Innovations are revolutionizing vehicles; OE dealers can’t tool up; How will the aftermarket?

One of the best read stories on this past month was that many Chevrolet dealers will not service the Chevy Volt because of the high tool cost, estimated at $5,100. Some noted that Volt owners will have to drive further distances to get their cars serviced.

This creates more than just a problem for General Motors. It underscores the demand for immediate attention from every tech and shop owner who hopes to be in the fast-changing aftermarket industry for the long term. The number of technological changes exceeds the number of new models being introduced to the market. As new vehicle technology changes, so does the aftermarket.

The age of specialization is here. For example, existing hybrids require different steering and air conditioning parts. While electrical power steering is becoming mainstream, how many shops out there stock the essential POE lubricant to service hybrids because they don’t take PAG? How about a PAG filtration device for the air conditioning machine to prevent cross contamination?

We are at the cuff of the hybrid revolution. The Electric Drive Transportation Association reported sales of plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle sales in the U.S. more than doubled in 2012, hitting 44,888. Pike Research expects electric vehicles to reach 4 million by 2020. That’s seven years from now.

But it’s not just electric hybrids we’re talking about. There are diesel hybrids being introduced. PSA/Peugeot-Citroen is working with Bosch on a hybrid partially powered by compressed air to be launched in 2016.

Fuel technology isn’t the only innovation that will make service more difficult for the aftermarket. Automotive manufacturers are looking to reduce vehicle weight.

Regulators are coming out with stricter safety standards and emissions standards. In response, OEMs are collaborating with one another to a degree never seen before, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

New powertrain technologies, infotainment systems, electric powered vehicles and advanced engine design are all changing the work our shops will be doing.

The European automakers will hold their first joint telematics conference next month to support vehicle-to-vehicle communication, The V2X for Auto Safety and Mobility Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. This will help create safer roads, but it adds a vast new array of sensors and computers that techs will have to work on.

How will all of this service be performed, given the challenges facing the OE dealer aftermarket? According to market research I’ve seen, the amount of OE service revenue and the number of OE dealers have both declined while the independent aftermarket keeps growing.

There is an opportunity for the independent aftermarket. It is happening faster than many of us realize. The independent shops will need to be able to work on new technologies. They will need techs who are computer literate.

Right now, the independent aftermarket has a long way to go to be prepared to meet this challenge.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the unemployment rate for auto techs is 4.3 percent, which is well below the total average. The government reports that in 2010 there were 723,400 automotive service technicians and mechanics in the U.S. By 2020, the bureau projects that number will need to increase by nearly 125,000 to meet demand.

Schools and colleges are adding more courses to address the demand. But the independent  aftermarket has a big job on its hands to equip themselves with the tools and personnel to get the job done.