Dealerships that need space for their showrooms, service departments and vehicle inventory often are less conveniently located than independent or chain service providers, which can more easily fit into smaller spaces that are closer to where customers live and work. Addressing that problem requires more than providing a rental car or a shuttle that gives customers a lift from and to the service department, Cox's Roche says.
"Dealers are finding creative ways to overcome that," Roche says. "They will give a coupon for Uber or Lyft. More and more, we're seeing valet services where someone will come to you, pick up your vehicle, give you a loaner vehicle, and then return your vehicle to you. That is really the wave of the future for dealers, and the way to overcome the location barrier."
A pilot program Ford launched in May goes a step further, sending mobile service vans to the customer's location to perform maintenance and light repairs. Ford could have as many as 200 mobile service vans operating a year from now, Toney says.
"It isn't rocket science," Toney says. "It's more about designing a model and rolling it out so that it interfaces with all of our systems, capabilities and processes, and delivers the wonderful experience we want to provide."
All American Ford in Old Bridge put a mobile service van on the road in early July as one of six dealerships in the pilot program. Service manager Townsend said the dealership has gotten positive feedback from customers.
"Why would you not want an oil change done while you're sitting on your living room couch or at work or doing whatever you need to do, compared to coming to the dealership and sitting in our waiting area?" he says.
The dealership dispatches a two-technician team in a Ford Transit van to perform oil changes, tire rotations and a multipoint inspection, and replace air filters and wiper blades. The mobile team also does simple recall jobs, such as replacing airbag inflators.
"Nobody wants to come in for just a recall," Townsend says. "It's an inconvenience, so it helps a lot in customer satisfaction by coming to their house or work or wherever they are."
The dealership promotes the mobile service on its website and in emails and calls to customers.
If the mobile techs discover that brakes or other components need service, they can schedule an appointment for the customer at the dealership.
Mullinax Ford in Apopka, Fla., has had a service van in operation since June. Service Director Susan Padro says the dealership is expanding the scope of the work that mobile technicians perform beyond oil changes and airbag recalls.
"We had a customer last week who needed special-order [warranty] parts on an F-250," she says. "Now we have the ability to say, 'Mr. Customer, I can come to you.' How many bad surveys are you going to get from that?"
The van helped Mullinax win service business from an Orlando-area cable television provider that had been using a Goodyear store for maintenance. The company needed oil changes for its fleet of Ford vans but didn't want to take them to a shop during normal business hours.
"We were able to bring the van to them and do it right there on their lot," Padro says. "Since we've developed that relationship, I am seeing vans from that company in the fleet department of my shop every day."
Padro says the benefits of mobile service are in customer experience and satisfaction.
"If you're thinking that this one van is going to be a cash cow for you, no, that's not the story. It does things that you can't quantify. How about that customer I went to and put his fog lights in? Does that lock him in for when his wife is ready for a new car? Does she come to Mullinax?
"There's a lot more to be done with this," she adds. "I just haven't thought of everything yet."
Danford of Dealer.com says the big challenge that faces dealership service comes not just from competing providers, but also from their customers' expectations.
"We can't just be looking within automotive," she says. "We need to look outside our industry as to how people are shopping and how the digital experience has to come forward. Technology enhancements are what our customers have come to expect of us, and we need to make sure we're keeping pace."