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Chrysler wants Express Lane in 80% of stores

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Chrysler wants Express Lane in 80% of stores

Mopar's message: Quick-service plan increases profits

Bradford Wernle

Automotive News -- March 1, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

When it comes to slashing the time customers spent on quick maintenance, Conrad Letson and Jerry Jackson tried pretty much everything at their respective dealerships. Both ended up frustrated.

Says Letson, general manager of Greenway Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep in Orlando: "I've tried multiple things, from separate shops to putting an actual lift right in the service drive of one of the stores. It was still taking us 45 minutes to an hour to get the customer in and out."

Then in 2008, Letson took on a branded service program called Express Lane from Chrysler's Mopar parts unit. Since then, his technicians have been getting customers in and out in 20 minutes or less, including time spent on paperwork.

Letson was one of about 150 dealers who signed up after Chrysler launched the Express Lane program in 2008. But the program stalled, and Chrysler went into bankruptcy last year.

Now Mopar CEO Pietro Gorlier is starting a push to sign up dealers. Gorlier wants 80 percent of Chrysler's 2,352 dealerships to offer Express Lane services. "In the last two years, with the economy down, all dealers are looking to add to their after-sales business," Gorlier said at the NADA convention last month in Orlando.

Not an option not to have it

"It's not an option not to have Express Lane if you want to be in the after-sales business," Gorlier said. "Every dealer that has opened an Express Lane has experienced an immediate increase in business."

Jackson, service manager at Dallas Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep, says his dealership has increased the number of oil changes it does per month from 1,200 to about 2,000 since launching Express Lane. Like Letson, Jackson had tried multiple approaches to improve his quick-maintenance business.

"You have to dedicate somebody who will manage this as a business inside of a business," he says. "We kept trying to run it with the regular mainstream part of the dealership, and it just didn't flow right. We couldn't get paperwork flow and couldn't get customers turned fast enough."

Jackson decided he needed to devote teams of workers to that job alone.

"I've got a team of technicians working kind of like a NASCAR pit crew -- two at a time working cars as fast as we can," he says. "I've got guys who can do the inspection, change oil and filter and get the customer out in 10 or 15 minutes."

Jackson has turned over more than 150 orders on some Saturdays, when he has five two-man teams working.

But dealers shouldn't view quick-maintenance programs such as Express Lane as a panacea, says Ed Kovalchick, CEO of Net Profit Inc., an Alabaster, Ala., dealer consultancy. "The gross profit generated in a lube stall is maybe $6,000 to 8,000 a month," Kovalchick says. "It's better than no money, but it's not significant."

He says dealerships will struggle to compete with Jiffy Lube and similar operations. Dealerships need to play to their strengths and present a mix of service offerings, including repairs on second- and third-owner vehicles that result in larger service tickets, Kovalchick says. "If you look at Jiffy Lube, they have very small stalls, very little overhead," he says.

Thin margins

Letson acknowledges that his Express Lane margins are thin but says big profits aren't the real goal.

"If customers continue to service the vehicle through the warranty and beyond," he says, "they're twice as likely to come back to the dealership and buy our products when they're ready to purchase something new."

Mopar offers to send experts to dealerships to assess whether adding Express Lane would bring in sufficient revenue.

Says Letson: "One of the things they do is streamline and stopwatch you going through the current process. It's not cookie-cutter. It will be a little different for each dealership."

Mopar subcontracts with a company called Service Operations Specialists in Little Rock, Ark., to provide expertise for Express Lane. Blake Price, CEO of Service Operations Specialists, says dealers who add Express Lane increase routine maintenance service by 50 percent within the first six months.

But the program does more than that, Price says: "We pick up incremental sales and throw a lot of the work to the main [service] shop."


Mopar helps dealerships speed up service at Express Lanes by

• Requiring 1 writer and 2 technicians for each Express Lane bay.

• Urging dealers to install special lifts for quick oil and tire changes.

• Aiming to complete work in 15-20 minutes.

• Requiring that parts and accessories be near the vehicle.

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