Established a decade ago, the 50/50 joint venture Behr Hella Service now serves the global independent aftermarket for vehicle air conditioning and engine cooling. Although initially active in the European independent automotive aftermarket, the venture has established a presence in the international aftermarket spanning South America, NAFTA and Asia-Pacific. Matthew Beecham spoke to Steve Hudson, head of business development at Behr Hella Service about the forces driving the engine cooling and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) repair sector and how the venture has grown in the market place.  

Could you sum-up the factors driving the automotive engine cooling repair sector?

There are a lot of different factors driving the engine cooling repair sector. Components, systems and regulations are constantly under review and, as a result, subject to change. It is therefore important for those in the aftermarket to understand these changes and the challenges and opportunities that potential changes represent.

With increased demands on the vehicle manufacturers to decrease emissions, the vehicle’s cooling system plays an important role with gas recirculation systems and the location of related components all designed to aid fuel efficiency.  With a growing number of manufacturers incorporating an indirect charge air cooler (ICAC), this means that there is now a secondary radiator (Low Temperature Radiator) fitted to the vehicle.

What is driving the HVAC maintenance and repair market?

Over the last few years, air conditioning has become virtually standard equipment on new vehicles, which means that they are now a common sight in the independent service and repair sector. This trend can only continue as motorists’ growing expectations for driver comfort increase and HVAC systems become more refined. Behr Hella Service has been at the forefront of providing original equipment quality thermal management solutions for the independent aftermarket for the past decade.

Are the products offered by Behr Hella Service focused on one particular segment, or do you offer all makes/all models coverage?

The complete Behr Hella Service range of parts, consists of more than 7,000 part numbers. Offering a one-stop solution for air conditioning and engine cooling needs and requirements to both the wholesaler and the garage. This means that in conjunction with first class availability, workshops have the solution to virtually every HVAC and thermal management challenge.

What are the development plans for the Behr Hella service aftermarket business in the next few years? How do expect to grow further in Europe?

Over the last five years in the UK, Hella Ltd has achieved year-on-year double-digit growth with its Behr Hella Service range. The continuous introduction of parts alongside the world’s most comprehensive range of OE parts, ensures that Behr Hella Service is the partner of choice in Europe.

Adding to this range, Behr Hella Service has in excess of 1,000 alternative range part numbers, where it has the OE part in the range it offers a pattern part alternative for later lifecycle vehicles. This gives not only the wholesaler, but also the workshop and motorist an added option of choice: OE or pattern?

Looking at the distribution channels in Europe, what are the big changes you are seeing at the moment? Is there anything in particular in the change or structure that is driving that?

The previously mentioned growth has of course increased demand. To ensure its customers, the wholesalers, has the best possible service and availability, Hella offer a unique next day delivery service from its parent company’s warehouse in Germany to the wholesaler if we do not have the part in our UK warehouse.

How do you engage with your customers in this digital age? i.e. the majority of motorists still rely heavily on garages and physical retailers for their maintenance needs. So how do you engage these customers digitally?

The company has recently launched a Compressor App for both smartphone and tablet. One of the most important issues it addresses is the replacement of a defective compressor so that technicians are able to carry out a first rate installation.

The App leads them through a step-by-step process from the system overview, types of compressor, possible causes of failure, fault diagnosis process and how to correctly flush the system and finally, using the service station, generate a vacuum, carry out leak detection, fill with refrigerant and undertake on vehicle testing.

There is also, of course, the Hella website where we have instructional videos and advice for all motorists which contains information about our products and how to use them. This website is useful for factors, motorists and garages.

What do you see happening to brand names in the market place? Is the power of brands increasing or diminishing with the changes?

Within the HVAC market, the brand name and positioning is key. With evermore restrictions, regulation and control within Europe, the need for product quality, reliability and durability is paramount. Over the next few years with the introduction of CO2 as a refrigerant for the air conditioning system, the high pressures that will be required and a totally new product system, coupled with the ever increasing demands for VM’s to receive Euro NCAP ratings, Hella believes that the leading brands within the industry will continue to grow.