By Amy Antenora
Neil Hogan, product manager for SKF’s Vehicle Service Market business is an ASE Certified Master Technician with 30 years in the automotive business. In a recent interview, Hogan talked about SKF’s expanding global footprint, and also shared his in-depth insights into the hub unit category, a core competency of SKF’s.
In the past year SKF opened its 10th factory in China, and also plans to build an automotive technology center at the facility, part of a global strategy to strengthen the company’s presence in China. Why is this an important region for SKF today?
The Chinese market is rapidly growing in all industries. SKF is participating in this growth by investing resources to support that demand. SKF’s global strategy is to strengthen its presence in China, as well as increasing our capacity and competitiveness in the Asia region as a whole.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. the company consolidated production in order to remain competitive in this market. Can you tell us more about SKF’s strategy in the U.S. and what the company is doing to maintain competitiveness in this tough economic climate?
We are right-sizing our facilities and workforce to deal with the realities of the North American market. This is a process that was started in Q3 when we first saw the signs of turbulence in the market. It was further adjusted in Q4 to meet the new demand levels of the industry. From a company standpoint, SKF launched a global initiative called the 3C programme. This initiative is focused on customer requirements, spending, and appropriate inventory levels to service the reduced market demands.
SKF last year released a number of new e-newsletters (the Pole Position eNewsletter for example) as a way to reach out and educate technicians. How has SKF been utilizing the e-newsletters and why is this an effective way to communicate with your customers?
The eNewsletters have been an exciting new tool for us. And we’ve generated excellent open rates and feedback from customers. We’ve mostly focused using these eNewsletters to communicate technical tips and product information to customers in a faster and more timely manner. A large number of product failures come from incorrect installation and/or maintenance. If we can educate customers about the product, and provide technical tips about the products and/or maintenance procedures, it ultimately will help the customer be more profitable.
We’ve found the eNewsletters, and website also, to be a unique way to communicate with the customer. Also, the eNewsletters help point customers to exactly what they are looking for whether it’s linking back to an area of our website, providing them with a direct email or even allowing them to download tech tips directly from the eNewsletter. Essentially, it has been a more direct approach to communicating with the customer; one we are finding is beneficial for both us and them.
In light of the economic situation, it’s a safe bet that consumers will try and save money on car maintenance. This will likely mean greater willingness to opt for off-brand and value-grade components including hub units. Why is this a bad idea?
A few reasons come to mind. First is safety. No matter how bad the economy gets, you just can’t put a price on your safety and the safety of your family. Can you imagine if a loved one was seriously injured because you wanted to save a few dollars?
The other has to do with time and money. While a value grade hub may seem like a bargain at first, there’s a good chance that in the long run, it will cost you more. This is because it won’t last as long and because, generally speaking, premium hub units last up to 100,000-plus miles while value grade hub units last up to about 25,000 to 35,000 miles. So if you have to replace the hub three times as often, you’re paying more, not saving more.
Additionally the increased friction of a poorly designed hub can reduce your gas mileage. With today’s gas prices, keeping your vehicle running smoothly is important.
Why is safety an issue with value grade hubs?
For a number of reasons. Premium components are manufactured to OE specs, using high quality materials throughout, from the steel to the seals and lubrication to the sensors. This robust construction creates a more reliable foundation for the entire wheel end system and, so, helps prevent early and unexpected wheel end failure. A hub that fails prematurely can put people at risks, whether it’s loss of vehicle control or breaking down unexpectedly.
Another risk factor has to do with braking and traction. Many of these poorly made hubs use inferior sensors and, often, poorly insulated sensors. Sensors are critical to the proper functioning of things like ABS and traction control systems. If the sensor fails, these systems can too, resulting in less control or even loss of control of the vehicle. And of course this can be very dangerous for the driver and passengers.
It seems safety is an important part of SKF premium hub assemblies, what other features are important for SKF?
SKF remains a global leader of hub technology with quality being the top focus. Each hub is required to pass the most stringent tests in the marketplace.
We are also always moving forward with new advances in designs to bring the customer the best product in the industry. SKF’s new X-Tracker hub is an example of this advancement. This unitized assembly brings patented designs to our hubs. Just a few of the new features of the X-Tracker hub are increased sealing capabilities to keep out water ingression, stronger flange design to provide increased durability and superior retention design that helps increase the number of rolling elements for a smoother, safer ride.
Considering that value grade hubs can be costly and possibly even dangerous in the long run, it would seem important that this information gets out to the field. How are you communicating this to the industry?
In a number of ways, including trade advertising and, as I’ve already mentioned, our website. In addition, SKF has a large involvement in industry organizations, such as the Be Car Care Aware campaign, the Right to Repair Act and AAIA. We also use our position as a technical sponsor to Richard Childress Racing to communicate the effects of proper vehicle maintenance at NASCAR races around the country.
In addition, through the SKF Pole Position E-Newsletter program, we are able to communicate directly with garages across the country, providing up-to-date information and installation tips that can save them time and money. One of the biggest causes of component failure, aside from poor quality parts, is incorrect installation, or lack of knowledge associated with a particular component, system, or sub-system. And when a customer has to come back, it can be costly not just monetarily for the garage or jobber, but in terms of lost good will that can take years to regain.