The last new car my father bought was a mid-seventies Chrysler Imperial, which eventually was passed down to me. I donated it to the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 for their annual auction, which raises money to fund local community projects. The car was purchased as a University of Washington Husky football tailgate vehicle and repainted in purple and gold. I think the trunk could hold enough food, wine and beer to supply a 7-Eleven for six months . . . plus enough luggage for a six person trip to Pullman.
Automobiles went through a major change after my dad purchased that Imperial. The gas crunch of 1973 meant smaller cars and more efficient engines. Imports started making huge inroads on car sales. Twenty years later the switch was on to computer modules in vehicles. Since that time the cultural and mechanical shift has been to make car repair shop employees more technicians than just pure mechanics. That divide will become even wider over the next twenty years.
The Internet of Things or IoT is the current wave of the future. It will soon engulf us with a web of connections from dolls to automobiles. The IoT means connection between product and manufacturer. For example, in the automobile servicing field, we could soon see sensors for lubrication. Instead of simply waiting to change oil every three or five thousand miles, information from an oil sensor might alert the car manufacturer that your oil has reached a certain point in viscosity and needs replacement. The problem with this is that it keeps the car buyer wedded to the manufacturer, which usually charges more than independent service centers. Distribution of data will become a future factor in automobile repair.
There are those already predicting doom: “The connected car of the future could kill off the local auto repair shop” – qz.com/1054261/the-connected-car-of-the-future-could-kill-off-the-local-auto-repair-shop/
I don’t see eminent death, but I do think there will be a loss of the small neighborhood garage. Indeed we’ve lost many over the past few years. The cost of diagnostic computers has been more than many shops can afford, which is a shame. When I had my ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise) all electric car a few years ago I took it to a nearby shop only a block from my house. I gave the owner my ZENN manual on CD-ROM and he switched out a charging unit and repaired some rocker switches on my dash. This was a good match up because the ZENN was strictly a neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV). It had a limited range, which meant I could not drive it to a larger facility across town. All electric vehicles present their own problems to owners. I remember having to call Chuck Matthaei at Roman Meal to let him know I couldn’t make an appointment because I had forgotten to charge my car the night before. He said, “Don, you’re the only person I know who could use that excuse.” Now, there is a growing number of electric car users.
Larger repair and automobile service shops should have no problems in the near future if they continue to update their technicians. Bill Nelson, owner of All Transmissions and Automotive in Tacoma’s Nalley Valley says, “Well-trained and ASE certified mechanics are experts at both detecting problems and at making repairs. We have the latest technology. This aids our competent staff in making those accurate and complete repairs. Maintenance is the best preventative for mechanical problems.” It’s easy to see how a combination of sensor sent messages, and qualified repair and service personnel could keep helping people for decades.
Honda plans to unveil its new gas-electric hybrid in January. I do like the gas-electric combination, but it seems to be bucking the all electric vehicle avalanche begun by Tesla. All electric autonomous cars might well be our future, which could mean an end to car ownership. If Uber and Lyft are the future, then new car ownership could become more like HOAs (Home Ownership Associations) – The COA (Car Ownership Association) might be the model for tomorrow. As we build more and more condominiums and apartment without parking spaces – this might prove practical.
Automobile repair and service centers could continue with each COA to service and repair their fleet of vehicles. Contracting with COAs could be very beneficial by bringing in more business to medium size shops. Repair and service shops like All Transmissions & Automotive could well lead the pack – always working with ASE, Energy Stars and other repair associations they could flourish. Not only that, but there will always be collectors and those who refuse to give up their gasoline powered vehicles. Access to data from interconnected vehicles and continued training will keep repair centers in service well into the future.