29 December 2011

The History of Abarth

Original Writing for O'Brien Automotive

Abarth is currently a separate Racing Oriented Division of Fiat. Since 2007 Fiat have maintained the division for purposes of turning Fiat street vehicles into more performance oriented tarmac burners. While they are currently a modern era tuner shop for Fiat, they have quite a history all their own, dating back to 1949.

Carlo Abarth and Armando Scagliarini started the company in 1949 as a small Italian sports car maker. Just a few years later, 1952, they began their long running relationship with Fiat. The built the Abarth 1500 Biposto, an experimental coupe with cutting edge, ultra-modern lines. The relationship continued into the 1960’s with Abarth building vehicles that achieved great success within hill climbing events and sports car racing.

In 1971 Abarth was acquired by Fiat and transformed into the racing division for the Italian company. The division had large success in helping Fiat, and other divisions of the company, in rally cars. Abarth also helped shuffle in the genre now known as “boy racer” cars. Great handling cars with a good power to weight ratio, and good economy. This is the genre that eventually stole a lot of business from the traditional “muscle car” buyers. As gas prices have increased, the “boy racer” car has continued to survive.

Now in 2012, North America will finally get its hands on an Abarth tuned Fiat 500. The car features a bump in power, better handling, and some vicious looking graphics, complete with Abarth’s ominous scorpion logo. It’s expected that this tuned hot hatch will be very competitive with the Mini Cooper S, which as of now, is long overdue for an updated design.

There is no official release date for the Fiat 500 Abarth, but we are anxiously awaiting its arrival here at O’Brien Fiat, and make sure to check back here for more updates as we get more information.

05 December 2011

Do you have a Winter Emergency Kit?

Winter weather has already rolled into the Mid-West which leads to the question, are you prepared for the unknown. In metro areas like Indianapolis people often don’t think about making sure they have provisions in their vehicle for an unforeseen emergency, but reality is you can get stranded in urban environments, just as in rural areas.

Understandably most people don’t wish to carry a Zombie Apocalypse Survival kit in their car. The more you carry around with you, the more gas you use. There are some important things you can put together that won’t break your EPA rating or your bank account.

I put my stuff together in an extra backpack I had lying around the house, but any bag will work. I use the bag just to keep everything from flying all over the trunk. Here’s what most experts recommend you keep on hand.

• Thermal Blanket (if you often have passengers 2 or more may be a good idea)
• Gloves
• Winter Hat
• Maps
• Knife (or other device for cutting)
• First Aid Kit
• Flashlight (and extra batteries)
• Battery Powered Radio (these are really inexpensive these days)
• Road Flares
• Rope (50 to 100 feet)
• Shovel (folding compact shovels won’t fit in the bag, but will easily stow in the car)

Outside of the Emergency Kit, I always try to make sure I have my Phone Charger in the car as well. If you’re like me, I often don’t wear a big winter coat if I’m planning on being in the car most of my trip. I actually keep an extra jacket in the car. It’s my least attractive, beaten up and old coat, but if I slide off the road into a ditch, fashion is the last thing on my mind. Another thing not on the official list is a few bottles of water and a snack. I throw them in my bag, granted they freeze pretty quick, but I feel better knowing I have some supplies. I find a couple of LARA Bars keep well, they taste great and it’s always best to be prepared, my kids even eat them.

We don’t tend to have treacherous winters here in Indiana, but we do get our share of storms, and the O’Brien Automotive Family wants to see you stay safe through those chilling wintry days.

Please share your comments on what other things are good to carry with you.

06 October 2011

@driveSRT roared into our Northside store this week

* This blog was originally posted at www.obrienauto.com, it's archived here as part of my collection of writings

The DriveSRT team arrived in Indianapolis this week with the Thunder of 2,350 horses. What impressed me, or surprised me, the most was these five 470 Horsepower beast were driven, not trucked to this event. That says everything you need to know about the daily driver nature of these vehicles. SRT stands for Street and Racing Technology, this group has not lost sight of the fact that they aren't building just track cars.

The DriveSRT team is currently involved in the SRT High Performance Tour. They are traveling around the country piloting some amazing vehicles. This past Monday, Tom O'Brien Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, on 96th Street, was lucky enough to be their exclusive stop in central Indiana. The SRT Club was invited, and through out the night had a good showing. A short, but exhilarating Acceleration/Braking track was setup, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and Chrysler 300 SRT8 were put through their paces. Visitors had the opportunity to experience the 470 HP/470 LB-FT of torque first hand.

The Drive SRT team has continued on, leaving us in awe of their dust. Links to follow their journey are at the end of this post.

Follow the team on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/driveSRT

Follow the team on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/driveSRT

To see more photos from this event, click here to visit our photo album.

Customer Retention vis Social Networking

* This was originally posted on another blog in November of 2009. It's here for archive purposes.

The current trend of Social Media is reaching out to customers.  I’m not sure if dealers are reaching out to whomever, or their actual customers.  Here in Indianapolis it’s still so new.  The most success seems to involve current customers. 

A few examples, O’Brien Automotive is using both Facebook and Twitter to communicate things like Service Specials.  We know these are the profitable customers, and by getting customers in Service and in the Finance office to follow you on Twitter and Facebook just increase your chances of bringing them back. 

This leads us to the point of why are your customers going to follow or fan you?  I’m a firm believer that you need to provide an additional level of content or information.  You can share service updates all day long, you can feed into Twitter a constant feed of your inventory.  After a brief amount of time, who’s going to be reading it?  They will skip over your Tweets and Hide your updates from their feed in Facebook.  However, if you can become a source for additional information, they will pay attention.

I think you need to include relative news stories; most news sites have a Share function that will let you Tweet and Facebook stories.  I’m not suggesting hard core stories, but community pieces of interest.  News stories related to your make, off road articles if you’re a Jeep dealer, perhaps NARCAR links if you’re selling Toyota, Chevy, Ford, or Dodge.  Just a variety of things that can tie into your product line.

I highly suggest following other dealers, not just here in Indianapolis, but the dealers that are out there being successful.  Suzuki of Wichita and Fowler Dodge are great examples of a Social Media Progressive dealers. 

The biggest factor to all of Social Media is to remember it’s new, it’s still now mainstream, but it’s getting there.  Make it a point to watch, interact and learn from those who are doing it now, and then be progressive in thought to run with that trend setting pack.

Next up: Web 2.0 meets Web 1.0 and they CAN work together.

01 February 2011

Branding and the Automotive Dealership

Originally posted at Dealer Specialties

I’ve seen a lot recently about how the customer controls branding. Essentially this is not true, but the point it tries to make is. You, without a doubt control your branding. You control it in the message you deliver to your employees. You control it in the people you hire. You control it in the way you, as an entire dealership, treat your customers. I guess I’m just arguing the semantics of the word choice in who really controls your branding.

As dealerships, there is no manufacturing process, you’re not creating a product, and you’re only reselling it. That’s a choice that’s primarily been made, and certainly can’t be easily changed. So the product is predetermined for you. On a whole, most all of the modern new vehicle inventory is considered to be reliable, dependable, and most brands fill the needs of a certain market. However, obviously car buyers have a choice where they buy that product. Modern “branding” is conveying a consistent mindset to your staff, that permeates through them to your customers.

How do you set yourself apart from the other dealerships selling the same product, or a very competitive product. You already know the answer, its extraordinary customer service. Unfortunately, most dealerships seem to rely on every individual in the facility to determine their own definition of good customer service, or at least each department. I have rarely encountered a top down message, though those dealers are out there. Just one example, the sales person that can move the most units in a month is given more respect than the sales person who sold 2/3 of the amount of units, but did it in a way that will make them life long service customers.

Then the disconnect between Sales and Service occurs. Will a Service Writer’s definition of good Customer Service be so different from that sales person’s that those customers will be chased away from returning. This action subsequently costing service money and potentially a return car purchase from the salesperson. With so much out of the individual’s control, what’s the answer?

A corporate or owner driven customer relations message is the only way to make it all work together. Everyone in the dealer needs to know what “ABC Ford’s” definition of Customer Service is, and be held accountable to it. Surveys, and not the please give us all 10’s so the manufacturer knows we are awesome, but quick surveys the go straight to the top. Randomly chosen, depending on the size and scope of the dealer or dealer group, follow-up calls to sales and service customers from the dealer principle themselves, and another round of random calls from general management. Out of the box thinking is where it’s at, what about having different sales people, or service writers calling random customers with follow-ups?

Without the “Branded” message conveying the level of expectations to both your employees and your customers, they are always going to be winging it. Your customers may be the ones that will be expressing your brand to their friends, families and colleagues. It’s up to you to determine what message you want them to take to the streets.

22 January 2011

The QR Revolution starts to get attention

* Written and published originally for Dealer Specialties

On the way back from the 2011 Manager’s Summit, I used Delta’s text based Check-in system. You check in online, and they text you a link for a dedicated mobile page with your boarding pass and a prominently displayed Aztec Code that is scanned by readers at the TSA Check Point and at the Gate. Until the point of writing this, I thought the code was a QR Code, but I’ve since learned they are close cousins.

While boarding in Atlanta, I handed my phone to the person at the gate, she scanned it, and handed it back. Waiting on the Jetway, I overheard the lady behind me asking her husband how I checked in with my phone. I turned around, and started explaining system, and how the QR Code was the newest manner of coded information. You would have thought I had invented it. I did proceed to embark on a brief discussion of how my company and my customers use them as well, and this seemed like something I should do here on the Dealer Specialties Blog.

The QR Code allows us to encode a variety of information and post it on a website or directly on your vehicle’s window label, to be scanned by potential customers. The code can link them to Vehicle Videos or an Inventory Link. Once on the link, they will have access to all the information about the vehicle. It gives them a chance to save that site to their phone, to forward it to a friend or family member, ultimately one additional way to move the information about your inventory around online.

Other, outside the box uses could be QR Codes that link your customers to your dealerships blog, customer feedback/testimonial page, or your Facebook presence. Many dealers have expanded their online presence to include these social based outlets and this is another great outlet to drive traffic there.

There are sites that will create a QR Code for your identity, or dealership, and offer a mobile link to all of your sites form one location. You can offer customers direction to your Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Website, Inventory Page, Blog, Service scheduler, or any other location you need to get them to. www.itsmyurls.com is one example I’ve seen used multiple times.

You can put QR Codes on your service receipts to drive traffic to a survey, where you capture additional contact information to push specials and increase customer retention. Even put them on direct mail campaigns to drive traffic to sites that you have control over or share QR Codes on your Facebook page to drive traffic to specials.

The books wide open at this point, but it’s certain that the QR Code is a must have method of customer oriented marketing. In a world where the dealer providing the most information wins, the QR Code is one of the quickest ways to share a great deal of information with next generation oriented customers.

If you can’t help but want to know the more technical details involved, I’d suggest downloading a QR Reader for your SmartPhone and scanning the code below.