CARY, N.C. — Many companies have seen significant changes in how they operate because of the pandemic, and Cox Automotive Mobility is no exception. The company’s associate vice president of product Jim Heffner said consumers coming in for servicing at the locations of the company’s dealership partners are increasingly asking for the service department to sanitize and disinfect their vehicles.

Scot Wingo is also seeing that trend. Sanitizing and disinfecting are big parts of the work for Wingo’s company, Spiff y, an on-demand car care, technology and services company. But Wingo, the company’s chief executive officer and co-founder, said disinfecting has been especially important since the pandemic. More customers have become sensitive about the quality of the vehicle, he said.

Before the pandemic, if a customer’s vehicle was not clean, he or she would think, “OK, the car is a little dirty.”

“Now, people kind of equate, well, the car is dirty, maybe it’s kind of germy,” Wingo said. “The overall fear of the pandemic has heightened awareness around cleanliness.”

But a greater focus on cleanliness is just one of several trends that the vehicle reconditioning slice of the auto industry has seen since the pandemic began.

Technological advances

One of those trends is that the level of complexity in vehicles has ramped up over the past few years, and Cox Automotive Mobility has seen various factors that are driving complexity around the idea of understanding what the car is communicating, Heffner said.

He mentioned technology such as advanced driver-assistance systems and talked about how data is currently generated as well as how the data is communicated from the car to a field technician on what its current state is.

“Think sensors, cameras, actuators, the computational units that send all that data to a middleware system or an operating system, for them to push that information out, both to the OEMs and to the technicians that are the workforces on the ground to let them know, ‘Hey, cosmetically you can see that there’s damage that’s been done,’ but now, the car can also tell you there’s things that not necessarily can even be seen that there might be some underlying issues that might need to be addressed,” Heffner said.

He has seen heavy reliance on condition reports as another trend that has taken place as people could no longer examine a vehicle physically in-lane.

Condition reports give buyers an overall view of how the vehicle is doing structurally, mechanically, and electrically, Heffner said.

“The more data you can provide them and the more information and transparency you can provide on just what the state of that vehicle is, has become all the more vital in how they make their purchasing decisions,” he said. Sellers want to disclose as much information as possible, and that along with pressures related to lack of inventory are amplifying the need for available comprehensive information.

Additional technology has hit the market recently to help dealers with the recon process. Used vehicle reconditioning software company ReconVelocity in February released VelocityEngage. a digital sales presentation tool.

ReconVelocity owner Hugh Hathcock said the tool serves as a digital portfolio.

“We give the consumer the original window sticker, we give them all the service records, and we give them the recon records,” Hathcock said. “We show all the things that a consumer needs to see in one place.” He said the company in less than two months added about 300 dealers as users by bundling VelocityEngage and the ReconVelocity software together as one tool.

Consumers almost prefer that disinfectant smell

For Spiffy, odor elimination in vehicles has become a hot topic among customers.

“They’re OK if it smells like a disinfectant,” Wingo said. “In fact, that’s almost preferred right now. I think that actually builds confidence to have a disinfectant-type smell there.”

Adding to the odor issue: the legalization of cannabis in several states.

“That is a huge odor problem for both our used-car customers and our rental car customers, especially,” Wingo said.

Wingo said he has had to travel in vehicles smelling of tobacco or cannabis.

“Now we’re hearing a lot of customers are refusing to take vehicles because of odors, and we’re hearing cannabis,” he said.

Vaping has also caused vehicle odor issues. Wingo said many of the vaping technologies feature exotic smells such as raspberry and blueberry.

“And for used cars, pet odors are a thing, so there’s a lot of focus on odor elimination right now as well,” Wingo said, noting that Spiff y uses various odor-elimination products.

“And it’s actually harder than it seems, because these odors can permeate the vehicle, they can get into the fabrics, they can get into the cabin air filter, [and] a lot of time they do get into the HVAC system,” he said. Spiffy is currently developing proprietary technology that might involve running a device in the vehicle for about 30 minutes for 99% odor removal.
“We’re working on that, because it’s such a big issue for our customers,” Wingo said.

“The more data you can provide them and the more information and transparency you can provide on just what the state of that vehicle is, has become all the more vital in how they make their purchasing decisions. – Jim Heffner COX AUTOMOTIVE MOBILITY”

Electrification of fleets

Cox Automotive Mobility is seeing that its OEM partners and fleet management companies are showing strong interest toward electrification of their fleets.

“The level of working on an internal combustion engine and an electrified vehicle or a battery-elect vehicle, [they are] similar in some ways,” Heffner said. “But when you talk about propulsion systems themselves, there are a lot of things that are vastly different.”

The company’s technicians have gone through extensive training to ensure they are prepared to handle
battery-electric vehicles, he said.

“We certainly believe in the ACES future or autonomous connected electrically shared, and also our partners that are in those things, whether they’re delivering people or goods,” Heffner said.

He went on to say, “There’s no doubt that they are bringing to bear, if you will, the idea of beginning to migrate their fleets over. It’s a slow process, but we’re already starting to see a lot of indications that there is movement in that direction.”

Another trend he mentioned is that new form OEMs such as Motional and Electric Last Mile are entering the market and asking Cox Automotive Mobility for help in servicing those vehicles.
Heffner said it all goes back to understanding what the car is communicating.

“Our clients are wanting us to help them in interpreting that information on what the vehicle is telling us, whether it’s internal combustion or electric vehicles, what’s being presented to them,” he said. “And then what repairs really need to be sought after and cared for so that you’re meeting the standards of either those OEMs or fleet operators and management companies.”

Auto Remarketing Magazine
June 2021
Daryl Lubinsky