AutoNation Inc., the nation's largest dealership group, plans to expand its service business by year end, adding 400 technicians and increasing its express service operations to 180 stores from 80 now.
The company also wants to boost maintenance work on newer vehicles.
"The younger vehicles, those 0 to 5 years old, will grow by 9 percent in the market this year," says Alan McLaren, AutoNation's senior vice president of customer care. "That's really important to us because more than 50 percent of our [service] business comes from that group of customers."
Customer care is AutoNation's term for its service, parts and collision operations.
AutoNation COO Mike Maroone says: "We've got to make sure we have capacity in terms of people."
AutoNation, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has 16 full-time recruiters across the country devoted to finding and hiring service technicians.
"We're finding them from all kinds of places," Maroone says.
Since September, AutoNation has hired 130 entry-level technicians from technical schools, independent service shops and the military, McLaren says.
AutoNation has developed in-house training for the new hires and other service personnel. Its 10-member training staff is twice as large as it was last year, he says.
AutoNation ranks No. 1 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups in the United States with retail sales of 267,810 new vehicles in 2012.
The company wants to add express service in more of its 226 stores this year, McLaren says.
"We know that our customers are getting busier all the time and want to be serviced better, faster and in a more transparent way than they were in the past," McLaren says. "Vehicles today are much more reliable and require much less repair. It's a more maintenance-based business than it was. Nobody has the time to hang around two hours waiting for an oil change."
McLaren says it takes six weeks to add express service to a store. Repair orders at dealerships in which AutoNation is installing the service will rise about 6 percent this year from last year, he says.
He declined to give the cost of recruiting new hires and adding express service to dealerships.
McLaren says: "It's catching up on maybe an underinvestment we've made on this side of the business for years."
• Hire about 400 service techs by year end
• Offer express service in 180 stores, up from 80, by year end
• Increase maintenance work on vehicles 0 to 5 years old