Navigating the Future

GaBiz Editor in Chief explores a new program designed to serve the growing contingent of EV drivers with NAPA VP of Emerging Technology Susan Starnes.

According to Experian’s Q2 2022 Automotive Consumer Trends Report, there are more than 1.7 million electric vehicles on the roads in the U.S. While that’s just a fraction of the more than 280 million vehicles overall, the industry is growing at a fast clip (in Q2 2018, there were about 400,000 EVs). Every one of those cars and trucks needs ongoing maintenance, and this year Georgia-based service and auto parts giant NAPA has introduced its “NexDrive powered by NAPA” program in the United States. Aimed at creating a nationwide network of repair shops specializing in expert servicing of electric vehicles, the program builds on the company’s success with similar initiatives in Europe and Canada. Here, NAPA VP of Emerging Technology Susan Starnes shares what’s new and how the company is innovating and attracting the next generation of talent.  

What is NexDrive powered by NAPA? Why is it a focus for the company?
Building on learnings from Europe and Canada, NAPA is boldly progressing small business owners across the country toward an electric future by providing the resources they need to keep moving forward.  

NexDrive Powered by NAPA is the next proof point to this journey. This year we’ll begin testing a new offering for our partner owners/technicians—a comprehensive program for electric vehicles including product and equipment, training, consumer awareness, and store training, a first in the U.S. market.  

Georgia has had some big electric vehicle news over the last couple of years (the new Rivian and Hyundai plants among them). How does NexDrive have the potential to impact companies and drivers in the state?
As EVs become more mainstream and drivers explore them as an option, it’s important that shop owners and technicians are equipped to service these vehicles while maintaining the same service for gas-powered vehicles. By proactively preparing workshops with products, tools, and training, drivers across the state will be able to confidently bring their vehicles for service and repairs to independents. 

NexDrive will ensure technicians are appropriately prepared across the board, and we’re looking forward to rolling out this new initiative to see how it can best serve drivers and their vehicle maintenance and repair needs. 

Finding skilled employees—or those who are willing to learn—is a hot button topic for most business leaders these days. What are some of the challenges NAPA is seeing, in Georgia and beyond, and how are you overcoming them?
NAPA Auto Care shops and technicians across the country are not feeling they are adequately prepared for electric vehicles and emerging technologies. Survey data shows NAPA store and shop owners need, and even expect, support to make the transition to EV. ​Without adequate EV resources, talent attraction, and training, hundreds of thousands of independent auto care centers around the country, especially those in rural America, run the risk of becoming obsolete in the future. ​The exciting change in the market has the potential to bring in new technicians to the industry. We’ve trained 35,000 technicians a year for decades, so we are uniquely positioned for the challenge. ​ 

NAPA’s roots go back to 1925. How has innovation played a role historically and how is your team continuing to drive it forward?
The aftermarket industry is constantly evolving and adapting to changes in the market, such as supply chain challenges and technician shortages. NAPA continues to prepare for the road ahead by investing in innovative solutions and talent. This allows us to stay nimble to changing circumstances impacting the industry. NexDrive is an example of how we continue to innovate and prepare shop owners for what is next in the market.  

Some consumers are all in for EVs, while others are happy with their gas-powered vehicles. How does NAPA balance the two from a customer service and business development perspective?
We’ve always prided ourselves on our ability to meet customers where they are and service their needs to the best of our ability. This includes expanding to new technologies as they arise, while still honoring the classic internal combustion engine vehicles that have kept people on the road for over 100 years. Addressing the needs of all drivers is at our core, and we’re excited to be a leader in driving the automotive aftermarket industry forward and challenging it to think differently. 

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