Air Conditioning Charging Stations: Can do better…

With sales volumes hovering around 1,500/year, the dynamics are still not quite there for air conditioning charging station manufacturers! And any hope of a change with the arrival of a new refrigerant is looking slow to materialise…

After a seemingly endless wait, the automotive air conditioning charging sector became much tighter regulated in 2009 when regulations on the sale and handling of refrigerants came into force. With certification for both garages and technicians now being compulsory, the market suddenly saw the number of operators drop significantly. With workshops unwilling to invest time and money in training, many simply abandoned the service all together.

“Whilst if the certificate of professional competency is issued for life for an operator, certificates for the workshop have to be renewed every 5 years,” recalls Jacques de Leissègues, head of the DAF Conseil training organisation. Also, it is not impossible that there might be a little “ignition loss”. However, de Leissègues also believes that “professionals who abandon the sector were mainly very independent operators; the general trend if for people to obtain the necessary certification.” And a number of mechanics workshops and repair shops are now including air conditioning charging as one of their services.

Little mechanical evolution

Manufacturers of air conditioning charging stations were well aware of the arrival of new refrigerant gases, and they now offer complete ranges that can be used on all systems. But not all manufacturers have been so savvy, and many are yet to comply with European regulations in this area. The new 1234yf gas and the associated equipment is yet to take off. As a result, evolution in the sector is slow.

However, there have appeared two common approaches: while the majority of manufacturers offer charging stations that work with either R134a or the new 1234yf, Texa has been a forerunner by launching a dual-gas station with its Konfort 780R model. “This charging station is starting to play a more prominent role in our sales,” claims Francis Pègues, managing director of Texa France. It allows professionals to work on vehicles using R134a but also to be ready to work on the very latest models. As a result, it is the model commonly bought by dealers or franchises, who are still the only people to really invest in equipment for the new refrigerant.”

However, whilst the market for 1234yf charging stations is still in its infancy, it is impossible for manufacturers not to offer one. For Philippe Bouvier, workshop equipment marketing manager for France and Benelux at Bosch, demand is emerging with traditional distributors and repair shops, who are beginning to focus on new air conditioning charging stations that handle 1234yf: “Charging stations are often pooled and used to work on vehicle systems from several service points,” he explains. “This is also the case for repair shops, who will often need to repair an air conditioning system in cases of a frontal impact”. It is therefore not surprising to see the leading specialist in the distribution of air conditioning equipment and spare parts, SNDC – which launched its own EcoClim AC134 charging unit last year – has announced the upcoming launch of a 1234yf version.

Lastly, Bosch, as part of its strategy focused on connectivity (vehicles, of course, but also workshops and equipment), has launched a top-of-the-range model, the ACS752 charging station: “When connected, it allows remote maintenance (and other updates), in order to best support the MRA”, explains Philippe Bouvier, workshop equipment marketing manager for France and Benelux at Bosch.

A profitable intervention!

For Francis Pègues (Texa), the strong performance of new operators seems to be leading to a “dangerous” ascendancy over traditional repair shops. According to him, however, the service is interesting in more ways than one: “The recharging of air conditioning remains profitable because the machines are either partially or fully automatic and the operator can perform other tasks in the meantime. Furthermore, this work generates additional sales for things like cabin filters, and ultimately, it is another vehicle to roll into the workshop!

Somewhere more confident, Philippe Bouvier believes that the demand for new equipment is there precisely because it is still a profitable business! However, as with many services, it is still important to communicate more: “Faced with the strength of large auto centres and fitting centres, MRAs have every interest in raising motorists’ awareness, he continues. “Bosch provides media materials as part of a cross-function communication approach focusing on various topics, including our charging stations, our cabin filters and the maintenance of vehicle air conditioning systems.”

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