Thursday, September 3, 2020

September 2020: The Future Of The Parts Department In A Virtual World

When we reached the new millennium back in the year 2000, would anyone have even thought that we would have self-driving, autonomous, or even "robotic" vehicles that could sense it's environment and move safely with little or no human input? Absolutely not!...and I for one would have never believed it possible in my lifetime anyway.

Even though we already have remotely operated subways, trains and even "drones", the idea that an autonomous vehicle can sense it's environment and adapt to that environment as opposed to trains and subways that are on a designated track, which is it's predetermined environment.

Drones on the other hand are controlled remotely by the operator and they have a much bigger environment in the air. The drones also cannot adjust to it's environment as once in the air, the drone operator controls it's every move, but if the drone operator runs the drone into a tree, it will hit the tree and not self adapt to avoid it.

Driver-less vehicles is a perfect example of where we are headed in a world that is becoming more virtual with less human interaction. We can now also imagine drone technology expanding into commercial travel, (which I would be totally against!) where pilots would no longer be required to fly commercial passenger airplanes.

Today, new vehicle manufacturing has significantly moved into this virtual world as robotics are replacing, or reducing the need for factory assembly line workers. People will always be needed to operate and run these new robotics, but there is a huge difference in producing automobiles today versus the day when Henry Ford started the assembly line over 100 years ago.

New vehicle design has also changed from drafting boards and clay models, (although still used) to other technology such as ECAD 3-D technology that can take many new vehicle designs "virtually" from inception to reality much faster and more efficiently, leading to new designs never thought possible.

Even the television and movie industries have gone "virtual" over the last twenty plus years as Pixar's RenderMan has been their #1 "rendering" technology to meet their ever-changing challenges in 3-D animation technology. So advanced is this technology that even animation can look almost perfectly and virtually real. 

That industry as also come a long way, "virtually" from the days when Walt Disney drafted his first images of Mickey Mouse with a pencil on a piece of paper. Much like the movie industry from a series of photographs to 8mm movie cameras to I-MAX Theaters to even video technology that all of us have on our Smart Phones.

"So, How Does All This Affect The Future Of The Parts Department In A Virtual World? 

During this Covid-19 pandemic, we have all had to move in many new directions in order to provide customer service in a more "virtual" way with less human interaction, including myself, having to provide fixed operations training exclusively through virtual means via the internet.

Zoom, GoToMeeting, MicroSoft Teams, FaceTime and many other internet face-to-face, live social media interaction venues have taken the place of live, one-on-one, on-site interactions with not only client and customer, but also a primary means of communication for media in general.

Our Service Departments have had to step up their "pick up and delivery" services, with more online communications through texting and website services for customer follow up and even "waiter" appointment slots being reduced, and "drop off" appointments increased.

In the Parts Department, we have also had to adapt and offer more "virtual" services, delivering more parts directly to our retail customers and not just to our wholesale customers, using alternate delivery options such as UPS, U.S. Mail and even in some cases, Uber services if needed.

On the more virtual side, we are seeing more and more websites and companies such as Rock Auto and other aftermarket companies allowing the customers to look up their own parts and ordering them without even talking to another human being.

We now have parts "scanners" that allow us to receipt parts much more efficiently, requiring less personnel, or people to perform those duties. Once again, the more technology expands, the less need for people to do the same job, and of course, more cost efficient in many cases.

The advancement of new, electronic parts bin systems have also allowed the advancement of robotics to more efficiently stock more parts in less space. All we have to do is push a button and the part(s) come to us. 

Once again, less human interaction and less need for people. Streamlining the stocking of many smaller parts allows for more efficient managing of the parts inventory.

On the the biggest areas, in my opinion, that is not far in the distant future is the use of Parts Kiosks. Even though kiosks are not new, we are seeing the use of these kiosks more and more than ever before and the parts department is no exception in my opinion.

It wouldn't surprise me in the not too distant future, where we can go to the dealership parts department "area", or my local aftermarket parts store, look up my own parts by VIN number and buy the parts I need through a kiosk or vending machine, pay by credit or debit card and the part is brought or sent to me in the vending machine, or by a delivery driver, perhaps even by a driver-less vehicle!

If you think about it, and please don't take this the wrong way, with parts cataloging systems are now so electrically advanced where 99% of the time, all we need is the VIN number of the vehicle, and anyone could research and look up their own parts.

We already see this today as most Collision Centers submit their parts orders to the parts department and the part numbers are already on the estimate, as opposed to years ago where we had to look all those crash parts up ourselves. 

Once again, most of the work and "interaction" is taken out of the equation, with exception to those parts that require more information due to model options, special equipment, etc. where a seasoned "parts pro" needs to do the job.

We have already seen the introduction of this kiosk and vending machine technology with the car vending machine, introduced by "Carvana". 

Now, we don't even have to deal with a New or Used Car Salesperson as we can conduct the sales transaction online and then just pick our New or Used Vehicle up at the car vending machine satellite site.

In Japan, there is actually a dealership, (Autobahn Motors) where they have all their vehicles in vending machines and from the outside, their building looks like one giant vending machine. Even their showroom is car vending machines. Definitely worth taking a look at their website to see this amazing look into our "virtual" future.

The success of this new "virtual" way of buying a New or Used Vehicle is still yet to be determined in my opinion as I still think there is nothing that can replace that experience of buying a New or Used Vehicle and "making the deal" face-to-face.

As for the parts department, we will be seeing more and more come down the pipe as after all, we do sell a retail product, which is a commodity that can be moved physically, or electronically through robotics or other "virtual" means, and it's just a fact like any other physical, tangible product.

Overall, I believe there is no replacement for the human element and the interaction between the dealer and the customer...period! Technology and innovation will always be growing and expanding, including the direction into this "virtual" world, but good old fashioned customer service will never be replaced.

We all want it and we all need it and that's what separates the competition and makes us always try to be the best of the best. Most importantly, that's what makes better products and better services as competition is not like a machine, a robot, or any new technology. The one single thing that cannot be replaced, reinvented, or re innovated is our human spirit and the will to succeed.

If you want to learn more about ACG Smart Parts "Eight Habits of Highly Successful Parts Managers", visit our website @, or...just pick up the phone and call me at (786) 521 - 1720...After all, not knowing is not worth not "fixing" it...