Archive | CAT Features

IS AMMONIA THE NEXT DIESELGATE?

Mark Blinston, commercial director of BM Catalysts, examines the potentially harmful effects created by the use of SCR technology in modern day diesels

Talk of emissions is never far away as of late and it seems that the problem isn’t set to go away any time soon. From CO2, particulate matter and the infamous NOx, there is another potential emissions problem looming on the horizon in the form of ammonia pollution.

Whilst Euro emissions standards continue to tighten in response to the ongoing emissions crisis, with the current Euro 6 legislation being the strictest set to date, it is apparent that not everything is quite as it seems.

With tighter emissions requirements comes the need for new vehicles to incorporate technologies designed to combat these emissions. Technologies such as Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) are just one method used today on modern diesel vehicles that aim to help eliminate the harmful NOx gases they emit. However it seems that everything comes with its consequences. Despite the use of SCR technology being hailed as one of the greatest and most effective feats to date in helping to tackle the NOx crisis, it doesn’t come without flaws of its own.

SCR systems work by a process of a Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) being injected into the exhaust system. As exhaust gases travel between the Diesel Particulate Filter and the SCR, the DEF (most commonly ‘AdBlue’) that has been added to the mix works by reacting with the base metal coating of the catalyst, converting harmful NOx gases into less harmful by-products, nitrogen and oxygen. The DEF used in this process is comprised of urea and deionised water, otherwise known as a less concentrated form of ammonia. Whilst DEF is a non-hazardous liquid, its gases, under the wrong circumstances, can be extremely harmful.

The function of SCR technology can only be fully utilised under appropriate conditions, such as the optimal operating temperature of around 350-450°C being achieved, by which it can help reduce NOx emissions by as much as 95%. However when placed in conditions such as built-up urban areas comprised of low speeds and heavy traffic, this isn’t always possible, which can lead to further complications aside from NOx pollution. It is possible that under such circumstances of low efficiency, the ammonia which is continually injected into the system may not be used entirely leading to what is known as ‘ammonia slip’. This is where excess ammonia exits the system and is expelled into the atmosphere, thus further adding to pollutant levels.

The rise of ammonia in the atmosphere has already seen an increase of 3.2 per cent between 2015 and 2016 according to UK Government figures, which also coincides with the implementation of the Euro 6 emissions standards. This indicates that, whilst the fight against NOx rages on, the increased use of the technologies required to help combat them, in this case SCR, may be posing further emissions concerns. As SCR technology continues to become the go-to choice in new diesel vehicles for its proven NOx reducing capabilities, it begs the question of what impact the rise in ammonia pollution is going to have on both us and the environment. It is clear that whilst positive changes such as the steadily declining atmospheric NOx levels are taking shape, there are other factors that also need to be taken into consideration before it’s too late.

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MANUFACTURING IN THE MODERN AGE

Mark Blinston, Commercial Director – BM Cats

For most of us, BM needs no introduction. One of its plants, tucked away in an innocuous industrial estate in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, doesn’t give anything away from the outside. It’s only when you step through the door that the scope of BM’s undertaking with emissions products is revealed. All of it (or most; some robots weren’t working on the day we arrived) moves with automated efficiency alongside ceiling-high racks upon racks of raw material storage. Mark Blinston, BM’s Commercial Director, cheerily explains some of the serious-looking machines churning away on the plant floor. One of them is producing a small waterfall of oil continuously, and every minute or so a freshly-machined nut tumbles out into a collection tray. “We use this for producing sensor ports and various other machined parts,” says Mark. “The most expensive one we have cost £170,000. The CNC Lathe machines can run 24 hours a day and are fully automated. We manufacture these components in-house to give us control over quality and design whilst reducing the inventory labels required when importing them.” Other automated machines at work include a 200-tonne press to stamp out the shells for BM’s catalytic converters; welders; CNC Miller machines; and three large tables upon which an automated plasma cutter line is fast at work. We have to be careful not to look directly at the beams.

The whole operation exudes a sense of pride, considering that not so long ago all of this was non-existent.

Beginnings

BM, like any company, had humble beginnings. When it was founded in 1966 by Alf Belton and Eric Massey, the company offered one service: fitting tyres for the local community. Operating out of a single base in Bulwell with five members of staff, it wasn’t until a few years later that government legislation led the company to expand its operation to fitting exhausts as well. Then, when legislation requiring mandatory catalytic converters was enacted, BM seized the opportunity to begin producing their own. In true full-circle fashion, BM has grown from sourcing exhaust parts from big suppliers in Europe to being a major supplier to them. “We were buying exhausts from all of these people as a garage,” says Blinston, “and they’ve allowed us to set up and it’s come all the way around to the fact that we now supply them! It’s quite bizarre.” Indeed, it takes some pretty astounding oversight on the part of competing European firms to allow a small garage in the East Midlands to become the largest independent manufacturer of cats, DPFs and front pipes in the whole of Europe, but this is precisely what has happened. Today, BM is almost entirely self-sufficient, manufacturing and machining its own parts – even down to the nuts used to fasten sensors on to the catalytic converters – to be used later on in the assembly process. “What we’ve got to do is keep our products as cost effective as possible, hence the investments in all the bits and bobs –” robotics and machinery, in this case “– so that we don’t then have someone in the way taking a margin as well,” says Blinston. The other benefit of being self-sufficient is that relying on European-based suppliers for parts is about to get a whole lot harder…

Brexit

For BM, the disadvantages that a hard Brexit might place upon the company are numerous; particularly frustrating given the strong position the company has earned itself over the years. “Of course, some of our European competitors will have an instant advantage over us if we have a hard Brexit. There’ll be no tariffs [for them], and it would take longer for our stock to get to our customers,” Blinston explained.

Plenty of storage at the Mansfield plant. Will Brexit affect imports?

A solution could be to move at least a portion of BM’s manufacturing into Europe before the UK officially leaves, as others have done. But for Blinston, this isn’t on the cards. “You’ve got to spend millions setting up plants in a low-cost economy that in five years’ time isn’t a low cost economy any more. Poland, five or ten years ago, was a cheap place to manufacture, but their economy’s grown quite a bit. So it’s tricky, and we wouldn’t want to be as far out as China.” In addition, all of this wouldn’t play into BM’s identity as a British manufacturer, something Blinston wears on his sleeve. “We’re proud to be a British manufacturer, to be honest with you. It can be done here. There’s this massive assumption that you can’t make things here, and we are.

“It will be interesting to see how [Brexit] affects other people. I suspect that some people will have buried their heads, and I suspect that some people have got plans like we have.” Blinston says that BM has a number of scenarios in place depending on the outcome of a Brexit deal on March 29th. And, in a worst-case scenario where trade is halted altogether, the warehouse stockpiles could enable BM to continue producing components for 10 to 12 months. But selling and sourcing parts isn’t the only issue that Brexit has brought upon the firm.

Automated plasma cutters at work

Human resource 

This year has been a struggle for BM in an unexpected way. “It’s a shortage of manpower,” says Blinston. “For the first time in our history this summer, the factory couldn’t cope with sales. We were selling more every day than we were able to make, so our stocks became massively depleted.” There were a couple of factors that made 2018 difficult in this respect: particularly high demand, a red-hot summer and a world cup (yes, really!) made it difficult to get workers in. “When you’re working a 10-hour weld shift in hot conditions, do they want to stay and do overtime for an extra four hours? Very difficult…” says Blinston.

The availability of skilled workers is another area in which the uncertainty of Brexit is proving a nightmare for BM. “Since the referendum we’ve found a smaller pool of workers from outside the UK wanting to work. People are going back because they’re worried about settled status.” But crucially, the lack of skilled workers is an issue that starts at home. “It does worry me that people coming out of school or college that would normally go into the engineering sector or fabricational welding, they don’t want to do it anymore,” says Blinston. “They want a beautiful office environment with air conditioning and table football.” Although Blinston says that BM have managed to recruit a sufficient amount of welders for now, the frustration from passing up on sales and certain supply deals over the summer, costing millions of pounds worth of business, still lingers.

Future

Despite everything, Blinston remains optimistic about BM’s future. “Our company has always thrived in difficult, challenging circumstances. I think we just tend to navigate the choppy waters a little bit better.” Plus, regardless of Brexit, the emissions market will see increasing developments which should drive sales for manufacturers. The addition of SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) systems, for example, “is going to drive sales for AdBlue, temperature sensors, NOx sensors, this kind of stuff,” says Blinston. Although Euro-4 products make up 37 percent of BM’s sales, Euro-5 and 6 ones are fast catching up. “The trick,” he concludes, is to “never stop investing” in new market developments. Easier said than done, but BM certainly seems to be in a position to do so.

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THE GUARDIANS OF THE ARCHES

First published October 2018

Last year, National Rail announced that it had agreed to sell off every archway property in what would become a £1.5 billion deal with private equity and property management firms Telereal Trillium and New York-based Blackstone Group.This meant that every business – and many garages and workshops – operating out of each of the 4,455 archway properties owned by Network Rail underwent rent evaluations and, perhaps unsurprisingly, prices didn’t go down.  One of these is Clapham North MOT garage, under the brick foundations of Clapham North’s railway arches, has been operating since the 60s under Ronnie Grant, now 93. Prior to the sale, the garage received a letter in November last year notifying them of a rent hike – from £33,000 per year to £147,000.

“It was a demand. End of story,” says Ronnie’s son, George Grant. “We obviously went:  ‘there is some mistake here.’” When it became apparent that the hike wasn’t a mistake, George – who recently took over ownership of Clapham North MOT from his father – and dozens of other small archway businesses formed a group called the Guardians Of The Arches. The exposure from the price hike culminated in a trip to Westminster and a meeting with Transport Minister Jo Johnson, who also brought in the bosses of Network Rail. They revealed plans for the sale. “We absolutely laid into them,” said Grant. The Network Rail figures apologised, saying that they had conducted a ‘desktop review’ of the estate, which resulted in the price hike.

But George was sceptical. He mentions that three years prior, he received a notice saying that Network Rail wanted to redevelop the garage into “a wine bar or something similar.” “How can I say it… they were being ‘creative’ in the way in which they said our garage is located on the high street. It’s not on the high street, it’s set back. We think they had ulterior motives, basically to create an estate which was highly valuable.”

Location

To be sure, the archway properties are ideally located for enterprise. Garages around the country set up shop in similar conditions. But value is more than location and potential; how much a business is really worth can often be gleaned through community feedback, something Clapham North Garage receives in spades and which would be lost if it were sold out of business. “We have a unique way of customers and that is you look after people, it’s not rocket science. We have several generations of customer, and we do such a good job that even people who have moved out of London have come in.”

For Grant, this adds a particular sting to the price hikes. “These business were thriving in their communities. Thriving in conditions most normal businesses wouldn’t occupy because of the damp and noisy arches. These are Victorian premises, and they’re not for everybody. We’ve taken the hit as a business and set ourselves up in them with the knowledge that it’s good enough for us.”

Indeed, gentrification was one of the desired outcomes of the selloff posited by Network Rail CEO Mark Carne (who has since retired). Carne said at the time of the deal that it would bring investment “for the benefit of the local communities and it will help fund a better railway. I hope to see areas around the railway positively transformed with new and refurbished shops, amenities, and extra facilities for local people and passengers.”

Of course, Grant takes a dimmer view of matters, particularly in regards to the motives of the private firms to whom matters are being handed. “You’ve got to remember that these people are completed blinkered. They’re only interested in creating wealth. They are un-transparent, unethical, unfriendly. They do not hold their tenants in any value whatsoever.”

Publicity

For now, the future is opaque. Grant hasn’t had any correspondence with the future private landlords, although he has negotiated and signed a new lease agreement with Network Rail for £59,000, which he expects to begin in the next few weeks. He’s had to adjust his business operations to account for the sudden extra expenditure.

“We’ve taken on more staff, updated our website. I’ve been promoting Clapham North in the motor racing world. I wanted to create more of an impact about what we do. From a business point of view, it’s a case of: you sit down and cry in your hands or you say ‘we’ve got to up our ante.’”

I want to preserve what my father started before I was born,” says George. “I’m going to hold onto it like you wouldn’t believe.”

Railway arch business locations are so abundant that Network Rail was technically the largest provider of small-to-medium-sized business space in the UK, until the sale. Network Rail’s initial statement explained that the sell off would create ‘a significant injection of cash to the taxpayer-owned railways infrastructure company’, allowing it to ‘focus on its core business of improving the passenger experience.’ It cites added investment towards mega projects such as the Thameslink Programme, Crossrail and the Waterloo and South West Upgrade. Meanwhile, Paula Whitworth of Network rail assured CAT that “all tenants’ current leases and rent agreements will transfer to the new owner and be protected.”  

Graham Edwards, co-founder of new archway co-owner Telereal, said at the time of sale: “We and our partner Blackstone believe that our ownership of the portfolio will provide the supportive environment in which these businesses can flourish on a long-term basis … We intend to remain particularly sensitive to the small businesses that have been long-term tenants of the Network Rail estate.”

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PROMOTING YOUR BUSINESS

Promoting your business

By Adam Bernstein

Do you really know how valuable your customers are to you? Have you ever stopped to think if they actively promote or harm your reputation?

Of course, it is entirely possible to run a business on a diet of ‘one-hit wonder’ customers, but it’s a wasteful, time consuming and expensive way of generating business. It’s much better to win and keep customers by understanding their lifetime value through studying their loyalty. One way of doing this is to generate what is termed a ‘Net Promoter Score’.

 Net Promoter Score

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a loyalty tool used to monitor and gauge the loyalty of a business relationship, irrespective of whether it’s business to consumer or business to business. The key benefit of NPS is that it gives insights into elements of a relationship such as customer satisfaction, effectiveness of communications and how well customer service is judged.

For some, it can be a very effective way of measuring customer experiences precisely because it’s possible to see if customers would recommend you to others, with answers based on a zero to 10 scoring method.

Calculations

From a business perspective, understanding how the scoring is calculated is essential as this drives communication with those who might buy from you. Essentially NPS asks a series of “why” and “would” questions which return scores of between zero to 10.

And over time NPS allows firms to regularly canvas customers for their opinions, asking numerous questions via a 20 – 30 second questionnaire which can be answered quickly. Because of the ease of answering NPS questionnaires the response rate can be high.

There is a standard to scoring NPS responses:

Those reporting nine to10 are labelled as a promoter. They are likely to buy again and promote the business to others as a recommendation. They are a great advocate for the business to have and they will be a loyal customer in the future.

A score of seven or eight labels customers as ‘passive’. These people fall in the middle of being a promoter or detractor. They are undecided and do not want to commit and so do not give active responses to the questions and try to remain impartial.

Customers giving a response under six are labelled as detractors. A detractor can be detrimental to a business as they can become negative, give comments that will influence others, and they may not complete business transactions.

The problem for businesses faced with detractors is that the web feeds the subconscious. This is because consumers often look online for comments made about the products and services of a business and this can have a negative or positive effect and may well influence their own buying decisions.

The actual calculation when measuring NPS is a function of the total number of respondents who reply, the total number of promoters and the total number of detractors; the percentage of detractors need to be subtracted from the percentage of promoters. The closer the result to 100, the better it is and anything with a negative should be dealt with quickly.

 Best effect

It should go without saying that NPS needs to be used properly if the right result is truly wanted. Having a score for a product or service will give an insight of how well a job has been done. If the scoring is poor, a business can see the areas that need work and take proactive action to improve them.

NPS can be used generally or specifically, depending on the strategy being deployed. For example, after a customer has purchased a simple automated email can be sent asking for feedback. It’s important to note, however, that for NPS campaigns to work a business-wide strategy needs to be implemented and it needs to take into consideration factors such as making all staff aware of what NPS is, how the measurements work and what they mean; not ignoring or failing to respond to negative comments; and actively seeking to engage with those classified as promoters.

Think also about how you will communicate further with promoters. They have given you a good score but how will you continue to communicate positively with them now that you have their goodwill? And negative scorings should also create the same thought process – think about how you will work with those customers that give a low score? Everyone needs to communicate effectively to customers and the key is to keep monitoring the scoring results and act upon them.

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AFTERMARKET LIVES: AUTOPARTS UK

Even if you’ve never been on a franchise’s forecourt, the chances are that you’ve heard of Arnold Clark. In case you haven’t, it is a huge company with 24 VM brands in it’s dealer group, that has branches dotted all over the UK.

The scale of the business was a point proven to us when we were given a tour of the vast and labyrinthine Head Office in Glasgow, which fittingly is integrated with one of the dealer’s 200 branches.

However, it isn’t the huge office that we are here to see, nor are we in town to visit the firm’s training facilities. Instead, our trip is to the former Albion truck and bus factory in Scotstoun, which for many years has been home to Arnold Clark’s aftermarket factor business, Autoparts UK.

As you might expect from a building where double-decker buses were once produced, it is very large and solidly constructed with ornate cast iron pieces stretching to the roof. There’s a large mezzanine and there is ample room for all of the sales team inside the former administrative quarters. It’s in here that we meet the Group Factor Manager, Craig McCracken who explained how it was that a company that has its main business in new car franchises has an all-makes aftermarket factor chain attached to it.

“We started with Unipart Express Factors, because in those days an Express Factors branch was always coupled to a Rover dealership” McCracken explained. At the time Arnold Clark had a Rover Group franchise, though the Express Factors network was an all-makes programme.

 

Express Factors

McCracken started the first Express Factors branch to be located in a Nissan dealership, but the landscape changed when Unipart took the decision to buy Partco/Brown Brothers. “We took the decision that we might be ‘feeding the hand that was about to bite us’, so to speak” explained McCracken. “We decided to do our own thing separately and line up our own suppliers”.

With that, the Autoparts UK brand was established in October 1992. Thanks to the team’s experience and backing there was no problem with securing stock from the best suppliers in the market including Valeo, Kilen and Sogefi etc. In addition the company has always offered a tier of products under various ‘house brand’ labels including Padtech, Goliath and Dynamach which also do very well.

“With our own brand products, we always try to make them equal to, if not better than the premium product” McCracken says, explaining that contract to supply oil, for example, is put out to tender every three years and the product is monitored to ensure consistent quality.

 

Acquisition trail

Today, Autoparts now consists of twelve branches, ranging from Inverness on the North coast of the Scottish Highlands, to Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands. Three years ago, a second chain, Midwest Motor Factors was acquired with half a dozen branches that also fall under McCracken’s jurisdiction. The growth is unlikely to stop there as McCracken has plans to expand further and is on the hunt for any businesses that might be considering selling.

 

Unlike most all-make parts factors, Autoparts UK also supplies body panels to the crash repair market and more recently it has introduced a range of tyres. Like some other factors, Autoparts UK offers customers a garage management system, which allows them to manage daily booking and check stock online.

 

McCracken says that the system is popular with regular customers, though only a minority use it for actually ording parts.

 

“They can order parts through it, but the main thing (for them) is getting accurate service schedules” he explained, adding that in the event of a dispute with a VM, the garage will need to prove that the vehicle has been serviced in line with the manufacturer’s schedules, and that the software will advise on exactly when, and what parts are needed at certain intervals. The system is also handy for sending out MOT and timing belt reminders to customers.

 

McCracken has always been a fan of selling everything needed to complete a job in one go. For example, when selling catalytic converters he noticed that the team struggled to get garages to take all the accessories needed to fit the part at the same time. “The main problem was that when you sold someone a cat then added a fitting kit at £26 on top it was difficult” explained McCracken. “So we did a deal with a manufacturer to include the kit in the price. We sometimes get customers saying that we are slightly more expensive, but when we explain that they are getting over £20 of fitting kit in the price, it usually works in our favour”.

 

Price is a crucial point everywhere, but especially here in Glasgow, where several factors are competing for the same patch. “If you’re not competitive, your customer will go to the competitor” he explains, adding that availability, product quality and delivery speed are now areas where there is little to choose between one factor and another in the local area.

 

On the subject of how ‘independent’ can an independent factor be if it is owned by the holder of dealer franchises, McCracken said: “Our competitors will try and use it against us, but ultimately the garages we serve are charging around £40 p/h and working on vehicles that are five years plus, where dealerships are charging £90 per hour”.

 

“Last year, AC sold 297,000 vehicles. We are the food chain for the aftermarket. Is someone going to bring a six year old Dacia back to the dealer for a set of brakes, an exhaust and a clutch? No. It’s never really been an issue, I’ve never lost any business out of it”.

 

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MEETING THE BENTLEY BOYS

MEETING THE BENTLEY BOYS

William Medcalf talks us through his preparation business for vintage Bentleys

William Medcalf

Let’s say you are thinking of going on an endurance rally, what car would you take? By endurance, I mean a long, long distance across far-flung and generally inaccessible corners of the world with stretches covering unmade or non-existent roads. You might think about taking a tough four wheel drive that you could get parts for anywhere, a Toyota Land Cruiser perhaps, or a suitably prepared Subaru Impreza.

What you probably wouldn’t consider taking for such long jaunts is a pre-Rolls-Royce era Bentley. Apart from the fact the youngest machine is now 87 years old, you can consider it a given that any roadside factor you might find in the Gobi desert, the jungles of Borneo or the Canadian wilderness won’t have that many parts on the shelf. That’s before we mention that the minimum you can get your name on the logbook for one of these cars is about £300,000 – and this could easily exceed £4m if you were able to persuade one of the owners of the super-rare Blower Bentley to sell it to you.

It’s surprising then that William Medcalf, owner of the eponymous one-make specialist in Sussex says that many of his clients do take their cars on such jaunts. “Around 60 percent of our clientele like to take their cars on rallies,” he tells us as we walk into his workshop, adding that pretty much all of the cars that he looks after are in regular use and not simply museum pieces.

Bentley showroom

RALLIES
Clearly, all of these cars need to be suitably prepared for the epic jaunts they are regularly run on. The balance to be struck is how to make any modifications in keeping with the original car, and reversible if the owner chooses to put it back to entirely standard. To this end, Medcalf employs engineers rather than vehicle technicians and the firm has invested a lot of money in computer design, 3d printing and milling machines. “I’d like to think that if W.O Bentley was here, he’d look at some of our designs and he’d nod in agreement’ Medcalf said, while showing me the internals of a differential that had been made out of a piece of solid billet. “Everyone wants the modifications because you can go and drive the thing around the world. What we are not doing is turning it into something different: It’s all Bentley engineering and Bentley ethos,” he furthered.

There are plenty of other examples of this sensitive approach to making the vehicles more usable. On our visit, an engineer had the drawings for a clutch up on the computer. Previously a clutch failure could mean the car having to be shipped home without completing the rally, but by using the fittings that are already there, Medcalf’s team have developed a clutch that can be replaced far more easily.

All aspects of prep and restoration can be undertaken at the workshop. Apart from mechanical work, bodywork can be restored, welding can be undertake und there’s even a fully-equipped woodworking bench, serving as a reminder that when these cars were new, coachbuilders would have been most familiar in doing exactly that: building horse drawn carriages.

MODERN METHODS
While some of the work might have its roots in the 1800s, the industrial processes in place are not. Despite the one-off nature of working on these cars, every job is coded to a computer- based garage management system, measuring the time and materials each engineer is using on a task. “There are no projects gathering dust in the corner, to be worked on ‘as and when’” explained Medcalf. “Apart from anything else, we simply don’t have the space to clutter up.” The stockroom on the upper mezzanine is a sight to behold. With 15,000 lines, there are a lot of items in the stock drawers that look familiar, but on closer inspection are certainly not. “These screws for instance” says Medcalf, pulling out a bag of machine screws, “Are a size specified by W.O and they aren’t found anywhere else except on a Bentley engine. You can use a different size screw, but there are 136 in an engine and we make them in the original size, and with the right number in the packet – so why use the wrong ones when we have the right ones on the shelf ?”

In-house manufacturing

Other ex-stock parts include beautiful brass water rails and radiators, which are identical to the originals, only with slightly strengthened gussets to prevent blown rads in when running in hot climates. There are fun items like Castrol filler jugs, ranging to the more usual, such as bearing sets. One SKU of note is a copper gasket set, which there are plenty of in the stock location. “You could literally walk in here and buy a gasket set for a ninety year- old car. I’ll bet you couldn’t walk into a BMW dealer and buy a gasket set off the shelf for something built today,” noted Medcalf. They will happily bring engineers and parts to wherever their customers need them as well: Recently one of the team walked through Medcalf’s door on a Friday before a Bank Holiday and walked out with a ticket on the next flight to Tokyo and a differential as a regular client needed repair at the start of a rally stage. A friendly local (in Tokyo) garage was found, the part was fitted, and Medcalf’s employee was back at work in Sussex on the Tuesday. Apparently this is not uncommon.

NEW DESIGNS
New designs for parts are tested on Medcalf ’s own car (which by his own admission is regularly ‘murdered’ on rallies) but there is a plan to take development of parts design a step further. The firm has struck up a partnership with the University of Sussex to produce a ‘Knowledge Transfer Partnership.’ Simply put, the University has assigned a graduate to work with the business, effectively as an employee, for two years, looking at ways, no matter how small, that the understanding and engineering of vintage Bentleys can be honed. The idea is that new skills, and the latest academic thinking can be applied to help the business further streamline and innovate new methods of production. It sounds like an interesting project, and one we’d be interested in learning more about when it concludes.

If you want a vintage Bentley, the business also has a showroom with some cars for sale. Obviously the market is somewhat limited: Out of the estimated 1,600 cars remaining the majority are in the hands of people who neither want or need to sell them. Nonetheless, there are half a dozen cars on sale in the showroom on our visit, ranging from a fabric body doctor’s coupe (complete with cadish accessories in the boot that include a shotgun store, a sink and a fold out bar!) to a concours winning tourer and a blower replica. You’d need to bring some bunce with you though: The cars in the showroom start at £300,000 and range to well over a million.

So if you fancy taking on a new hobby and you have some spare time and a few hundred thousand quid in your back pocket, then you should visit the one-stop-shop for everything Bentley.

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THE CHANGING FACE OF RETAIL

THE CHANGING FACE OF RETAIL

After a grim few months on the High Street, we speak to retailers and suppliers in our sector to find how they have adapted

WMS shop floor

Let’s not beat about the bush here: 2018 has so far been a terrible year to be a High Street retailer. There have been numerous high profile casualties such as Toys R Us and electronics giant Maplins as well as clothing retailers such as New Look, Claire’s Accessories and Jones the Bootmaker either calling in the receivers or announcing drastic restructuring.

Even restaurants in the so-called ‘smart casual’ dining sector, which for a long time were lauded as saviours of dwindling town centre, seem to have hit bad times. Carluccios, Prezzo and pretty well all of the outlets in TV chef Jamie Oliver’s portfolio have announced drastic closure programmes. It isn’t ideal.

Nonetheless, traditional accessory shops have adapted as best as they can to the changing face of the retail environment: The days of Ray D’Ator (CAT’s longtime accessory shop owner turned columnist) scowling at people over the counter, and his attitude of ‘you don’t want it looking too smart, people will think they can’t afford it’ are well and truly over.

SHOP ENVIRONMENT
Indeed, it is the opinion of the accessory retailers we spoke to is that the environment has changed significantly over the last couple of years, leading them to revise their offering. “There’s a change in consumer behaviour due to cars being less easy to work on therefore fewer DIY mechanics to serve” noted Jonathan Rogers of Wrexham Motoring Supplies. “We do a lot of free fits now when it comes to bulbs, batteries, wipers etc and we have noticed a significant increase in this service. This is directly in line with inf lating garage hourly rates and people being forced into looking elsewhere for fitting.”

Richard Shortis, Managing Director of regional chain Wico, said: “The range of product has increased as a result of the changing marketplace. Gone are the days of two different headlight bulbs, now there are about 10 – and that’s not including all the different upgrade versions.” Shortis adds that a noticeable change in the key categories of bulbs and wipers is that (with the possible exception of high-output bulbs) the parts wear out more slowly, and need changing less frequently. However, more customers are asking for the bulbs and blades to be changed for them, which Wilco will do for a fee.

One retailer who feels the environment has not changed significantly is A1 founding member and accessory shop owner Joe Elliott. “Has the environment changed in the last two years? Not really, business has remained consistent,” he said. “It’s busy when its cold and its OK the rest of the time.”

Push bike sales in decline

Despite this, Elliott says that he has noticed more sales in touring equipment. “I think the increase in sales of roof bars and WMS shop floor boxes are due to development in the leisure market. More families these days take part in more leisure activities throughout the year,” he said. “Roof boxes, expensive as they can be, it can often be cheaper to buy one and all the malarky that goes with it (instead of renting one on multiple occasions or shelling out for a larger car).”

Despite the rise in sales, he describes the competition from online vendors in the leisure category as ‘absolutely tremendous’ and he counters it by offering good service and free fitting. Indeed, it is the fitting offer to which Elliott attributes the company’s ‘edge’. “Apart from one very brief period, at Elliots, we have always offered free fitting on any accessory, whether that is bulbs, wipers or roof boxes. This policy has bought us a tremendous amount of kudos within the city. When we tried charging, we lost our edge. We have seen sales dramatically increase since we went back to free fitting.”

PUSH BIKE SALES
One area that appears to be in decline, or at least not as profitable as everyone hoped, is the sale of push bikes. “We did dip our toes into the cycle side a few years ago but quickly realised how saturated the market was,” explained Jon Rogers, adding that there is more to cycle retailing than simply stocking a few bikes. “We are clearing out of push bikes,” concurred Joe Elliott. “We went to a lot of trouble and expense setting up as a cycle repair shop, but for some reason it just hasn’t worked.”

“The other issue is that the Push bike sales in decline venture capitalist have come into the cycle industry… and we all know how they were when they went into the motor factor side of our trade,” said Richard Shortis, adding that pedal-electric bikes were a growing segment, albeit one that was growing from a very low base.

So the message from the market is adapt fast and respond to new trends – and don’t be afraid to try something new. Just be prepared that not every new trend (particularly in our sector) is going to fly.

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PUTTING A CAP ON EMISSIONS

PUTTING A CAP ON EMISSIONS

There are plenty of filters out there, but how are suppliers helping garages with their selection?

TPS anti allegen dust and pollen filter

It’s hardly news that emissions are hot on the VMs’ agenda, notably with the ongoing initiatives encouraging customers to swap out their older diesel vehicles for cash to put towards a newer model. Whilst scrappage schemes have been widely adopted by the former, suppliers are also playing their part in filtering out contaminants that would otherwise cause engine damage and discomfort for motorists if left unattended.

AIR/CABIN AIR FILTERS
Jonathan Walker, Managing Director of manufacturer Mahle Aftermarket UK, says that as a general rule of thumb, technicians should be replacing cabin air filters at regular service intervals as a clogged filter is still a major contributing factor for under performance of the A/C system and losses in engine power. He also mentions that the installation procedure is not always plain sailing: “Fitting cabin filters is increasingly complex and garages spend a lot of time locating and removing other components to ensure a correct fit”, he replied, “Fixed price service has arguably had a negative impact as the time spent on replacing cabin filters becomes more pressurised. It all equates to the biggest contributor of failure, which is a clogged cabin filter.”

To assist workshops with these practices, Walker highlights that Mahle’s CareMetix cabin filters have played a crucial role in communicating these messages whilst offering improved health and wellbeing benefits for end- users. He elaborated: “Our Caremetix range comprises of a five-layer cabin filter specially designed to improve passenger health and wellbeing by removing nasty odours and harmful contaminants from vehicle cabins.” He continued. “Garages can offer customers a tangible difference as the innovative range provides five- layer protection against allergens, brake dust, diesel soot, fine particulates and tyre debris that is proven to enter a car from exhaust fumes.”

Attempting to achieve a similar goal is Hella Hengst, a distribution partnership between Hella and filtration brand Hengst which launched last year. “The focus is to support workshops with point of sale material and marketing strategies that help inform the end user of products being fitted”, said Mark Adams, Product Manager at the firm. “The company also takes extra steps to include fitting instructions/ location guides for its cabin filters, which reduces time and allows workshops to maximise profit.” Adding that the supplied content points out the ‘benefits of premium quality products against the dangers of using those of an inferior design’.

ENVIRONMENT
Michelle Smith, Marketing Manager at TPS, explains that the organisation is economising through its Genuine Parts Range, with new pleated technologies. “In terms of materials, the filter media contains cellulose fibers which protects it against moisture, oil and fuel vapours. Depending on the application, fully synthetic filter media with a multilayer structure or with an additional nanofiber coating are used”. Smith noted, “Our Genuine Air Filters incorporate the latest materials and pleat technology to ensure that both performance and fuel economy are maintained throughout service life. In addition, our pleat technology has the ability to absorb dirt and dust particles whilst maintaining the optimum air f low into the engine for efficient combustion”.

HELLA Hengst portfolio

Sogefi’s Sales Manager, Jonathan Brooke said “Car drivers are not enough aware of the benefits of changing the cabin filters for their well-being. “The garages should more systematically inform their customers of these benefits. One good reason for doing it is that the end users can really feel the improvement: less dust and odours, better ventilation and defogging. These are strong selling points, that the customer will appreciate. In many cases the fact of showing the used filter – full of dirt and pollution- is the best selling argument.

THE FUTURE OF FILTERS
Touching back on the diesel market, UFI Filters Sales Manager Karl Ridings says the firm is armed and ready to service the next generation of vehicles complying with Euro Six and Seven standards. Speaking about this in more depth, he
said: “Thanks to the investments in R&D we supply filters like the Gen2Plus diesel filter”. He added: “Based on the availability of these technologies, UFI looks very confident in the future of diesel filter sales”.

Miten Parikh, General Manager at Comline, concurs and builds on Ridings statement, outlining that this ecological- type filter is becoming a more desirable choice among VMs particularly for their air modules. “As vehicle manufacturers become ever- more environmentally conscious the ecological-type filter is becoming more prevalent”, he continued. “Manufactured entirely from recyclable materials, many modern applications use this type of air filter and this trend seems likely to continue. Comline has in its range a number of fuel filter references with built-in water separators and sensors”.

With the multiple filter options available, workshops will certainly not be left starved of products that will result in repeat business and happy customers bearing in mind they follow the procedures outlined in this article.

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GDPR: WHAT’S THE FUSS?

GDPR: WHAT’S THE FUSS?

Time is running out to get your ship in order for new data regulations

The act of putting one product in the carton of another is something that we all know happens throughout the aftermarket at all levels.

There’s one product in particular that we know is packed in the UK in a dozen or more brand images – and no doubt there are others.

There has been little in the news about the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect on 25 May, so it is hardly surprising that there are many people that either have no idea about it or assume that it has anything to do with them. Put simply, GDPR will give teeth to existing legislation, the Data Protection Act (DPA) and according to consumer polls, over a third of Britons are already anticipating to exercise their rights in accordance with this legislation.

But what does it all mean and more importantly what does it have to do with fixing cars? It is easy to brush off this kind of change, assuming that it only applies to big companies like chain fast-fits and dealerships that obviously have some sort of ivory tower that churns out policies and small print in a factory like manner. They are used to being sued right? They have all the means to support all this bureaucratic nonsense and the small company that only employs a couple of people won’t have to worry about this kind of EU nonsense, plus Brexit and everything else…

Unfortunately this is not the case, this change has happened and it is coming in the next couple of months. On that day and every day after this new responsibility will be handed over to you regardless of your preparedness. A bit like becoming a parent really, only without the panting and sweating that you get to herald this kind of immediate change. So what exactly is it?

THE ACT
To break it down, The Data Protection Act (DPA) was introduced in 1998 to protect the rights of the individual with regards to their personal data and how it is processed. A lot has changed since then, particularly the quantity of data that is collected and the complexity of locations of where it is stored have changed dramatically.

Most of the legislation from DPA will remain the same, GPDR will enforce certain elements of it and although GDPR is an EU directive it will be incorporated into British law post Brexit.

Louder for the people at the back, whether we are in or out we are keeping this.

Before moving on, it is worth clearly defining what we mean when talking about processing data, especially in the context of General Data Protection Regulation.

At its most basic definition this refers to any operation performed using personal data, it does not matter if this is automated, handwritten or typed into a spreadsheet. This includes and is not restricted to collecting it, organising it, structuring it, storing it, retrieving it, sharing it and a whole lot else. The official definition can be found on the Information Commissioner’s Office website.

In short, it will now be considered a breach of data if information that is protected by this legislation is not securely stored. This is so serious that even if a breach of data has not occurred, poor management of this data will be treated in the same manner as if the breach has occurred. Dumb luck is not rewarded. If an organisation has been targeted for data theft or even if a suspicion that data has been potentially put at risk there is guidance on the ICO website on how to manage and report such an incidence, and the ICO are keen to push the ‘tell us everything and tell us quickly’ message in the same way you would speak to your insurance company and the police if someone had broke into your premises.

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HAYNES PUBLISHING IN THE MODERN WORLD

HAYNES PUBLISHING IN THE MODERN WORLD

Despite what the world at large might have told you, DIY car maintenance isn’t dead. Admittedly, driveway servicing isn’t as prevalent as it once was, nor are people tackling quite the same jobs as was once the case ­– for example, where a reasonably competent DIY’er might once have swapped an alternator or a starter motor with little problem, they would probably avoid fiddling around with a modern stop and start system.

Nonetheless, you don’t have to delve too deeply into any of the hundreds of car club forums, Facebook groups and YouTube channels to realise that people are still delving into dashboards and taking out complicated factory fit stereos, weedling out diagnostic trouble codes with any of the dozens of consumer code readers as well as regular servicing. A point often lost in non-specialist media is that routine servicing is in general more straightforward than it has ever been: modern cars don’t need tappets adjusting, points changing or even spark plugs every 8,000 miles any more.

 

Production

It’s for this group of car owners that Sparkford-based Haynes publishes workshop manuals. Time consuming and complex to produce,each one is based on a complete stripdown and rebuild of a car with each sub-assembly being meticulously dismantled, recorded and rebuilt. Around ten new titles are published in a year, with the Nissan Note and second-generation SEAT Leon among the latest subjects.

Haynes Publishing is selling property to adapt to the changing publishing environment

Printed manuals have their place, for example you can’t leave a tablet computer showing the same page on a workbench without it going flat and getting greasy. However, a flick through the aforementioned social channels shows that thepractically-mindedalso like to take their information from other sources as the internet is full of ‘how to’ videos that vary enormously in quality.

It’s for this reason that Haynes OnDemand was launched. Short videos are produced while the car is being dismantled and are available to view individually through the Haynes website.

However, for retailers it’s the Online Manual product that will be of more interest. Sold alongside its paper counterparts, customers purchase a voucher to get the same manual as the print version, but also havecolour photography, colour wiring diagrams and searchable text. Also different is the licence: digital manuals are sold with a one-year subscription.

The point here, as explained by CEO J Haynes (named after his father, company founder John Haynes, but always known by the mononym ‘J’) is about giving readers a choice. “We want to get the information into as many drivers’ hands as possible” he explained. The advantages here are obvious. If a visitor wants a book for a car that they are working on that day and the shop doesn’t have it on the shelf, then the digital manual vouchercan make the difference between making the sale or not.

Product explanation

J admits that digital products can be a difficult concept for retailers to get their heads around, and that the Haynes team spent time on the road explaining it to them along with the other USPs of the firm’s consumer products. “Our approach is unique” he said. “We still buy the car, take it into our workshop and take it apart, photograph it and video it. Then, step by step and through real experience we write instructions that show people how to maintain and repair their car. It’s a robust, thorough and tested method” he said, adding that Haynes is, in his opinion, the ‘only company with experience in providing this sort of information for consumers’.

J Haynes, CEO

 

For professional users, the approach is different. Haynes Pro, like its competitors, is online only. Originally known as Vivid Automotive Data it differs to the firm’s consumer products in that the data comes from OEM sources, rather than hands-on stripdowns. Instead, the product contains a range of part and fitting data that has appeal to parts suppliers and designers of diagnostic equipment as well as to workshops.

 

Recently the Pro offering got a boost as the company used some of the proceeds of a property sale in the U.S to acquireTonbridge-based data business E3 Technical from Solera Holdings, the company that also owns rival firm Autodata. Besides its user base, there were a number of technical aspects of E3 that must have appealed, including VRM lookup, a technology Haynes would like to use across its platforms.

 

The firm also acquired OATS, a lubricants database established in 1984 and widely used by industry.

 

Print is still profitable, but the most recent half year figures show that digital streams now make 46 percent of group revenue, a figure that continues to expand. “Bear in mind that digital revenue is a combination of both professional business and consumer business” said J, explaining that he believes there is room for growth in both sectors. “We certainly believe that it is a method of delivery that is becoming more popular with people who want to act on the information”.

Property sales

A few years ago the company had excess property in the UK, U.S and Australia that was a legacy from the days when the manuals would be printed and stored in-house. The property overseas has been sold, although the original site in Sparkford, Somerset, remains for sale. Moving these properties on is one aspect of turning the business around from the days when each print edition had to be produced in a large run, into one where runs are much smaller and produced offsite. Speaking about the UK business, James Bunkum, COO, said: “The restructuring has further to go, but we are now starting to see the results”.

 

“From our point of view we’ve seen the UK business return to profit for the first time since 2011, and following the big restructuring exercise that we did in the UK between 2013-14, we are now starting to see the benefits of that coming through”.

 

J concluded: “For the turnaround, it continues to be a close eye on what product is required and desirable in the market. The economy is robust, but there are challenges out there”. We’ll be interested to see how the company adapts to these challenges in the months and years ahead.

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