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TB EDITORIAL: Consider alt-fuel vehicle service

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AKRON (July 8, 2014) — Independent tire dealerships looking for another revenue stream might want to consider training some of their technicians to service vehicles with alternative power systems such as hybrid or natural gas engines.

The number of vehicles using alternative fuel systems in the U.S. is growing steadily to the point where becoming a recognized expert in servicing them might make good, profitable sense and position tire dealers as leaders in this area in their local communities.

Along with developing such technical expertise, dealers also might want to look into the advantages of installing electric charging stations for the growing number of electric-powered vehicles on American roadways, giving drivers a reason to stop by their dealerships regularly to charge up.

It all sounds plausible. That’s assuming there is demand in the local marketplace, which is the first question tire dealers should be asking before venturing too far into this new area of vehicle repair.

But the timing may be right to step into this growing field, depending on conditions in your local market.

Tire dealerships are natural businesses for hybrid and alternative-energy vehicle repair. They offer technical expertise often at costs significantly lower than what’s charged by franchise auto dealerships.

Many car owners also trust their local independent tire dealerships and repair shops more than they do corporate- and franchise-owed service chains. That’s a natural advantage ripe to be exploited.

There also are data to support possible expansion into this service area.

Sales of alternative-fuel vehicles in the U.S. grew to 594,485 units in 2013 from 274,749 in 2010 although not at as fast a pace as that for gasoline-powered vehicles, according to statistics from the Data Center of Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business. This includes vehicles powered by hybrid engines, plug-in hybrids, battery electric and natural gas.

At the same time, sales of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S. grew 35 percent during the first five months of this year to 43,480 units, raising the number of EVs registered to about 211,097, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association. In addition, there already are about 8,222 public charging states in the U.S., with 19,993 outlets.

As with any relatively new product, the growth of alternative-fuel vehicles is not consistent in all areas, and tire dealers should examine vehicle registrations in their local markets to see if expanding into this service area makes good business sense.

However, dealers shouldn’t be too complacent either and risk missing out on an opportunity to bring valued revenue into their dealerships.

This editorial appears in the July 7 print edition of Tire Business. Check it out for a special section on servicing hybrids and natural gas vehicles and other alternate-fuel vehicles.

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