From Gabe Nelson with Autonews.com
For most repair shops, calling customers can be a guessing game. Technicians have no way to see a vehicle’s odometer or diagnostic codes until it comes rolling down the service lane, so an invitation to come in for service is a shot in the dark.
Motorcars Toyota in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, has embarked on an experiment to change that. Working with Zubie, a seller of a gadget that taps into a vehicle’s OBD-II port, Motorcars Toyota is installing 500 of the devices for free in customers’ vehicles — with their permission, of course — to remotely assess their service needs. Zubie devices usually retail for $100 apiece.
With profit margins on new-car sales so thin, and ever-improving quality cutting into repairs, the way dealerships make money is by cultivating loyal customers, Matt Gile, general manager of Motorcars Toyota, told Automotive News. He hopes data from Zubie devices will help the dealership deliver better service and boost retention rates.
“If a customer is on spring break with the kids and their check-engine light goes on, they won’t have to worry that it’s going to ruin their vacation,” Gile said. “We’ll be able to see it and give them some advice, to say, “You didn’t tighten your gas cap right. Just make sure it’s tight and you’ll be ready to go.'”
The past several years have seen a proliferation of small devices called dongles that plug into the OBD-II port, beaming data from cars to the cloud. Zubie and rivals such as Automatic, Mojio and Vinli think consumer adoption would accelerate if key industry players such as dealerships, repair shops and insurers could tap into the data to deliver services their customers value.
Castrol InnoVentures, a technology division of the lubricants giant Castrol that was an early investor in Zubie, built a Web portal for Zubie allowing repair shops to see which customers have error codes that suggest their vehicles need maintenance.
Dealerships could use that information to offer an estimate and an appointment slot even before a customer contacted the shop to ask for help, said Prag Shah, COO of Zubie. The Charleston, S.C., company was formed in 2012 as a spinoff of retailer Best Buy.
“That’s the ultimate in service,” Shah said, “and it doesn’t happen today.”
Motorcars Toyota has tried plenty of old-school strategies for keeping customers in the fold.
The store stays open until 3 a.m. four days a week, and sells a service plan that includes oil changes for 10 years, plus free car washes and loaner cars.
Yet it has been difficult to move the needle. Motorcars Toyota increased its retention rate by 1.5 percent in 2015, Gile said, and that was considered a big achievement.
“Up until now, there hasn’t been a technological answer for increasing retention,” Gile said. “It’s hard to get people here, because there’s a lot of competition.”
When Motorcars Toyota decided to test Zubie devices, the dealership designed an experiment.
Employees searched for customers with 3- to 8-year-old cars with 24,000 to 50,000 miles on the odometer. In theory, these customers come to the dealership by choice, rather than to take advantage of Toyota’s three-year warranty or its factory maintenance program, ToyotaCare, which offers 24,000 miles of free service.
Motorcars Toyota, which sold 1,388 new and 1,033 used vehicles in 2015, wants to know whether customers with Zubie devices in their vehicles will become more likely to return for further service.
If so, the dealership will figure out how much the service adds to its bottom line, and build a plan for putting Zubie devices into more of its customers’ vehicles. Gile thinks the benefits may even be worth subsidizing the devices.
The first device was installed in March. Installations should be complete within six months, roughly by September. The dealership expects to see the results of the experiment in late 2017.
“Retention is everything now,” Gile said. “That’s what the manufacturers track and it’s what we track, down to a fraction of a percentage point. If this product can help us improve retention, that could be huge.”
Mr. Green Cars (Andrew) was on with 107.3 The Wave to talk about the Motorcars Solar Project and the other green efforts Motorcars has put in place recently. Hear the entire interview here:
The Cleveland Heights Fire Department was on site with Mike Stevens of Dovetail for a training and orientation session.
With the solar canopy complete, we look inside to see an update on the tile work being finished.
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS — Chuck Gile, president of Motorcars Cleveland, has steered his companies, Motorcars Honda and Motorcars Toyota, in to the fast lane toward sustainability.
Two huge, but oddly elegant, canopies fly over what was an ordinary car dealership parking lot filled with new vehicles. The canopies, designed by Michael Stevens of Dovetail Solar and Wind, were hand crafted of steel rolled from 60 recycled cars.
The canopies carry 1,240 solar panels, each generating up to 270 watts, turning the parking lot into a kind of brightly lit outdoor/indoor showroom free of rain and snow while functioning silently as a power plant.
Both the solar panels and the electronic equipment controlling their output are American made.
The solar array was generating about 70 percent of the dealership’s electrical needs on a recent afternoon while Gile escorted his visitors on a tour he admitted he loves doing.
“I show this off as much as I do my grandchildren,” he chuckled when it had become apparent he was enjoying himself while guiding his visitors across the 24,000 square-foot parking lot, now unexpectedly cool despite the hot sun.
Standing under the canopies, Gile pointed to the 90 evenly spaced flat 32-watt LED lighting fixtures that now replace the old 400-watt metal halide bulbs.
The LEDs are designed to evenly illuminate every vehicle on display while saving money. And “burning” for years. Even the gutters are high-tech, electrically heated to carry melted snow trickling from the panels into a sewer line in a full basement below the parking lot.
The array is the largest single covered solar structure at any auto dealership in the nation, said Gile.
And it is tied into the Illuminating Co.’s distribution grid, lessening the demand for utility-generated electricity and at times, feeding power back to the utility.
The cost of the array is about $1.7 million and part of a $6-million renovation project involving Motorcars Honda and Motorcars Toyota directly across Mayfield Road.
With LED lighting and heating and air conditioning retrofits, the company hopes to qualify for LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The plan is to build similar solar canopies at the Toyota dealership by the end of 2016.
And why not?
Going green is now as much a business decision as an environmental one.
The price of solar technology has plummeted over the last decade. There is a federal tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of the project, and a 10-year ultra-low interest rate from Key Bank convinced Gile he will save money in the long run.
In fact, he said it is already saving money, and that the company will be “cash positive” by the end of the 10-year loan.
“One of my employees has been after me to do this for years,” Gile said. “It makes sense, especially with the tax credit. And it’s the right thing for a business to do.”
That long-time employee is Andrew Chiarelli, or “Mr. Green Car” around the dealership.
Chiarelli noted that the winter nightmare of constantly cleaning snow from new vehicles, and then moving them around the lot for snow plowing is now in the past.
Both men pointed to a new special-purpose building at the rear of the Honda dealership as another example of how the company is embracing technology to solve environmental problems.
The long building now nearing completion is a kind of production line where technicians will do routine maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotation while customers watch.
Gile prefers to think of it as the “car wash” model, allowing customers to see everything being done to their vehicle, and being done quickly. The floor of the new building, as well as the driveways leading to and from it, are heated with a network of hot water from compact gas-fired boilers.
Salt will never be necessary, said Gile.
Still under consideration, and advocated by Chiarelli, are geo-thermal wells to assist those boilers with heating and the new air conditioning units with cooling.
An industry leading automotive provider, Dealertrack Technologies, wrote a spotlight on Motorcars Honda & Toyota for their company newsletter. The complete article is available here to download.
Almost 4 months of construction in just over 90 seconds.
Motorcars Honda, a Cleveland Heights institution, is pouring $6 million into a sweeping renovation that will include an innovative new service installation and vast solar canopy.
“We’re the largest single structure solar panel in country for automotive dealerships,” says Motorcars general manager Trevor Gile. “That’s why this is so unique.”
Athens, Ohio-based Dovetail Solar and Wind designed the canopy. More than eighty percent of the steel used for the structural beams came from recycled cars. The canopy will cover nearly 24,000 square feet and generate an estimated 50 to 75 percent of the facility’s energy. The solar installation will cost $1.7 million, which is subject to 30 percent in federal tax credits.
The canopy was the brainchild of Motorcars salesman Andrew Chiarelli, who shared it with management.
“We couldn’t wrap our arms around it,” says Gile. Then Dovetail presented the canopy as an energy producer that would also protect their stock, cutting down on snow removal and making car browsing more attractive during inclement weather. “At that point,” says Gile, “it started making sense.”
It also paid off. Earlier this month, Honda Motorcars was named Ohio Business of the Year by Green Energy of Ohio.
In addition, the firm is expanding with a new assembly line for car repair. The move will hopefully translate into savings for customers and efficiency for the service department.
“Cars will be pulled along kind of like a car wash,” says Gile, adding that he believes the assembly line, which will be part of an 11,250-square-foot addition, will make Motorcar’s service department the most advanced in the country. “Things that would normally take two hours will be done in less than a half hour.”
Construction started last November. The canopy will include 1,240 solar panels rated at 270-watts each and is slated for completion in early June. The assembly line expansion is scheduled for an August completion date. The renovations also include a total interior remodel, with the installation of LED lighting throughout. For a bird’s eye view of the construction, poke around this page, which includes footage produced by videographer Ted Riolo with the help of a drone camera.
The renovation will also feature a new approximately 500-square-foot kids’ play area with a very specific theme.
“It’s going to be like an indoor kids’ dealership,” says Gile. “We’ll have a little service department and a little showroom where kids will be able to design their own cars.” The space will also have a 500-gallon fish tank.
Other new green practices will include alternatives to rental cars for those waiting on a vehicle in the service department. Gile is on a mission to purchase between six and 12 three-wheeled bikes and coming up with maps that outline walking routes around the neighborhood. He’s also hoping to line up some coupon deals with area eateries and retail spots.
“People can get some exercise and not take a rental car.”
In addition, the firm aims to expand green awareness with grassroots community involvement.
“We’re trying to get a bunch of farmers markets to do an event under the solar panels and other events to help promote being green,” says Gile.
“We hope to get some awareness for solar panels in Ohio. I think a lot of people don’t think there’s value in them, but there definitely can be.”
Motorcars continues to receive all kinds of media coverage for our solar and expansion projects. Yolanda Vasquez of Motor Week and Steven Bushong from solarpowerworldonline.com were on site interviewing several important figures in the project. Look for interviews featuring General Manager Trevor Gile, Green Product Specialist (Mr. Green Cars) Andrew Charili and Mike Stevens from Dove Tail Solar later this summer.