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Here's How One Dealer Is Mapping an All-Electric Future

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Howard Fleischmann says he wants his company to be known for its work on electric and hybrid cars. He wants customers to think, "'This is where I can go to get my battery charged, get my tires taken care of and get my car aligned and repaired, if necessary.'"

Electric vehicles (EVs) are the buzz. And it seems the EV movement has become even more turbocharged over the last few months.

Ford Motor Co., General Motors (GM) and other vehicle manufacturers have announced plans to shift their fleets to all-electric within the next decade. Even the federal government is putting a vehicle electrification strategy in motion.

Tire dealers need to be ready.

“We all know it is coming,” says Howard Fleischmann, CEO of Community Tire Pros & Auto Repair, a six-store dealership based in Phoenix, Ariz.

Fleischmann has been at the forefront of servicing electric and hybrid cars for several years. Training, infrastructure and mindset are all part of the way ahead, he says.

“With the electric car, there’s not as many parts to break. There is going to be even less repair. But we need to gear up to be able to do the repairs,” which, he says, “don’t seem to be any more complicated” than gas-powered car repairs.

“We still have to have the knowledge.”

This is where training comes in.

“The (vehicle) manufacturers are coming up with great (training programs) for the aftermarket, so we have already enrolled in a couple of them,” says Fleischmann.

“GM has been the most aggressive so far” in offering training, he says. “Tesla hasn’t been helpful at all.”

The roadmap ahead is going to be challenging for everyone, he believes.

“We aren’t going to see any major changes in our operation for three to five years, but obviously we want to prepare ahead of time.”

Fleishmann points to working with other tire dealerships as a key to navigating the future. “If we do it in a group, we drag everybody along, and we start together and finish together. So I see that as a big positive.

“I also have been exposed to some of the conversations that groups have had  and they’re out there fighting hard to get training for our people.

“For example, without their push, I would not have a Tire Industry Association-authorized trainer in my employment, but I do now because tires are not as simple as they used to be.

“We’re doing a lot of Tesla tires today. But going into it, we were afraid of ” servicing tires on those vehicles “until we got the right training.

“It’s given us the comfort level that we can go into it, knowing we can do the job right.”

More EV owners are taking their vehicles to tire dealerships, he says.

“People seem to be feeling secure enough that they can go to an aftermarket shop and buy tires comfortably.”

Prior to 1999, Fleischmann’s company strictly provided auto repair. Seeing changes in the industry and needing to adjust to competitors, his dealership began selling tires.

The current period is similar to that, he says, adding you can either change with the times or lose business.

One thing that is apparent to everyone, he adds, is the need for infrastructure improvements — namely, easy-to-access charging stations.

Without charging stations being as readily available as gas stations, drivers need to plan longer trips around the availability of powering up.

Fleischmann understands that and is doing something about it.

“We’ve actually added charging stations to a couple of our stores,” he says. “We have six. We’ve just finished (adding) one and of course, it’s going to be on the map, so people know where to go.”

Other businesses in Fleischmann’s market are getting into the charging station game.

“I see a lot of restaurants. For example, there’s a Hardee’s fast food on the way to (Los Angeles). You pull in there and they’ve got at least 20 charging stations. So that’s a move forward to say, ‘We want your lunch business and while you are here, we can charge your vehicle.’

“I thought that was a very aggressive move and they did that three or four years ago.

“Now, when I drive through that town on my way to our stores, there are a half dozen cars in their chargers.”

Fleischmann isn’t afraid of the future. He has peered into the crystal ball often during his career.

“I always said (EVs) will never work until they hit 500 miles” in range, he says. “Well, they’re going to close in on that fast.”

He also is keeping an eye on what hydrogen fuel cell development will mean for vehicles. And his dealership, which employs more than 60 people, will continue to service hybrid cars.

“There is a whole lot more work there than people realize,” Fleischmann says of hybrids. “It is more than batteries. There are several fans on them.

“The hybrid driver believed all along that he had to go back to the (new car) dealer” for maintenance work.

“Now they are finding out that the aftermarket can serve them well and that business is growing.

“Hybrid— we got a good focus on and we know where it is going.”

Fleishmann also wants to be known for electric car service.

“The charging station was our first step in that direction,” he says. “I don’t think I have any of the other answers yet, but we’re working on them daily. We want to be the go-to place. ‘This is where I can go get my battery charged, get my tires taken care of and get my car aligned and repaired, if necessary.’” 

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