"But what does the service and repair landscape look like when electrification becomes widespread? Based on my experience to date and understanding of the technology, revenues will be slim, much slimmer than today.”
These are the portentous words of magazine regular, diagnostic grandmaster, garage owner, technical author and IMI Fellow James Dillon (pages 46-47). Before using another of James’ articles as fodder for this column, I did deliberate somewhat given it was only in my November issue that I compared him to a fictional Abbé inThe Count of Monte Cristo – a rather tenuous analogy which probably caused a few heads to be scratched in befuddlement! This issue also happens to contains several other stories I would happily have focused on – none more so than that written by Nathan Coe, COO, Auto Trader UK. Not only is Nathan’s surname almost identical to his job title – arguably reason enough to devote column inches to him – he eloquently states the case for motor finance and offers compelling reasons as to why the ‘motor finance bubble’ isn’t about to burst despite increasing claims to the contrary. However, with the FCA set to release its completed report on motor finance later this year, I’ll shield my financial powder from any premature moistening and address the topic on this page in another issue.
Perhaps the reason I am so keen to comment on James’ latest article – other than a hitherto unacknowledged obsession with the author – is that it has such epochal significance. In short, he asks whether the vehicle repair industry can survive the manifold challenges presented by vehicle electrification. Conventional industry wisdom has always prescribed endless courses of training, investment and hard work as being the most powerful antidotes to the ravaging effect of technological developments. In previous automotive epochs there is no question that they did prove antidotal to ailing or under threat repair businesses. Indeed, in my ten-plus years of editing automotive trade magazines I can recall several editorials in which I have said as much. However, the ameliorative effect of most medicines attenuates over time and perhaps the electric vehicle era marks the moment when technology takes garage destiny out of garage hands – ironically just at the same time that it is taking the steering wheel out of driver hands in the shape of autonomisation.
James’ article presages a dystopian world of fewer vehicle parts to repair and sell, fewer cars being owned – and a total absence of fuel and engine oil! In the face of this challenging combination one has to question whether recourse to traditional business tonics represents anything more than palliative care.
To be clear, I am not saying the repair industry should just hold up its hands in meek surrender; it should take the approach of Dylan Thomas who poignantly implored his dying father not to “go gentle into that good night.” Instead he urged him to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” The light, as we know it, may well be dying yet this shouldn’t preclude every effort from being taken to keep it flickering for as long possible.