While some people might view them as hell on earth, I quite enjoy trade fairs. While the Automechanika brand is the world’s most successful trade exhibition (not just in automotive terms, according to its promoter), it seems strange that the UK has not played host before, considering that our government bangs-on continuously about the healthy state of the British motor industry, whenever it wishes to give our debt-riddled economy a positive spin.
That has changed and today is the last of a trio of days in which ~550 garage equipment suppliers, component manufacturers, retailers and aftermarket businesses exhibit at the NEC in Birmingham to show their wares, make contacts (I detest the term ‘network’), attend seminars, catch up with old friends and confront the challenges that will affect not only the car repair industry, but also car owners – you and me, in other words.
Those challenges remain very real. The latest vehicles are becoming increasingly complex, demanding ever-more sophisticated repair equipment and one of Automechanika’s aims is to provide visitors with a glimpse of how workshops need to evolve in the near future; a perfect example of which is both windscreen camera and radar calibration demonstrations, carried out by HELLA, which provide essential safety hardware for the latest autonomous braking and distance cruise control systems. New product showcases, a series of informal lectures and an innovation trail provided informative insights into the latest developments of automotive technology and a number of international exhibitors were also present, including delegates from Poland, Italy, Spain and China, all of whom were keen to do business.
While the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders (SMMT) hosted ‘Meet the Buyer’ one-on-one meetings (a kind of business-focussed speed-dating), another of the more pertinent discussion groups addressed vital skills shortages in the motor repair industry and the difficulties of attracting new talent. While it is recognised that the motor repair industry attracts a negative image (think Eastenders and ‘Corrie’s’ local garage portrayals, as examples), Rachel Riley’s contributions to the event on Tuesday were far from superficial. In many ways, the ‘Countdown’ star is a role model to promote ‘stem’ academic subjects as both relevant and interesting in the real world and this mantra dovetails perfectly into the SMMT’s aim of promoting apprenticeships for both boys and girls within the automotive sector, including the aftermarket and not solely those associated with vehicle manufacturers. To offer visitors some more light-hearted entertainment, apprentices from both Jaguar Land Rover and Vauxhall pitched their mental arithmetic skills against those of their more senior colleagues in a numbers challenge, similar to that of the popular Channel 4 show that she co-hosts.
Although the last day has not yet finished, at the time of writing, Automechanika’s first adventure in the UK has been hailed as a major success already and, if you work within the automotive sector and were unable to attend this year, mark-out June 6-8th 2017 in your diary.