As cars become sophisticated, garages face tech challenge

There is a shortage of trained mechanics who can deal with complex electronic items
As the electronic components in modern cars and vehicles become more complex, the $4-billion after-market industry in the country is finding it hard to keep up with the changes.

Complex computer codes control dozens of functions in new vehicles, including entertainment systems, brakes, cruise control and doors. The share of such electronic items is only set to rise further: from 23 per cent of a car’s cost now to 45 per cent by 2030, according to a McKinsey-ACMA Report.

The after-market industry, though, is stuck in the old mode. While most service centres can replace defective equipment, they are unable to repair faulty parts to increase their longevity.  What has made the task more challenging for mechanics is the convergence of electronic items such as sensors, onboard diagnostics, smartphones and wireless connectivity in automobiles. Many mechanics are not equipped to integrate a replaced part with the rest of the system. 

“Electronic devices and systems that are not tested by OEMs should be discouraged. Sometimes unauthorised systems may lead to malfunction when not integrated with other systems in a sound manner,” says Srinivasa Aravapalli, senior vice-president (product development, automotive division), Mahindra & Mahindra.  “It is a serious challenge.” 

Manufacturers are taking different approaches to resolving this issue. Given the rapid rise in the use of advanced electronics in commercial vehicles in recent years, Mahindra DiGiSense, an arm of Mahindra & Mahindra, has developed sensors that empower owners, fleet operators, drivers, dealers and service teams to access vital information about Mahindra trucks and tractors on a real-time basis from anywhere.

Others are looking at upgrading the skills of garage owners. “If you have more garages equipped to handle these technologies, you will have better opportunity to sell the vehicles also,” says Sanjeev Kumar, head (parts), Ashok Leyland.

 “We estimate that there are around 90,000 independent garages for commercial vehicles that are brand agnostic in this country; in the next three years, we plan to reach out to all these garages. 

It is a herculean task, but we want to do it. Around 300 customer service engineers are currently going out and meeting people,” he adds. 

The company through its Mitr Mechanic Garage programme has set a goal to train 1,500 mechanics by March-end. 

The growing demand for trained mechanics and the inability of large dealers to expand due to high overhead costs could also see a number of small garages merge with large dealer-led service centres.

G Srinivasa Raghavan, executive director, TVS Automobile Solutions, the after-market venture of the $6.5-billion TVS Group, thinks the market is ripe for consolidation, but not yet future-ready. 

“Will it be ready in two years? The answer is ‘yes’,” he says. 

In June 2016, TVS Automobile Solutions invested around Rs75 crore in three start-ups as part of an initiative to strengthen its position in the after-sales market. TVS acquired a majority stake in Delhi-based Storeji, which runs an e-commerce after-market website called Jazzmyride.com, and formed a partnership with data analytics firm Hansa Equity for a joint venture to offer technology and analytics-based customer management services. It also acquired Redsun Consulting, a Bengaluru-based company focused on the internet of things. 

For independent service provider Bosch partnering with garages offers an opportunity to expand its footprint in the country. Bosch is investing in training mechanics to improve their capabilities. 

In return, these garages promote and push its products in the after-sales market. 

As cars become more complex, experts say garages that fail to move up the value chain will be reduced to doing just basic work like changing wheels, tyres or replacing air filters, while the big-ticket maintenance and overhaul will move to authorised  centers or qualified independent garages.

Kaushik Madhavan, director (mobility practice), Frost & Sullivan, says in a few years one may not see a lot of vehicles being taken to roadside mechanics, while authorised service centres will see better business. “It will move to a hub-spoke model,” he says.


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