I recently returned from Carefree, AZ, where the Equipment & Tool Institute held its ToolTech 2008, a conference that brings together many premier U.S. tool manufacturers with car companies and other interested parties to discuss current and future tool needs for the automotive world. Representatives from Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Mazda, Honda, ISN, Medco, SPX, Snap-on Tools and Bosch were there. Also, companies like Nupla, JS Steelman, ALLDATA, CARDONE, Hennessy, Autoland and Drew Technologies attended. Overall there were 130 attendees, representing more than 70 companies.
ETI organized a panel of OE folks to give us their views on upcoming tool trends. Ford, GM, Honda, Mercedes, Suzuki and Toyota were represented.
The first discussion centered around Diesel Testing Tools. They all see an increased need for diesel testing tools in the future. Seventeen percent of Ford F-series trucks will have diesel engines. GM expects hybrids to account for 10% of its total vehicle portfolio within the next one to three years. Honda will expand its small vehicle line over the next couple of years. They have launched several diesel engines in Europe, and we should see them in the U.S. within the next three years. Mercedes is moving into the hybrid market. Suzuki currently has diesel in other parts of the world, but not the U.S. Toyota admits they are a couple of years out from U.S. diesel products. They are currently committed to hybrids — three Lexus and three Toyota brands. They intend to increase the offering, though there is still a price penalty. Their research in plug-in hybrid technology is on-going.
What’s on the horizon for Scan Tools and Diagnostic?
We’ve seen growth in traditional requirements for scan tools. The OEMs gave us their vision for the future of more non-traditional requirements for scan/diagnostic tools:
Suzuki: Anti-theft systems are getting more sophisticated, they feel scan tools will be needed for these systems.
Toyota: Virtually every system will be accessible to scan tools, and they foresee as many as 50 scan codes per vehicle, even for something simple like the outside mirrors. The Toyota rep said, “If they can find a way to computerize the makeup mirror, they will.”
Mercedes: They are looking for one simplistic tool that does one specific diagnosis very well.
Ford: Ford sees a new migration toward communications systems, with modules and module programming more prevalent.
General Motors: GM is looking at the mass and fuel economy in new vehicles. They are investigating lighter materials to create less dense vehicles. This will have an impact on fuel economy, but also on noise reduction and road harshness. With hybrids, they continue to see the heat from Li-Ion batteries generating the biggest challenges. You can expect a need for future serviceability of high heat areas or battery cooling systems. They also see a need for diagnostic tools for the back-up sensing technology.
Finally, on the dealership and repair shop levels, many see a need for tool inventory and tool storage controls. There’s a need to make the shop-owned tools more accessible during the work day, so work can be done efficiently. But they still recognize that many tools come up missing during the course of a year.
Over the three-day event, I spoke with quite a variety of people, including car company representatives, tool company representatives and equipment and tool distributors. While many commented on the general malaise of the economy, most reported they are having a good year. People are reaching out, looking for new markets, and they’re finding them. It’s encouraging to hear this, because I think the more people hear how bad business is, the more they are going to agree. Instead, I think we should focus on the positive things that are happening in our industry. Yes, miles driven will probably slow down this year, but there’s a renewed emphasis on vehicle maintenance to improve vehicle performance and gas mileage. This is a positive indicator for our businesses. Many tool companies are in the final stages of bringing new products to market. Some plan to launch them at the ISN show this month, others are launching them through the mobile distributors over the next few months. No matter how they’re getting to market, it’s encouraging to see the continued efforts to grow their businesses and help you be more productive.
New products continue to drive a lot of our sales efforts. Reach out to your manufacturer/supplier/distributor and look to TechShop to find out what’s new. There’s probably more than you realize.