Full Speed Ahead for Air Conditioning

There’s a warm front coming! Over the past few years, routine maintenance on air conditioning systems has continued to grow, particularly as the number of cars with air conditioning as standard continues to increase. As a result, equipment manufacturers and repair networks are structuring their services to address the fears and concerns of independent repair workshops.

Who said global warming was a threat? For mechanics, it has been something of a godsend… For several years now, the air conditioning system repair market (compressors, filter driers, condensers, etc.) has indeed experienced slow but steady growth. But this growth is not just down to climate change. This growth is also mainly due to the growing number of vehicles with air conditioning as standard, which reached 77% in 2015. Today, 84% of vehicles aged 7 to 9 years old are equipped with air conditioning. This represents a real opportunity for independent repair shops where competition for this type of service is lower. “Carrying out air conditioning repairs is considered to be very specialist work. In 2014, 84% of these services were assigned to an air conditioning professional,” claims Jean-Michel Booh-Begue, Marketing Director of Valeo Service. The result? Sales are on the increase.

“The market has evolved steadily over the past 10 years, by 1 to 5% each year,” notes Régis Berdoulat, managing director at SNDC, a specialist in vehicle air conditioning systems. According to him, compressors are one of the products seeing the greatest increase in sales. The same is said at Nissens, where condenser volumes have increased by more than 39% since 2012.

Volumes going up, prices coming down

While sales of air conditioning components are continuing to grow, this is also because prices have dropped over the same period. According to FIEV, prices have fallen between 0 and 3% each year. “Increasing sales of air conditioning components and a rise in certified workshops have pushed maintenance and repair costs down. Drivers are therefore increasingly more informed about their vehicle’s air conditioning system and are more likely to invest in maintaining it,” says Michaël Rhé, manager at Nissens France. Several observers also believe that prices are pulled down due to competition from online sales, which tend to disrupt pricing policies for distributors. “This drop in prices was helped by the emergence of Oscaro, Mister-Auto, etc. who we are often compared to”, laments Régis Bourdelat. “These sites offer very aggressive prices that can sometimes be of rather questionable quality.”

In addition to this overall fall in prices, the sector has also benefitted from the development of refurbished components by certain equipment manufacturers, something which has been a very attractive alternative for many distributors. A specialist with 40 years of history in selling exchange parts, Lizarte saw compressor sales jump by 60% last year. Despite the growing success of these refurbished parts, some operators have continued to opt for new parts, believing that used parts are simply not suitable for air conditioning systems. “We do not offer refurbished parts for reliability reasons. It is a strategy that works for us because we are recognised for the quality of our product range,” insists Régis Berdoulat. In order to meet the expectations of professionals, some equipment manufacturers have started offering new parts at more attractive prices. For example, Delphi has designed a line of compressors called ‘lnside’ which are priced similar to an exchange part.

Still a very technical market

In these generally very favourable conditions for the air conditioning market, more operators are appearing on the market, particularly equipment manufacturers looking to win back lost customers. “The market has become more competitive over the past few years. Many companies offer air conditioning services today, even if they are limited to recharging them or occasionally performing leak tests. They are generally less comfortable with technical operations,” claims Régis Berdoulat, who points out that such companies can only operate within regulatory limits. As for MRAs, the observation is the same for many of them, and air conditioning remains synonymous with technical work.

Too technical? “Maintaining air conditioning systems often frightens workshops because it requires determining the cause of the failure before performing any work. For example, on a broken or seized compressor, repairers usually simply replace the part. Except that the failure of the compressor is often due to a failure of another component in the system which needs to be fixed,” says Hervé Moreau, France marketing manager at Denso.

It is precisely to support the independent aftermarket sector that Valeo decided this year to focus its sales on air conditioning. Since January, the French equipment manufacturer has sent a new team of experts all over the country to meet distributors and workshops. Their mission? To accompany distributors and, if necessary, work with mechanics. “These are Valeo’s new operators in the field. In an increasingly technical market, where the number of manufacturers is growing, they need to help distributors and their teams to understand products and develop their knowledge of new technologies,” explains Jean-Claude Roques, general manager at Valeo Service France. This new team represents the cornerstone of the new technical centre rolled out by Valeo, which also revolves around a well-staffed helpline. In addition to technical support, the company will also offer recommendations for additional parts, air conditioning diagnostic assistance and help with the use of tools.

The hand of the experts

While air conditioning services are becoming increasingly common in mechanics’ workshops, the specialist service providers are yet to have the last word. On the contrary, they claim that as the new HFO refrigerant 1234yf becomes more widespread (since 1 January 2017, all new vehicles are charged with this refrigerant), their expertise will become all the more important, and repair shops will be forced to buy new charging stations and expand their skillsets. “There is still a significant number of air conditioning specialists who are seeing strong growth because of their expertise”, observes managing director at SNDC, Régis Berdoulat. SNDC was one of the first specialist networks on the scene with their Ecoclim brand at the end of the 1990s, with the ability to work on all sorts of vehicles all over the country, from cars and trucks to agricultural machinery.

Some equipment manufacturers also have dedicated networks, such as Delphi with its DSC (Delphi Service Centre). Thanks to this programme, independent garages can access different specialists (diesel or petrol engine management, air conditioning and chassis experts) and therefore benefit from a range of services, including parts and tools supply, training, technical assistance and marketing support. For an annual fee of €250, Delphi provides signage and a welcome kit. The aim is to bring real added value to the garage while guaranteeing quality for the customer. The equipment manufacturer now has 330 of these centres in France and plans to open 20 more this year.

DECISION ATELIER
DECISION ATELIER

The automotive repair and service magazine.

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