They have had to figure out how to organize the vans and which parts to carry. The vans can handle most maintenance work and some routine fixes. Tougher repairs and warranty work still require a visit to the shop.
Cost and pricing issues remain to be sorted out, Mr. Christie said. There is no discount for a customer who chooses the mobile service.
The vans are not cheap. Subaru Australia is spending about $100,000 Australian (more than $75,000 U.S.) for each one — half for the van, half to equip it as a mobile service bay.
The hope is to have 10 vans on the road by year-end. As confidence in the service rises, Subaru Australia will become more aggressive in promoting it. Meanwhile, Subaru is working to install a completely online booking system.
"We see this as a long-term strategy," Mr. Christie said.
Subaru Narellan is among the first of the auto maker's Australian dealerships to offer service at an owner's home or workplace.
Phil Eyke is the service manager at Subaru Narellan, one of the 15 dealerships that are part of Inchcape Australia, the company that owns Subaru Australia.
Mr. Eyke's dealership is one of the first to get a mobile service van. Growth has been steady, he said. Promotions have been low-key. Word is spread to new-car shoppers, in brochures, on the dealership's website and in service-reminder letters.
The van services about 40 vehicles a month in the Sydney area. Eventually, that figure will climb to about 100.
Why now? Mr. Eykes says there has been a big emphasis on customer satisfaction in Australia in recent years. Advances in technology allow the van to serve as a (wifi equipped) mobile office tied to Subaru Narellan's dealership management system.
As promising as the retail work has been, there may be bigger potential in fleet business. Subaru Narellan's customers include the Australian operations of Johnson & Johnson.
Apparently, corporations see appeal in having a dealership come to them for routine maintenance.
Could something like this work in the U.S.? Korin Hasegawa-John, a former Volkswagen of America collision parts manager who is a principal at the Carlisle & Co. consulting firm, said the key would be volume.
But if a dealership can do enough mobile work to cut the costs of loaner fleets, service stalls and waiting-lounge freebies, it just might pay off—and keep those service-department disrupters at bay.
Dave Versical is the editor of Automotive News' Fixed Ops Journal, a sister publication of Tire Business.