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Ensuring the Future of Aftermarket Service with Diane Freeman

Autosphere » Mechanical » Ensuring the Future of Aftermarket Service with Diane Freeman
Diane Freeman, Executive Director, Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario (AARO).

Access to repair information, post-COVID-19 service environment, and EVs are all key areas where AARO is helping its members and the aftermarket.

Established in 1939, the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario (AARO) is an industry association dedicated to representing the interests of and assisting independent service providers.

At present, the sector has been dealing with a whole raft of challenges, ranging from vehicle data access and security information to changing technology, growing EV adoption, and also effective ways in navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.

To get a deeper understanding of some of these issues and how AARO is helping its members and the aftermarket, Autosphere conducted an exclusive video interview with the association’s Executive Director, Diane Freeman.

Here’s what she had to say:

AARO’s objectives

Autosphere: Tell us a little about AARO’s background and some of the association’s key objectives?

Diane Freeman: AARO has been around for a long time. The organization was founded in 1939, as a non-profit entity, representing the interests of the independent automotive service industry.

We are a solutions-based organization, resolving current and emerging issues affecting our profession. Additionally, AARO is a resource for industry information, training, consumer education as well as providing representation for the aftermarket when it comes to government relations.

AARO is committed to connecting its members with various network programs and products required for their businesses–designed to help them thrive in today’s automotive aftermarket industry.

Key issues impacting the aftermarket and service providers

What do you feel are some of the key issues currently impacting service providers and the aftermarket?

DF: Many key issues are impacting the aftermarket right now. AARO is currently working with the provincial government on changes to regulations, such as the Motor Vehicle Inspection Program.

Other key issues at present include access to repair information for the aftermarket, industry training, as well as how COVID-19 has and continues to impact small and medium-sized business owners. There’s also a current shortage of semiconductor chips for new vehicles and now, a shortage of rubber which is also impacting tire supplies.

There is also a current trend of automakers taking software development in-house, which will make it harder for independent automotive service professionals to service late-model vehicles and work with application programming interfaces (APIs).

With this approach, all information on the vehicle will communicate with the automakers on servers, and they can choose where the information will go and what information the aftermarket will receive. As a result, the aftermarket is pulling for a secure vehicle interface to give aftermarket service shops access to the onboard telematics of the vehicle.

This gives the consumer a choice in where to take the vehicle for service at a fair price. That’s why the Your Car, Your Data, Your Choice Initiative is critical for the aftermarket industry, not only here in Canada, but also in the U.S.

Heavy-duty vehicle inspection program in Ontario

One of the big initiatives underway right now is changes to the heavy-duty vehicle inspection program in Ontario, tell us a little about this?

DF: The Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) is proposing to modernize the vehicle inspection process by replacing the current MVIS program with more of a contractual model.

This means that there will be a multi-year contract between the Ministry and the service stations offering emissions inspection certificates, Safety Standards, and Structural Inspection certificates. Inspections will be collected, and the certificate will be issued in a digital format.

The aim is to streamline the process, while at the same time providing more robust safety inspection data. The proposed changes will simplify the light-duty passenger vehicle registration process where a Safety Standards or Structural Inspection certificate is required. The safety requirements that form the inspection will remain in keeping with current regulations.

The Ministry is also integrating the heavy-duty vehicle and emissions inspections into a single annual commercial vehicle inspection. What that means for us is that participating shop owners will be able to join this new program in 2022 and into 2023. The program will become fully digital, increasing the opportunity to collect more detailed inspection results by the summer of 2023.

Registration into the new inspection program for stations issuing Structural Inspection Certificates will begin to occur between September and November of 2023. Motor Vehicle Inspection Stations may not issue a traditional Safety Standards or Structural Inspection Certificate as of January 2024.

What we are doing is keeping the industry informed of all these changes happening regarding both light and heavy-duty inspection programs.

AARO and Right to Repair

Right to Repair has been a major concern for the automotive industry on both sides of the border. What’s the current situation from AARO’s perspective and what is needed to ensure independent service shops can continue to access repair information?

DF: AARO has been working on Right to Repair for more than a decade. Here in Canada, we currently have a voluntary agreement–the Canadian Automotive Service Information Standard (CASIS).

When this agreement was originally signed back in 2009, vehicle manufacturers agreed to give the aftermarket access to repair vehicles on equal terms with dealership service departments.

Today, we still do not have all the OEMs providing the information to the aftermarket here in Canada. In the U.S., things are a little different. The aftermarket has the information to diagnose, program and repair vehicles. As a result, AARO decided to partner up with the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) in the U.S. CASIS was originally mirrored on NASTF’s requirements for vehicle servicing.

Right to Repair is interesting because it not only focuses on the automotive sector but many other products that need to be repaired such as phones and washing machines etc.

Getting back to the automotive sector, our vehicles require specialized tools and equipment to perform diagnostic repairs properly and OEMs tend to require aftermarket service providers to purchase AP diagnostic codes online so we can receive the information and reset the trouble codes on the vehicle.

Unfortunately, some OEMs still don’t allow aftermarket shops access to these codes, which means that some consumers can’t take their vehicle to their local independent garage for service and instead have to send the vehicle to an authorized dealership, which can be hundreds of kilometres away or wait for weeks to have their car fixed.

There needs to be some kind of choice so that OEMs and dealers don’t have a monopoly and force the public to pay higher costs for the maintenance of these vehicles.

AARO and NASTF

Tell us a little about AARO’s partnership with NASTF and what that means for both members and the industry in both Canada and the U.S.?

DF: AARO partnered with NASTF in 2019.

After more of a decade with CASIS and not making any progress on access issues, AARO decided to work together with NASTF to identify communication concerns, as well as resolve gaps in the availability and accessibility of automotive service information; along with access to service training, diagnostic tools and equipment for the benefit of automotive service professionals and their customers on both sides of the border.

Now, Canadian Automotive Security Professionals apply through NASTF to the vehicle security professional portal. The portal serves as the authorization for those security professionals wishing to apply for vehicle security credentials. What this does, is it gives them access to two keys.

So, for example, if you take your vehicle into a service station, and they have a vehicle security professional, they’re able to get you a key if you’ve lost one. It is a similar situation to what you would do if you had to take your vehicle to the dealership for the same reason.

EV production

How do you view the situation regarding EVs and what do you think ASPs need to consider if production does ramp up significantly this decade?

DF: We know that EV production is ramping up.

Some automakers, like Volkswagen and Audi, have said they will only be selling electric vehicles by 2025. That’s only four years away. And we have others like General Motors and Ford with similar objectives.

As vehicles become more connected, electric, and autonomous, it’s important that consumers can continue to take their vehicles to independent shops for diagnostic services.

It’s also important to continue to offer incentives to the automotive sector for training that’s required to repair hybrid and electric vehicles with advanced telematics and ADAS systems.

AARO and COVID-19

Another big concern at present is COVID-19 protocols and vaccinations. What’s AARO’s view on this and are there any suggestions for service providers to help with implementing plans regarding vaccination and employee safety?

DF: COVID-19 has been a major discussion with many of our members. We’ve had to keep our members updated on requirements, and on how to apply for government programs for rent and wage subsidies.

What they also need to do is ensure the safety and health of not only their customers but their staff. Although vaccination rates have been increasing, some shop owners have staff members that may not be vaccinated.

The question then becomes, how do you handle that while keeping the other employees safe?

In many cases, shop owners have been giving non-vaccinated employees COVID-19 workplace self-screening tests. This testing is usually done twice a week and customers are still not permitted in the waiting room area of the shop.

Keys and vehicles are being dropped off and picked up when services are completed. Ultimately, the goal is to keep things as safe as possible for both staff and customers.

Post-pandemic challenges for ASPs

Moving toward a post-pandemic environment, what do you see are some of the challenges, plus opportunities for ASPs and the industry?

DF: Some of the challenges we see in the post-pandemic environment, are keeping up with employees regarding safety protocols; and making sure they’re continuing to sanitize vehicles.

Some challenges are making sure customers entering the premises are wearing masks and sanitizing their hands. There are and will continue to be opportunities for automotive service providers to have more time to discuss safety and operational protocols with staff and address any concerns that their staff may have.

When it comes to the vehicles themselves, certain parts will need to be replaced but the situation is different since many cars and trucks are not currently being driven every day.

As result, some customers may be wondering why their brakes are seizing up, or their vehicles are leaking, and much of it is due to them sitting in the driveway for months on end. Also, concerning automotive service providers, this current environment has allowed them to conduct more training online.

As a result, technicians are updating their skills and accessing more training programs than they would previously have been able to.

Upcoming AARO events

Tell us a little about upcoming events, networking opportunities and other ways in which AARO is supporting the industry?

DF: AARO has our annual general meeting which will be coming up in January 2022.

But we’re also looking at being able to host our annual Symposium and Trade Show Conference in the Spring of 2022 in conjunction with the Lindertech Conference.

This will provide an opportunity for people to come out in person again, to network and attend the training classes that we’ll be offering. So, we’re hoping that by the spring of 2022 this is something that we’ll be able to host.

Final thoughts

DF: I want to thank you for the opportunity today to discuss the emerging issues within our industry and what we’re dealing with.

And I just want to say that our industry is one of the fastest-growing when it comes to changing technology and we need to adapt to these changes.

We need to ensure that the automotive aftermarket industry continues to have the service information, training, tools, and equipment to keep our customers’ vehicles in safe operation on the roadways.

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