Last week, while having my lunch break visiting the trade expo Digital Thailand 2018, I received a telephone call from Shanghai. Someone read one of my articles on the recent development of the Thai vehicle after-sales service and wanted to know more to create a market study for a client. I was amazed by this. It is the power of today’s digital technology that allows someone like me to build an audience and quickly reach them, in the hope of positively contributing to the industry’s growth and to make a mark by sharing the information and knowledge I have.
I felt that the focus of the questions asked was on the imminent changes, or signs of change, of the way Thai vehicle service centers are set up and run. For this benefit, let me name a few which I have observed.
First, modern day car mechanics spend lesser time on the bolts, nuts and screws on the car, and more time on the various electronic devices. This slowly debunks the stereotype of a sweaty, oil-stained car mechanic in overalls, replaced by a clean, neat, customer-facing car mechanic with an electronic device in hand working on the car. It is not uncommon now for a car mechanic to spend almost half of their productive hours (that is, billable hours), working on a digital tool, doing software upgrades, scanning for trouble codes, linking up to OEM service database in search of solutions, even looking up Youtube for answers.
Second, with OBD2 dongles becoming easily accessible and purchased (you can order a USD50 dongle online that works very well), more and more customers, especially the lady drivers, will come into the workshop equipped with knowledge and information, and ask very specific technical questions, like I have a check engine light on and my OBD says intake air issue, could be clocked up throttle valve, so these car drivers cannot be fooled as easily as before. Thus, the trend of the future is more informed customers.
Third, the service centers will know more and more about you. By 2020, many Mercedes Benz cars will have internet-enabled electronic computer units (ECUs) that link to the customer assistance centers in the respective countries. From the ECUs, the customer assistance centers can advise the car owners of maintenance service schedules, diagnose car problems remotely through this access to the ECU, store historical data over cloud, and perform a lot more functions.
Fourth, independent vehicle workshops have to continuously upgrade their skills to handle hybrids and electric vehicles. This requires a change in attitude of the workshop operators and a willingness to invest in the business for the long run. The technological advancements are coming fast and furious and the need for skills development and upgrade cannot be over-emphasized. On top of that, the workshops also have to be adequately equipped to handle the electric cars and hybrids, and presently most car workshops in Thailand are not ready.
Fifth, we shall witness the growing power of the component suppliers, where more and more of them will either go it alone or partner with service center operators to establish a much wider service network, and reduce their reliance on the car manufacturers. You can see that most of the car components come from a shared technoloy and supply base. This trend is not slowing down, and is increasingly so, and what you have under the hood of the car, in the cabin, on the dashboard, they are all supplied by third party suppliers. Of course, these component makers also supply to other brands as well, so there is a lot of shared components among brands. Taking advantage of this, component makers are increasingly becoming more vocal about their expertise over the car makers, and are setting up their own workshops focusing on their products. Some examples are turbo charger repairs, service and replacement, air con units, ABS units, transmission repairs and rebuilts, sensor replacements, and soon electric car batteries.
It is my view that the vehicle after-market services will soon undergo tremendous disruption, and this offers a great opportunity for new players to come in with the new game plan and new way of serving customers.