Two articles in the April 18, 2011 edition of Automotive News caught my attention. The first, "Fiat 500 draws an eclectic mix of customers," and the second, "Chrysler goal: Let dealers service array of makes."

What caught my attention with the first article wasn't the "eclectic mix of customers" but that Fiat buyers seem to be making some dealers rethink how they do business. Not every prospective buyer is impressed with banners, balloons and hot dogs. A Southern California Fiat dealer is quoted as saying the Fiat process reminds him of the way Saturn was originally designed to sell cars.

The second article just makes so much sense to me it's like a huge "DUH" moment. Where do you generally find the best trained automotive technicians? In dealerships. I won't argue that top notch techs are only found in dealerships but chains and independents normally cannot afford the training investment that dealerships are required to make.

You could argue that a Chrysler tech is well trained in Chryslers but not so much for other makes. You'd be both right and wrong. Yes there is auto maker specific training but knowledge is knowledge. If a tech can't transfer his/her general knowledge, than that tech ought to find another line of work.

Chrysler is looking at letting dealers become repair centers for all makes at least partly because Fiat owns one of the world's largest parts makers, Magneti Marelli. When you have access to a ready supply of parts for all makes and models why not use it?

I think this is a business model other auto makers ought to look at. In the article the writer, Bradford Wernie, rightfully points out that thanks to better built cars service departments are no longer as profitable as they used to be (warranty repairs are way down). When you're running a huge service department you need to keep every service bay full. I doubt that few families are a single marque family. Mom may drive a Dodge minivan but Dad might have an Acura. Wouldn't it be nice (not to mention lucrative) to have the whole family use your shop?

It's been my experience that people are more loyal to a specific repair shop than to an auto maker; that's one reason so many people do not take their vehicle back to the dealer for non-warranty work. Money is another reason.

Money is going by the way side in reality; the perception is still lagging. Many dealers have signed on to some sort of fast lube lanes that are competitively priced. I think dealers just need to do a better job at telling the public that they are competitive. They spend millions touting their low prices for sales and virtually nothing to keep their shops busy.

Ford used to have a service campaign based on the premise of fixing it right the first time. With a well-trained staff there is no reason any dealership shouldn't be able to fix any make right the first time. If I ran a dealership I'd be looking at keeping my techs busy and my service bays humming.

Maybe the Fiatization of Chrysler will be the driving force to change the industry.


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