Elio Motors announced on Fox News today that it will partner with automotive parts and service retailer Pep Boys as an official service partner for the three-wheeled, 84-MPG Elio commuter car.
An e-mail from Elio Motors said, “Pep Boys, the multi-billion dollar, nationwide retail and service center chain is the official service center for Elio Motors! With hundreds and hundreds of stores across the U.S., Pep Boys is the ideal partner we’ve been looking for. They have the reach, experience, and brand recognition to satisfy our customer base in all areas of service and maintenance.”
The e-mail quoted Elio Motors founder and namesake, Paul Elio, who said, “Pep Boys’ rich history, dating back nearly 100 years, makes the American company a cultural icon, and a brand we have grown to depend on and value over the past century.
“Selecting a convenient and reliable service provider is paramount in creating an overall positive customer ownership experience, and Pep Boys is well-positioned to help accomplish this goal,” the founder added.
Reaction to the news from Elio Motors’ mostly devoted fanbase on Facebook was not unanimously positive. Several commenters wondered what would be done for those who live in regions — or even whole states — where Pep Boys has no retail presence. Elio obviously had a response planned to that criticism, answering something similar to this several times throughout the day:
This is the first major step in a long process that is our national service center program. There are many options that we are still reviewing to make sure that all of our valuable Elio customers are taken care of when it comes to service and warranty.
Pep Boys has over 800 locations in the US and Puerto Rico making this a very big first step!
It’s interesting to me that Elio would take this track. There are still plans to have a traditional dealer sales model, so why not a traditional dealer service network to match it? Many friends in the car business have told me repeat service customers are responsible for a sizable chunk of dealer profits. By outsourcing service, I have to wonder if Elio might be cutting its interested dealer principals off at the knees.
The other real unknown quantity is whether it’s wise for Elio Motors, young upstart that it is, to partner with a retail chain that hasn’t been as stable as shareholders might desire.
On top of all that, I have to wonder if Elio will be sending all 800+ Pep Boys stores’ mechanics through the same level of training a dedicated dealer service tech would undergo. If they do, it’ll be a monumental undertaking. If they don’t, they risk alienating customers when they try to get warranty work done and an untrained Pep Boys mechanic makes the problem worse.
All in all, though, this mentality goes hand-in-hand with Elio’s use of the Continental-sourced docking station for smartphones as an infotainment solution: It’s outsourcing. Perhaps Elio knows something about its customer base that I don’t. Perhaps Elio pre-order customers are as strongly into Linux as VW customers are into iOS, and Elio is merely trying to cater to the go-your-own-way demographic.
Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how this turns out for both Elio and Pep Boys.