APTOS, Calif. -In an effort to improve communication between tire and auto manufacturers and service technicians, the Association for Professional Tire Service Inc. is trying to launch an Internet tool which can pass confidential information among them.
The Vehicle Quality Network (VQN) would allow service technicians to send reports to manufacturers about any concerns or product defects they might uncover in the course of their work. The report would be e-mailed from the technician into a central location, where it would be sorted by the product line and the problem, then sent to the appropriate manufacturer in report form.
The network was set to take off in late February, but because no manufacturers, dealerships or repair shops have signed up for the service, the launch date has been delayed indefinitely, said Larry Holser, president of the Aptos-based APTS.
``I'm really surprised,'' he said of the apathetic response. ``The cost is low. Maybe it's a pride thing. But man, pride gets really expensive.''
Mr. Holser, who also is president of DriveUSA.net, said he got the idea for VQN while touring Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s Nashville, Tenn., headquarters two years ago. He said he thought if dealers noticed a possible problem with a manufacturer's product, they should have a way to contact the appropriate firm with their concerns in order to get faster results. With VQN, information received by a manufacturer goes only to that company, is considered proprietary and will not be available to the competition. All VQN employees will be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Any product safety issues would continue to be sent directly to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
VQN contends that a very large volume of work is done outside of a manufacturer's ``umbrella,'' such as franchise and manufacturer-owned locations, ``and many auto service and tire stores work with many brands.'' The Vehicle Quality Network gives input from all technicians-from company dealerships, independents and chains-to all manufacturers. ``This input is from direct real-world contact with the product and the customer,'' VQN said.
The reports are summaries of raw data gathered from technicians and sent securely to the appropriate manufacturer.
``It's really a performance enhancer,'' Mr. Holser said. ``We're enhancing performance, safety and quality every day.''
Mr. Holser, whose family has been in the tire business since the 1920s, said he and other shop workers have seen several instances where potential safety-related issues occurred even before they were announced nationally-including UPC labels placed in the wrong locations.
``The very things we were talking about in the shop were showing up eight months later (in print), and then maybe a year later the company would do something about it,'' he said. ``It'd be great to get that feedback quickly, and with e-mail, it can definitely be done. And there's no reason not to do it.''
Mr. Holser said he began talking to manufacturers about the VQN service several years ago and was told more than once that it was a good idea, but they didn't think other manufacturers wanted to know when something was wrong. Some companies, he added, also are waiting to see the effects of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act, which was passed by Congress last October.
``It's crazy,'' Mr. Holser said of companies' reluctance to join the network. ``Early on is a lot better than later on. But that seems to be the response that I'm getting.''
The cost for joining VQN would depend on an individual corporation's industry sales. The top 12 auto manufacturers' cost would average $48,000 a year, he estimated, while a tire manufacturer's cost would average $9,200 a year. In turn, participating manufacturers and service facilities could then use the VQN name and logo in marketing and signage at no cost, as long as they continue to participate.
``It's way less than a huge lawsuit, and then the deaths involved, too. ...All the embarrassment,'' Mr. Holser said. ``It also helps the product development.''
There are incentives for both manufacturers and technicians to participate in the network. A vehicle manufacturer could reduce the program's cost by supplying a vehicle for an annual drawing, he said. Technicians-who can send in one report per month-would be eligible to win the vehicle.