NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 27, 2014) — Chrysler Group L.L.C.'s Mopar parts and service brand is evaluating stand-alone Express Lane quick-stop service operations to show Chrysler 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 auto maker'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 a stand-alone Express Lane site, a four-bay unit separate from the dealership's physical structure.
Pietro Gorlier, global head of Mopar, said the experiment in Duncanville aims to gauge if dealerships, by offering the convenience, can compete better with independents.
"The dealers are surrounded," he said. "There are an average of 37 independents around each of our dealers in the United States."
Chrysler dealerships that have installed Express Lane in their service departments sell significantly more parts and write more repair orders than dealerships without it, Mr. 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, he added.
"You get to a point where you see dealers with 1,000 repair orders per month," he 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, Mr. Gorlier said.
Chrysler's plan bears similarities to Ford Motor Co.'s Quick Lane routine vehicle maintenance concept, which is now operating at more than 600 stand-alone locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.
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 auto dealers more than they trust independent shops with their vehicles, but lose out on perceived convenience to so-called "fast lube" independents.
Mr. Barram said that, to be successful, car 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," he said. His company has been a vendor and consultant to the fast-lube industry since 1988.
Chrysler launched the Express Lane concept in 2008 to increase awareness that car dealers could change oil, wipers and tires as well as quick-service chains, and as recently as 2010 executives with the auto maker stated they wanted to see the concept in use at at least 80 percent of their dealerships.
Larry P. Vellequette is a reporter for Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business. This report appeared on autonews.com, the publication's website.