As parts and service grow as a source of car dealership revenue, auto makers and dealers are pursuing that business more aggressively.
The average auto dealership had parts and service revenue of about $3.8 million last year, the National Automobile Dealers Association said. That's a slight increase over 2003.
As vehicle quality has improved, warranty repairs have decreased. So car dealerships have greater capacity for maintenance and light repair work.
Service and parts work ``is on the increase pretty dramatically'' at Chrysler Group dealerships, said Joe Hilger, Chrysler Group's vice president of global service. The auto maker would not disclose the service retention rate at its stores.
Chrysler plans to launch a service and parts campaign soon bearing the tag line, ``Service Drive.'' Mr. Hilger would not divulge details.
Beth Grotz, marketing director of General Motors Corp.'s GM Parts & GM Goodwrench, said roughly three in 10 buyers of new General Motors vehicles return to GM dealerships for service after the initial warranty expires. The auto maker wants to increase that share to four in 10 this year, she said.
GM's Service and Parts Operations is training staff members at 675 dealerships this year to conduct free vehicle inspections for customers when they bring their vehicles in for service. In the last 18 months, personnel at 661 dealerships has undergone the week-long training.
The inspection gives owners a vehicle rating report. A red rating identifies a problem that requires immediate attention. A yellow rating suggests a potential problem. A green rating means no problem.
Ms. Grotz said dealerships that have completed inspection training have shown increases in their nonwarranty repair work.
Jeff Siegfried, fixed operations director at Friendly Chevrolet Inc. in Minneapolis, said GM's training has helped his store boost its service revenue. About 70 percent of the dealership's gross profit comes from service, parts and body operations, he said.
``Going through the motions of the inspection form and making sure we tell the customer what we find has been keeping us from taking on water when we're out in the big sea,'' Mr. Siegfried said.
GM also is working to help its dealers increase tire sales. The auto maker is giving dealership service departments cards that measure tire tread depth. Service employees wear the cards on lanyards around their necks.
At least 11 percent of service customers need tires, Ms. Grotz said. And 78 percent of consumers will buy tires from the first person who tells them they need tires, she added.
GM dealers in Milwaukee and Minneapolis are offering a low-price guarantee on tires, Ms. Grotz said. If customers who buy tires from GM dealerships in those cities see the same tires advertised elsewhere for a lower price within 30 days, they will be refunded the difference.
GM's service and parts operation has 47 dealer marketing groups nationwide and plans to create another 20 this year. The groups generate ideas to bring customers back to dealerships for service and pool marketing money to advertise these offers.
Ford Motor Co. is introducing a national sales campaign for parts and service called ``Genuine Challenge.'' The campaign's ads urge customers to compare the quality of service at Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealerships with service offered elsewhere, a Ford spokeswoman said.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. is preparing a radio ad campaign for its service operations. The 30-week campaign was to begin in April and will include 44 U.S. markets. The ads will air during drive-time traffic reports.
Toyota would not disclose the campaign's cost.
``Each region will have the flexibility to advertise what they want in their market,'' said Joe Stempkowski, Toyota's national parts and service sales and marketing manager.
Some Toyota service customers receive coupons for a free oil change if their dealership doesn't complete their oil change, vehicle inspection and tire rotation on time, he added, noting, ``We try to compete with the Jiffy Lubes.''