LAS VEGAS-Every month the so-called ``information superhighway'' gets a little more crowded. Rather than get run over by America's growing infatuation with the Internet, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) has decided to step into the traffic, so to speak.
The folks who coordinate the nationwide testing and certification of hundreds of automotive service technicians are in the process of forming an ``electronic community'' for them.
The private on-line forum will take shape by the end of November, initially as a ``home page'' on the Internet's World Wide Web. It will be open exclusively to ASE-certified service professionals, industry-related manufacturers, automotive aftermarket firms, and even government officials interested in discussing key industry concerns and issues.
Users will have access to message and conference areas and file libraries via CompuServe'.
ASE jumped on the interactive bandwagon, according to President Ronald H. Weiner, because ``the on-line world is quickly becoming a common and convenient medium for exchanging ideas and information.''
David Cappert, ASE's director of technician relations, introduced the new concept during the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week trade shows, Oct. 21-27, in Las Vegas. He said a recent survey conducted by ASE determined a need for such a forum, based on interest expressed by the technician community, as well as shop owners already using on-line services.
The ASE site will enable users to exchange ideas, service tips, text and graphic files, keep up with industry events, and network or ``chat'' with other professionals one-on-one or in conference.
``If you talk to service technicians, you'll find that the technology of fixing vehicles today is their No. 1 challenge,'' Mr. Cappert said, ``but also along with that, environmental challenges are a big part of what they do day-in and day-out.
``And they're very interested in complying with environmental regulations.''
Not just another computer bulletin board, the new venture will be more than simply a window shopping or ``surfing'' environment. Information from various sources besides the ASE will be available-all facilitated by the ASE, according to Mr. Cappert.
Because it will be a private, user-driven forum in a secured environment, hobbyists and ``shade tree'' mechanics will not be allowed to enter. Participants will need certified credentials, or be considered an industry expert, he explained. Environmental Protection Agency or Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials, for instance, could discuss federal regulations affecting the industry.
However, due to CompuServe rules, non-certified persons can enter the forum, but only for 30 days ``to look around.''
Mr. Cappert said the ASE chose CompuServe because it provides ``truly private forums.'' Also, it has retained 83 percent of its subscribers for at least five years, and already has a ``solid technician base'' in a forum known as ``For Techs Only.''
Cost to users will be $9.95 per month for up to five hours of access to any CompuServe forum or service; additional on-line time will be at $2.95 per hour, billable in minutes. Special communications software will be provided to enter the ASE's site.
``We're hoping to have at least several hundred participants within a short period of time,'' Mr. Cappert said. ``Content is what will make this (site) work.''
He said the ASE also plans to dovetail its efforts into those of other firms, such as Snap-On's campaign to enhance the image of auto service technicians.
The ASE will review all material before it appears on its forum, and Mr. Cappert pledged that it will remain an informational and educational forum-``not an advertising medium.''