Participating in the automotive aftermarket has given me a unique opportunity to travel and engage in the automotive aftermarket in other regions of the world.
Recently, I was invited to Brazil to introduce technicians and mechanics to service technology and products widely available in the United States. Not knowing the technical background of the technicians and salespeople I would be speaking to, I made it a point to put together several technical presentations on the methods and products currently used in North America by the lubricant service industry. In Brazil, the array of products available was not so different. However, the perceptions and general knowledge of the service industry were based on a system that was changing rapidly as drivers’ needs were evolving at a daunting rate. Many of the challenges they face are common to anyone in the business — such as zoning regulations (certain types of business get restricted to certain areas, often not convenient for neighborhoods); tax regulations from different Federal, state and local jurisdictions; stringent and enforced policies on used oil and other byproducts of the automotive service business; and the list goes on and on. The biggest difference I observed was the lack of a fluid change service industry, in general. Most work was handled by dealerships — with appointments necessary days in advance — or by general service shops that ranged from spectacular — appointment required — to small one-man operations with no lift or group affiliations, just simple oil changes with whatever oil they carried — scary at best.
The companies I visited took it upon themselves to help educate and operate with the latest technologies, lubricants and machines to establish a concept of quality automotive service. We visited incredible shops full of high-end cars and small but efficient shops with as many customers as they can handle, because they have the right combinations of talent, technology and price. The problem is, there are not many of them. Most vehicles need some type of service performed, and drivers can’t get it done. This means vehicles usually do not last as long as expected. Most people I spoke with have little faith in the longevity of their vehicle, and this was one of the most discussed topics while I was down there.
I think the strongest lesson I left behind is really no secret to us at all — to keep vehicles running for many years, a trusted technician needs to perform routine maintenance with high-quality lubricants. This sounds incredibly simplistic to believers like me, but it was food for thought for them.
A reliable vehicle is the result of quality parts, fluids, maintenance and technicians — we figured this out a long time ago in the US. The success we enjoy today is the outcome of many years of trying to get it right. I wished the guys in Brazil the best of luck, but more importantly, I tried to show them how to go out and grow into the local market. By making themselves a part of the local automotive scene, with current technical knowledge, cutting-edge service practices and superior products, they can provide automobile owners with the quality service they need to get the most out of their vehicles.
This is how the US fast lube industry was pioneered. We eventually became an integral part of the community and service provider networks. We are part of American automotive culture because we self-evolved it. And that’s something we mustn’t ever forget.