Archive | January, 2015



Toyota-Prius-300pxFor the first time in CAT’s Inside Line Series, we focus on a true hybrid vehicle. The Toyota Prius, now in its third generation, is famous for its electric and petrol powertrains.

The second generation Prius, which we feature in this issue, became the iconic vehicle of the hybrid generation, as it became popular amongst those conscious of the environment, celebrities and taxi fleets. Now in its third generation the Toyota is one of many hybrids on the market, which sees it compete alongside the Vauxhall Ampera, Honda CR-Z, as well as Volkswagen’s Bluemotion and Ford’s Ecoboost vehicles.

The Toyota was rated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as one of the cleanest vehicles sold in the country, with more than 1,192,000 Prius being sold worldwide, which means many are beginning to find their way into the aftermarket.

The XW20 which we are examining, was launched with a 1.5-litre petrol engine, while the latest generation XW30 comes with a 1.8-litre petrol engine.

The combination of electric and petrol powertrains have provided some additional technological challenges among other more conventional issues.

Next month we’ll be looking at the commercial vehicle trio; Renault Trafic, Vauxhall Vivaro and Nissan Primastar, so wherever you work in the aftermarket if you have insight to share, we would be delighted to hear from you. To get your advice included contact

Click below to see technical contributions on the Toyota Prius from:

Cambiare – covers a variety of issues that plague the hybrid Toyota

Comma – discusses the foibles of fluids and the importance of lubricants

First Line – focuses on steering issues affecting the Prius XW20

Forté – explains why flushing the engine and fuel system is essential

Meyle – examines the stabliser links, brake discs, water pumps and ball joints on the Prius

RMI – explains common issues with the Toyota Prius XW20

TecRMI – gives us the lowdown on a couple of problems on the Prius

Posted in CAT Features, Factor & Supplier News, Garage News, NewsComments (1)



AP SouthamptonLeeds-based factor Andrew Page Group has completed a £40m refinancing with equity firm PNC as it looks to accelerate its growth plans.

The firm said the deal came on the back of a successful 2014 when the group acquired 21 former Unipart Automotive branches, entered into a strategic collaboration with Unipart Group and also strengthened its senior management team with the appointment of Jim Sumner, who joined from Optare.

The firm, which is backed by private equity houses Endless and Phoenix Equity Partners, operates 114 branches across the UK and stated it’s intention of expanding through a combination of acquisitions, branch openings and a new franchise model.

Chairman Jim Sumner said: “The £40m funding package provides additional capital to allow the business to accelerate its strategic growth plans and maintain the phenomenal momentum we have achieved over the past 12 months.

“PNC are a terrific partner to have on board through this exciting stage of our development.”

The refinancing was confirmed in the same week as the group completed the rebranding of all Camberley Auto Factors branches under the Andrew Page name.

Posted in Factor & Supplier NewsComments (0)

Crescent Motoring Services leads new Motor Codes initiative

Crescent Motoring Services leads new Motor Codes initiative

Crescent-Motoring-Services_MotorCodesCurrent Motor Codes National Independent Garage of the Year, Crescent Motoring Services is set to lead the way in improving customer service across the sector.

Six months after picking up the award, Owner Steve Tallett decided his business should use its customer service skills and initiatives to help benefit other Motor Codes members.

“The importance of Motor Codes to every driver continues to gather momentum”, said Tallett. “Besides reflecting positively on our garage, it offers a valued signal to drivers of quality and attention paid to the repair, service or MOT of their vehicle at other Motor Codes registered garages.”

He approached the organisers to review how the growing business could contribute to furthering the success of the competition, citing part of Crescent’s success is down to regular initiatives that has set it apart from its competition.

Such initiatives include contributions to charities and the Citizens Advice Bureau, the creation of Ladies and first time drivers nights, and a revamped reception which comes complete with children’s toys.

Burton-on-Trent MP Andrew Griffiths, said: “Winning award after national award for their quality and service demonstrates that Crescent Motoring Services are one of the best garages in the country, and it is why they are seen as a shining example of what Motor Codes is all about.”

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Approved Garages becomes a sponsor of Premier League darts

Approved Garages becomes a sponsor of Premier League darts

Approved-Garages-darts-logo-purple-01Groupauto’s garage scheme has scored a bullseye as it becomes an official partner of the Betway Premier League Darts 2015.

Approved Garages will join current partners ITV, Sky and Thomas Cook in sponsoring one of the UK sport’s fastest growing competitions, with Network Manager Phil Seymour adding that the events national coverage is what proved attractive to the garage network in the first place.

“We’re really proud to be associated with Betway Premier League Darts 2015,” added Seymour. “It’s a great competition featuring many of the world’s top players and darts is a sport that gets more popular every year. We know it’s something many of our garage members and customers are excited about, so it’s a great fit for us.”

“This is an exciting announcement for us because it reinforces our commitment to top class sport. There’s nothing like a night at the darts and we’re delighted to be able to give some of our lucky customers a chance to experience it.”

Dart fans will be able to win tickets courtesy of the garage network through the media and via Twitter, as well as featuring news, interviews and player profiles on its website.

Approved-Garages_Betway-Premier-League-DartsThe Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) Betway Premier League throws off in Leeds on February 5, and reaches its thrilling finale at the O2 arena in London on May 21, with 16 events scheduled throughout the year.

Barry Hearn, Chairman of the PDC, said: “We are delighted to welcome Approved Garages into our darts family and we’re sure they’ll enjoy and benefit from their partnership with the Betway Premier League Darts.”

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Fast Parts Wales reveals new partnership with Fast Rads

Fast Parts Wales reveals new partnership with Fast Rads

Nathan-Travis-with-Vance-JohnFast Parts Wales has welcomed radiator and air conditioning company Fast Rads to its group.

The acquisition will give Fast Rads access to the group’s resources and expertise, as well as building on its long established relationship with Fast Parts Wales.

Vance John, Director of Fast Rads, said: “We’re incredibly excited at being part of the Fast Parts Wales group and hope to contribute fully through our specialist knowledge and expertise.”

The company based in Abercarn, Wales is well-known for supplying fuel tanks, turbos, air-conditioning parts and intercoolers in addition to radiators for a variety of sectors including for, passenger car, commercial vehicle and rail applications.

Nathan Travis, General Manager at Fast Parts Wales, said: “The two companies have been linked for some time and it become logical to make the relationship ‘official’. As partner companies, we will be able to accelerate the sharing of resources and expertise and work together to ensure both local and national customers continue to receive the best services and products at competitive prices.”

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CAT Garage Lives: The Real Mini Company

RMC_-Workshop-2Restoration work is a very tough job, as it can be painstakingly slow and invariably is never as simple as you first imagine. To succeed in such a field you need to have a genuine passion for what you do.

At The Real Mini Company that desire to return a Mini to its former glory is evident and becomes clearer when you meet owner Daniel Budd in person.

His life has always featured a Mini, with his parents owning one when he was growing up, to racing them from the tender age of ten. Even today he, his brother and father all race the little car competitively.

The company started when Budd had £600 in his pocket and a desire to work on something he loved. He paid up front for a three month lease of a commercial unit in Henley and proceeded to valet and service cars, while holding down two other jobs as a courier and in a factory to support his dream, his mortgage, partner and newly born child.

Budd explains that it was the two Minis in his garage that gave him the breakthrough he was looking for:

“I have always been known for Minis, so when people saw my road and race car in there, they started to ask about servicing their Minis. I then bid on a Japanese Mini through a Japanese auction site. It took a few months to come over, but it was immaculate. I didn’t realise that actually there are more Minis in Japan than there are in the UK.


Owner Daniel Budd

“I couldn’t believe how clean it was. All of our Minis were rusting because of all the salt on the road. So I sold it, made good money on it and bought two more. We became known for importing Minis from Japan. Then I had people saying ‘can you service mine?’” Budd got in a panel beater to work with the rusty British Minis that people brought in and the business took off from there.

The company has evolved significantly since and now focuses on restoring classic Minis, which is based solely on the buzz of being able to give a car a new lease of life, as he explains:

“I can show you pictures of some cars being literally dragged in, and then they go and win a show the next year. It was a hobby to begin with, to have a car to go to the show in and one to race. Now it has taken over my whole life.

“It just happened that the call for Mini restoration was so big. And when the Mini ceased production in 2001 the value of the old classic Minis just went up. Whereas before they were considered throwaway, now some of the cars in here are worth in excess of £30,000.”

RMC_-Workshop-1This interest has seen the company book in enough work to see them through at least the next 12 months. Due to the long-lead time needed to restore a car, it introduced a pay-as-you-go plan which allows customers to pay off the bill gradually, Budd’s team work on a number of vehicles at the same time and this ensures a regular cash flow.

But even Budd admits that while this system sits well with customers, it is the skills of electrical expert Steve and fabricator Les that are behind the company’s strong reputation.

Budd says: “I would not be in business without the two people in the workshop. Steve can wire anything, his preparation is fantastic, and the welding work Les does is definitely key with his skills.” Les was a former British Leyland apprentice who worked on the original Mini production line. Budd found Les living locally and unemployed. He says: “How that man could ever be out of work I will never know, I just wish I met him 20 years ago. I just wish I had half of his know-how.”

Combining expert knowledge, a sound business plan and the strong demand for classic Minis Budd’s firm will continue to thrive.



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IMI-AcceditationThe Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has announced that part of its brand overhaul will see it change the names of its accreditation schemes.

The Automotive Technician Accreditation (ATA) and Automotive Management Accreditation (AMA) will simply be named IMI Accreditation, which the industry body says will bring these products in line with its other services.

Steve Nash, IMI Chief Executive Officer, said: Our main focus is to ensure IMI Accreditation provides a robust solution for proving the current competence of individuals working in the sector.

“We believe this can be better achieved through stronger association with the wider activities of IMI. The rebranding of both ATA and AMA will also allow us to develop a clear brand strategy, which provides the public with a straightforward way of finding automotive professionals who invest in their skills (via phillip). Ultimately the closer association between IMI Accreditation and IMI services such as the Professional Register will put us in a better position to provide a licence to practise for automotive technicians.”

The accreditations have gone through a number of evolutions over the past few years, including the introduction of assessed outcome modules and the inclusion of all accredited individuals (ATA and AMA) onto the IMI’s publicly searchable Professional Register.

Accreditations such as Light Vehicle Inspection and Electric Vehicle Technician have also been developed, alongside customer facing accreditations such as sales, which has seen the body award more than 53,000 accreditations across its 18 routes.

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Don’t fit anything that can’t be polished

032837700_1220264704Mike Owen emphasises the importance of only fitting the best quality parts and explains the downfalls of working with poor base materials.
If the base material is flawed, it is impossible to produce a quality product or put slightly less politely: you can’t polish a turd.

In aftermarket terms the saying could also go: a poor product is always overpriced. Perhaps making this even more real you can suggest that the ‘polish’ is the fitting carried out by the workshop and that the ‘base-material’ in our case are the parts.

No, there is no reference here to proprietary parts and those with known pedigree, but the reference is to those that are often referred to as ‘budget’. The felony is compounded by its ‘chicken and egg’ nature; what comes first, the supply or the demand?

Price sensitivity

When asked, the garage will talk about the price sensitivity of the market place and such pious words as ‘looking after the customer’s pocket’ (even when not asked to). It is proven that customers want vehicles they can rely on and that their quest is for ‘value’ not ‘price’ and the two are different. It was Warren Buffett, the great American industrialist, turned philanthropist, who made more money than most small countries and then gave it away, who observed “price is what you pay, quality is what you get”.

The garage will often assume the price sensitivity of the situation and then either fail to represent the options properly to the customer and allow them to make an informed choice, or worse, make the choice for them. What the garage doesn’t know is the customer’s situation and will often take the decision based on their own interpretation of worth rather than allowing the customer to view the problem from their own perspective.
I was working in a Nissan dealership when a customer came into reception; the garage had had a series of problems with the customer’s vehicle and the Service Advisor was misreading the situation big-time. The customer, an eminent Harley Street surgeon, listened to the advisor digging a hole for himself and how they were actually saving the customer money when the customer erupted, making the statement ‘**** it, just give me a new one!’ The advisor thought he meant a new part, the customer meant a new car. The moral is that garages should present the options, not the price only.

The parts problem spills on into the factor who, in order to maintain this perceived price-sensitive business, scours the market for ever cheaper materials to feed the garages insatiable appetite for price driven parts – both now exposing themselves to the dangers of the ‘consumer laws’. Some will blame the internet. However, this will only give competitive information; the garages inability to organise and schedule work will, in most cases, lead them towards a factor who can feed their ‘immediate’ needs.

There are four scenarios regarding repair quality; only one is proven to work. These are: Poor parts and poor labour equates to a bad job: poor parts and good labour gives slightly better odds of a satisfactory repair – about the same as good parts and poor labour. The only truly marketable repair is good parts and good labour producing a satisfactory repair and for this to happen calls for parts, the parts vendor, the garage and the customer sharing in the repair and the communication that surrounds it.

From a parts suppliers perspective exposure to warranty claims has to be a key motivator – perhaps this is why most refrain from putting into writing their terms or entering into any form of service level agreement. Increasingly this will become an issue as the cost of major units continues to spiral and garages, lacking in expertise, continue to use diagnosis by component swapping rather than technical competence.

Now with ‘plant-state’ components, these units having picked up the on-board pin-code once fitted become useless for fitment to other vehicles – when returned in its original packaging, the parts supplier cannot identify this fundamental change has taken place until the next purchaser tries to install it – the dealers have covered this off with ‘no-returns policies’ – this is not them sticking-it to the independent sector but a need to protect the integrity of their stock – some of those units are many hundreds of pounds a pop.

It is proven, by the very existence of the franchised dealer, that customers, who understand the proposition, are willing to pay higher prices – and not just the odd pound here and there but frequently several times the price. Price sensitivity, again, is continuously used as an argument but this is based on uncorroborated data – the garage thinks… The franchised dealers however are eying the creamier parts of the independent market and without any form of cohesion – how many schemes have we seen come and go? The independent sector still remains ‘an alternative’ rather than ‘a viable, high quality alternative’.

Fit and forget

If only the independent garage could now refrain from ‘sipping-air’ when faced with warranty and making statements like ‘what idiot fitted this’ or other such disparaging comments our sector may begin to fight its way out of this price-trap.

You will never get away from the price argument and the world will continue to be a competitive place – as competitive as it is allowed to become. We have worked with garages to get them to negotiate the cost of fitting (only) and then allow the customer to make the materials (parts) choice – the greater percentage, when offered the alternatives, will choose the better quality materials almost without exception.

Posted in CAT Know-How, Factor & Supplier News, Garage News, NewsComments (1)

CAT Supplier Lives: Aldon Automotive

Aldon-Automotive_-Rolling-Road-1Alan Goodwin guides CAT around the mystery of tweaking an advanced curve.

Aldon Automotive in the Midlands is a household name in the world of classic cars and motor racing, and with 45 years of experience preparing race cars, building and servicing classic cars and developing the mechanical and electrical advanced curves, it is no wonder Owner Alan Goodwin is very proud of his company’s achievements.

He does point out that while race engine building and preparation was at the heart of the company’s foundations, it was the purchase of a rolling road that changed everything.

The business started off with former BMC apprentices Goodwin and business partner Don Loughlin building a monocoque racecar on a mere £200 and a Ford Anglia van. They managed to secure six orders from Canada, and in the process took out a loan from the bank, but unfortunately the person failed to produce the rest of the money so it left the pair in a financial hole.

“Within 18 months we had gone from having £200 to about minus £20,000 which was a phenomenonal amount of money in those days,” said Goodwin. “I just got married, and I was thinking ‘what do we do now?’

“At the time there were very few rolling roads. One was in Birmingham and it was mega busy. Don said to me that is the future – a rolling road. I said ‘how the hell am I ever going to be able to afford one of them?’

Aldon-Automotive_-Outside-1“Talk about digging a hole for myself. I owed the bank god knows how much,” says Goodwin. Yet based on how successful the existing rolling road was, he decided that there was room in the market for another.

It was from there that Aldon took off, but the installation of the rolling road inspired another interesting line of business for Goodwin to explore. The Aldon Distributor is a well-known product in classic car circles, and the rolling road played a major part in its development, as Goodwin explains.

“One thing you did on pre-electronic cars, such as Minis, Cortinas, MGBs, Escorts, was put on a set of twin Weber carburettors and a new distributor, but nobody had modified the advanced curve in the distributor. So we did, not necessarily to get more power, but to drive more smoothly through the range.

“By running the cars on the rolling road we found out that the distributor wasn’t right, so we used different springs, different weights and made a different advanced curve.”

It wasn’t until journalist and tuning guru of the 1970s David Visard stumbled across the modifications to the advanced curve, that the concept took off.

Aldon-Automotive_-Alan-Goodwin-1“He got to know about us and he said ‘this is great’,” said Goodwin. “So he wrote an article on it for Cars and Car Conversion (CCC), which was the bible at the time for tuning. It was a three or four page article on us making distributors, and it went atmospheric. People like Ripspeed, Minisport, Mini Spares, Burtons just ploughed orders in for this modified distributor – the Aldon Distributor. We were the gurus for modified distributors.”

As the interest in classic cars rose again the firm explored electronic ignition. Through American firm Petronics, Aldon imported units which were rebranded as the Aldon Ignitor for the UK market, and was designed to fit within the distributor cap, which proved a hit with classic car owners.

This led Goodwin to look into modernising the distributor, by getting an ECU to regulate the system, as he explains.

“We developed one that can be hidden away, and called it the Aldon Amethyst. It is an electronic version of a mechanical advanced curve. That is now a big priority, modernising the mechanical advanced curve.

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CAT Retailer Lives: Moss Europe

Moss Europe 1 As the first in a series of retailers that continue to grow, we visit classic specialist Moss in Feltham who finds retail is ‘booming.

One of the newest growth area in retail perversely caters for the oldest part of the vehicle parc. Classic car specialists have been around for years, but it is only relatively recently that car owners could buy parts in a retail environment other than by mail order or from an autojumble.

Pete Cox and Pete Buckles, both of whom still work for the company today, started the company that became Moss Europe Ltd in the UK in1975. Originally the firm dealt with spares for Triumph TR sports cars as components for older models in this range were getting harder to obtain off the shelf. After merging with the Sprite, Midget, B,C,V8 Centre in 1982 the company became part of US-based Moss Motors. Americans that wanted a constant supply of parts for their British sports cars had started this company back in the late 1940s.

However, the parent firm was willing to give the UK operations a free reign as it realised that the market on this side of the Atlantic is very different to the domestic one. A lot of the business at Moss Europe will be instantly recognisable to those that know how factors work. “We have three customers, we have wholesale, we have trade and we have retail,” explains Matthew Hutchins, Marketing Manager at the firm.

However, the makeup of the market is changing according to Hutchins. “Wholesale is probably about 45 percent of the business and retail is on the up,” he says. “It used to be focussed on wholesale so it was about 60 percent wholesale and 40 percent retail now it’s probably the opposite… and retail is now on the ‘booming’ side, and where we focus a lot of our attention.”

Much of this attention to retail has been lavished on physical shops where there had previously just been a parts counter. Customers are treated to an environment where they can touch and feel a number of the products in order to get an idea of the quality – even if it is not the exact part they need. In the main depot in Feltham we noticed comfy chairs and appealing displays of polishes, waxes and various anti-rust cure-alls in amongst the parts. The centrepiece of the display was a race-prepared Austin A35, which apparently had raced at Goodwood earlier in the year. “It belongs to Ray Calcutt [a BSCC champion driver in the 1960s] who is a local customer and was happy to lend it to us,” explains Hutchins.

Moss Europe 2Such a shop might sound little different to an accessory shop – but at Moss the shop care had been taken to arrange the display to make it a pleasant environment for customers to pop back every weekend regardless of whether they needed anything for their car that day or not.

A lot of effort goes into the website. In times past, the average car restorer might read a spreadsheet of parts in a classic car magazine and then call up to see if the desired reference was in stock. He’d then write a cheque and post it. The supplier would wait for it to clear (accounts for the public were a rarity) before delivering the part. Today, the internet speeds things up no end, but as Hutchins observes, a site is only as good as the most recent update.

Of course you can’t keep 45,000 lines on the shop floor – so the majority of parts are kept in the warehouse at the rear, the design of which would be familiar to any modern factor. Fastest moving lines are by the door, while obscure parts (and some of the inventory is very odd) are kept on a mezzanine. Delicate and ‘ugly’ products such as body panels and doors are hung at the back of the ground floor. We even come across a brace of dusty MGBs used for checking the fitment of new and existing lines. The term ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ is a cliché, but it seems apt here – if the Middle Eastern folk hero restored old British cars of course.

Posted in News, Out and About with CAT, Retailer NewsComments (0)

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