Mopar tests Express Lane stand-alone oil change shops

So far, only one of Chrysler Group's dealerships, Freedom Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram in Duncanville, Texas, has opened a stand-alone Express Lane operation.
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Mopar says an ongoing Express Lane experiment -- a quick-stop service operation separate from the dealership -- can show Chrysler Group dealers how to improve service profits and spot promising technicians for jobs at their dealerships.

Express Lane is Chrysler's name for no-appointment basic maintenance services such as oil changes and battery sales.

About a third of the automaker's 2,400 Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram dealerships have Express Lane in their service departments. So far only one dealership -- Freedom Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram in Duncanville, Texas -- has opened an Express Lane site that isn't physically connected to the dealership.

Pietro Gorlier, global head of Mopar, said the experiment in Duncanville, with its four-bay stand-alone Express Lane center, aims to gauge if dealerships, by offering the convenience, can compete better with independents.

"The dealers are surrounded. There are an average of 37 independents around each of our dealers in the United States," Gorlier said.

Chrysler dealerships that have installed Express Lane in their service departments sell significantly more parts and write more repair orders than dealerships without it, Gorlier said. But if service areas become too busy, the Express Lane concept can bog down with longer wait times and eliminate a dealership's appeal.

The stand-alone facilities would allow dealers to segregate the basic maintenance work and keep customers flowing through without bottling up an otherwise busy service area, Gorlier said.

"You get to a point where you see dealers with 1,000 repair orders per month," Gorlier said. "A thousand repair orders per month on top of a main facility, that's going to be a hell of a lot of traffic. Something that all dealers have to overcome is the perception" that the visit will take more time and be less convenient than a trip to an independent competitor. In addition to cutting wait times, the stand-alone could give dealers more flexibility with extending service hours and serve as a training ground to identify and develop talented entry-level technicians.

A second stand-alone pilot is planned in Omaha, Neb., and a third is in process in the Detroit area, Gorlier said.

Dealers who find the stand-alone basic maintenance operations attractive need to be clear on what it is they are building and how it should operate, says an expert in the field.

Steve Barram, CEO of Integrated Services, of Portland, Ore., said consumers trust dealers more than they trust independent shops with their vehicles, but lose out on perceived convenience to so-called "fast lube" independents.

Barram said that, to be successful, dealers need to locate stand-alone facilities in high-visibility areas and make sure the emphasis is on convenience and speed.

"If it doesn't look, act and feel like a quick lube, then it's not, in the mind of the consumer," said Barram, whose company has been a vendor and consultant to the fast-lube industry since 1988.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.


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