your selfish ways and do something absolutely crazy. Adopt a teenager. That is how much. Nothing else will do, not your money or a visit at Christmas. Not an expensive present, not a lovely letter. These things are OK but after being moved from home to home and everyone that ever helped them was getting paid it is hard to believe in love. The Beatles believed in love but foster teenagers don’t. It is too painful for them.
Deb and I adopted Mike at age 6. He lives in Worcester so I will try not to embarrass him anymore than any father would. We learned a lot about foster kids from Mike and that made us aware of all the Wills out there. Will become our son legally two days before his 18th birthday, but he was ours the day we met him in 1998 and I have never been the same since. I have more patience than before and I have learned how many young men just want a Mom and a Bad, especially a father at that age. Single parent, sure. Gay? Why not.
So, are you tough enough? Loving enough? Secure enough with who you are? It really takes commitment of that “unreasonable type” that
long lasting marriages are made from. This work is not for sissies. It is not for macho men. It is for those that know they can always do more, do better and have something to offer. If that is you go to www.faatcats.org and get in touch. I can help.
Craig Van Batenburg
The “Emissions Defeat Device” was stupid and another case of engineers that can’t accept that fact that oil (Diesel or Gasoline) has no long term future. Someone posted a picture of a Tesla with a caption; “The Entire Car is an “Emissions Defeat Device” ”. The fact is internal combustion is inefficient and dirty. The sooner we stop building oil burning motor vehicles, the better.
Consumers vote with their money all the time (even in elections!) but in the case of cars, today’s cheap liquid fuel say; “Oh! Boy, let’s buy a pick-up with an extra set of doors and call it the family sedan. Weird trunk, poor handling and crappy fuel economy, but heck, let the good times roll”. How long will 2 bucks a gallon last? Who knows? Does it really matter? The new gas guzzlers we buy today will still be driven after the first owner moves onto their next car of truck. Does a new Nissan Leaf owner leave behind a mess for someone else? They will actually help the next owner as an affordable EV will be available at the used car lot in a few years.
Electrical grid production in America is getting cleaner rapidly. More solar on roof tops and fields, wind in the right places and some new smaller hydro. EV sales in September were pretty good with the BMW i3 selling at a very fast pace. Tesla seems to get it right with every step forward. The new Chevy Volt looks great and more range with the Nissan Leaf. Plug-in hybrids are popular. A new 55mpg Prius with rumored AWD as an option.
How does one help a new car buyer see the future impact of their choice? As the owner of a Volt and Leaf I loan out these two cars every chance I get. Getting involved with the EV community and talking to those that will listen will help. Used EVs are cheap right now. Go to CARS.com and look up the prices. Some EV (Mitsubishi i-MiEV) are under 10K.
This will be a long slog. Change never comes easy. We love our big car and trucks, but we will get there. It really is important that we do.
VW has helped the cause a lot. Now the average driver will know that their diesels are dirty and even the mighty VW engineers couldn’t make it clean enough for the USA so they resorted to cheating. They have been cheating since 2008. This German drama will continue to play out behind the scenes and in the media. Electric cars don’t need any help with illegal software, they just need owners to fall in love with them. Those owners of EV I know are having a lot affair and I am one of them. What about you?
Who said you were not replaceable?
October 9, 1971 was the day my Father died. He was 50 years old and a Lincoln Continental went out of control in the Utah Mountains. It is a day I will never forget, I was 20 years old. My mother raised six children alone. March 31, 2005 was the day my Mother died. I was scheduled to teach a MACS class that night in Boston. Peter Orlando filed in at the last minute; I held my dying Mothers hand. She passed away at 7:05pm. Class was 35 minutes into its course material.
Are you where you need to be? If you are from my generation you have seen a lot change, but family is still family. I attended a funeral for a friend recently. Dale was 50. He had 3 kids and a wife, Jen. Brought me right back to October 9th. A few days later I ran into a shop owner while we were both on vacation at a Museum. They had an outdoor bar so we met up at 4:30 for a drink. It was Mike’s 29th wedding anniversary that day. We did not talk much about shop things. We was an “Up Your Voltage” graduate but even hybrids held little interest to us. It was kids and grandkids. His son was running the shop. I suggested he not call in. I am not sure Mike took my advice, but it was a good 30 minute visit. Deb reminded me he also gave $1,000 to FAAT CATS a few years back when business was booming. Good people. As the summer (in the Northern hemisphere) winds down it is these moments I will remember and cherish. Sure I love these new cars and all the benefits that they create and yes a new EV is an exciting day for me, but not everyone. Family is a topic that most of us enjoy, even when some family members make it tough at times, we just have to love them and practice “Grace”. You won’t be here forever so do the best you can for those you love.
That’s enough heart, I must go back to work.
It had been a busy six months and the next six are booked. Why is ACDC so in demand when gas prices are staying relatively low and sales of EMVs are flat? If all you know about the world of high voltage cars and trucks are the headlines then the real story is not getting out. Here is ACDC take on the future of electrified motor vehicles.
Climate change gasses continue to climb, especially CO2. Wars are being fought over oil and US Forces are deployed in areas of the world that any disruption of the oil supply would be bad for America. Our money is still going overseas to buy barrels of oil as we waste that resource driving gas guzzlers back and forth to work without thinking of the wider impact. On the other side Neil Young is touring around the country singing songs to get the baby boomers back in line. He is driving a gas/electric retro Cadillac. In Massachusetts (My home state) there are enough Fast Chargers so that my Nissan Leaf is now a usable family car. Solar panel farms are growing so that we can shut down our largest coal fired power plant in Somerset. Our new Governor (a Republican) put 3,000,000 dollars into a rebate program for EVs and added to the $7,500 of Federal tax credit, a tax payer can buy a new EV (Smart EV) for $10,000 new, battery not included. Level II chargers (known as EVSE) have come down in price (from $1,000 to under $500). The used car market has many off lease EMVs for sale and it is a buyer’s market so many people that could not afford a new EMV can buy a used one. Fracked gas in Massachusetts is under close examination. Wind power is growing at a faster rate than any other new form of electrical power.
16 years ago I was a shop owner and ACDC was a year old. I heard about a hybrid coming to America made by Honda. The Prius had been on sale in Japan for 2 years. Less than two decades ago the only real choice we had to drive was an oil burner, either gas or diesel. Today, we can all move away from that if we want to. Why would you not want to?
The first 4 months of 2015 have seen changes in EV range. What was 80 to 100 miles per charge (except a Tesla) now looks like in a few short years 200 miles will be the norm. At the Detroit Auto Show (Deb and I were there) the new Chevy Bolt was shown, a 200 mile range pure EV due out in 2 years. There is no reason to doubt GM. The ACDC Leaf is getting lots of use and everyone in our office loves it. Level III fast chargers are everywhere in Massachusetts, so with a little planning, this is now a long distance car. Have you thought about a charger at your shop or school? Check with your state, as Massachusetts has state funds to pay for the charger, so your state may as well.
This month (May) we are hosting a 3 day intensive workshop in Worcester, Massachusetts with the focus on one car, the Prius. We just added a 2010 Prius (Gen III) to the ACDC Fleet bringing the total to 9 registered EMV and many more hybrids that are duplicates of the road ready ones. My hands are getting dirty and I love it.
Last month (April) our interns from the Netherlands, Jelmer and Chris, finished their stay and flew home. This was such a great partnership. Two more interns land in Boston May 4. Deb and I started April by spending time at the NYC Auto Show, then SAE Congress in Detroit, Automechanika in Chicago and a Hybrid Train-the-Trainer at Mott College in Flint, Michigan. All that and held a sold out “Up Your Voltage” class, #39, somewhere in the middle. Of our eighteen students, nine of them were from outside the United States. (Next month we host our fourth week long training for the Dutch government hosting Dutch teachers in Massachusetts.) It was our most international class ever, four countries represented plus our stateside students. I never dreamed that ACDC would be a leader in sharing EMV information with the world. We are a resource to every country that has embraced this new technology.
All of the ACDC trainers passed the ASE L3 test (I assume you expected that) and our L3 preparation guide book is our best selling product this year. Have you taken the ASE Hybrid test yet?
The EMV owners today are well informed and even low gas prices in America have little impact on sales. It is not a question as to “will electric cars sell in big numbers”, the question is when. Are you prepared when they do?
I worked as a motorcycle and car mechanic for years in my teens and twenties and drove a 1959 VW Westfalia Camper Bus named Mrs. Fly. It was a time of great potential for me and the world I knew. Nixon was president but he was not doing well. Some of my friends thought they knew the right direction our country should take. The EPA was just being formed and C.A.F.E. standards didn’t exist. In 1972 I got a good paying job at new Honda dealership and the Civic was coming to the States. I went to Honda school in Cherry Hill, New Jersey for a week. I was nervous as I was not well traveled, growing up in the projects of Worcester, Massachusetts didn’t prepare me for airports and hotels, but I was eager to learn. After taking a shuttle bus form the airport to my hotel I was told the training would happen at the hotel since the Honda training center was not finished. The new Civics were at the dock and someone had to service them and that was me. I was a twenty one year old with a high school diploma, a toolbox and a dream of moving out of poverty. As I showered that morning I wondered what special inside information Honda would have to share with us. I ate breakfast in a beautiful room and headed off to my classroom. After our name tags were attached to our chests, the instructor turned on a slide projector (way before PowerPoint) and proceeded to take 4 hours to explain to us about the problems with air pollution. This was way before any modern emission control devices were installed, like catalytic convertors, charcoal canisters, and such. I was a very young man, and here is a company telling dozens of automotive technicians that cars were bad. He showed us pictures of smog in Los Angeles, soot coming out of tail pipes and what Honda was going to do about it. I was fully engaged all week as the Honda employee brought us to a new world of less hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrates of oxygen. Honda had a plan – a new cylinder head for their engine called a compound vortex controlled combustion (or, CVCC). I was now sold. My favorite motorcycle company, Honda, was going to save the planet. Dreams! Hopes! A Japanese company was going to save America. Some might say I was too young to know the realities of big business or politics. They would be right, but I wanted to believe that the air we all breathe and share could be as clean as it was before the internal combustion engine became so popular.
It’s been 43 years since that class. High efficiency and low emission vehicles are more important today than ever. The United States alone has over 250 million registered vehicles consuming 133 billion gallons of gasoline in 2012. China has a similar level of consumption, add in the rest of the globe and we have a massive demand placed upon crucial resources in limited supply. It’s no secret that “energy independence” is a key to avoiding international conflicts – in our opinion, the most obvious way to achieve that is by burning less fuel. Whether you’re more concerned with saving the planet from pollution and wars, or just want to pay less to get to work – our company, ACDC, is dedicated to the cause. I am an old hippy now with a bald head but I still sport long hair. The VW Bus is now a Chevy Volt, but the people at ACDC still buy into that dream of a better planet. The company car is a Nissan Leaf with many hybrids in the parking lot. What a world it could be.