Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 8

8
* APRIL 2023
PERSISTENCE DURING
THE PANDEMIC
PAYS OFF
A family-owned Quebec store navigated
COVID-19 in a manner that sustained
sales, which created an inventory windfall
By DOUG FIRBY
CALGARY CORRESPONDENT
WHEN OTHER DEALERSHIPS ACROSS
Canada are struggling to rebuild supplies
of new vehicles, plenty are available in a
small-town dealership in eastern Quebec.
The website for Boulevard ChevroletBuick-GMCCadillac
in
Rimouski, Que.,
listed new 127
vehicles in early
April, a healthy
inventory as
BEST PRACTICES
SPOTLIGHT
chip shortages continue to stymie the
ability of automakers to produce enough
finished vehicles to meet demand.
Boulevard co-owner Pierre Béchard
said the supply is the payoff for a decision
management made during the COVID-19
pandemic to avoid layoffs and keep selling
vehicles, while also complying with strict
provincial health restrictions that at times
required showrooms to be closed to customers.
Safety measures included keeping staff
masked, expanding online sales and introducing
contactless transactions.
CLOSED BUT OPEN FOR BUSINESS
During the height of the pandemic,
between March 2020 and December 2021,
Quebec closed showrooms to the public
several times, although service departments
were allowed to stay open.
Even though customers could not come
in, staff at Boulevard came to work and
kept in touch with customers, selling 750
new vehicles in 2021,
just 50 fewer than in
2020. It is on track to sell
800 new vehicles this
year, which, according
to Boulevard, would make it the
largest dealership by volume in
Quebec east of Quebec City.
The achievement is even
more remarkable in a city of
49,000 residents in a semirural
area on the south shore of the St.
Lawrence River.
" We paid everybody, even if
they weren't working, " Béchard
said. " It paid itself back really
quick. "
The big payoff was with
General Motors, which allocates
vehicle supply based on sales.
Because the dealership kept its
sales volume up, GM Canada
kept sending vehicles while it
cut supply to other dealerships,
Béchard said.
GM Canada recognized
Boulevard by naming it to the
President's Club list of honourees
in both 2021 and 2022 for
its " exceptional year-over-year
growth in retail sales, parts and
accessories ... and excellence in
customer service. "
SIBLINGS IN SALES
Boulevard Chevrolet-Buick-GMC-Cadillac in Rimouski, Que., said it is on track to sell 800 new
vehicles this year, a remarkable achievement in a city of 49,000 residents in a semirural area of
Quebec. SUPPLIED PHOTO
er and Marie-Ève, 45, executive
director. Minority shareholder
Maxime Dionne is director of
fixed operations.
Béchard: His
dealership
chose to keep
staff during
the COVID-19
pandemic and
to keep selling
vehicles while
obeying health
restrictions.
Since allocation
is based
on sales
performance, he
said, Boulevard
Chevrolet-BuickGMC-Cadillac
has
ample
inventory today.
SUPPLIED PHOTO
Béchard and his sister, Marie-Ève
Béchard, bought the dealership from
their father, Wilbert, when he retired in
2012. Pierre, 42, is general sales managThe
siblings had been working
at the store since Wilbert
Béchard and several investors
bought it in 1995. The siblings
started at low-level jobs and
worked in most departments to
learn the business.
Wilbert's focus was on complete
honesty with customers.
" Our father was a really good
mentor, " said Pierre Béchard.
Loyalty to staff during hard
times pays dividends for dealerships,
said automotive consultant
Dominic Sigouin, owner
of Noahvik Consultants in
Montreal.
" I urged all my clients not to
stop selling, " said Sigouin, who
does not have a business relationship
with Boulevard.
" If you stop selling, it's not
good for your staff and not good
for your pipeline.
" Every crisis will just show
more of who you are [as an
employer]. You will see which
employers had good relations with staff. "
Béchard said he and his sister have
been at odds over important strategic
decisions, such as how many vehicles to
order. But he sees their differences as a
strength because it keeps them open to
new ideas.
CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT
" When we disagree, we just close the
door until we agree, " he said. " When the
door opens, we've solved the problem. "
The straight-shooter sales approach
has helped the dealership attract about
20 per cent of its buyers from outside its
territory, Béchard said. " A lot of people
don't like the way they're being treated in
the big town, so they come here. "
Employees are also treated with care
and are paid competitively. " They need
[to be treated] fairly because the way you
treat them is the way they treat customers, "
Béchard said.
As a result, Boulevard has strong
retention among its 50 employees. " Our
receptionist just retired after 48 years, "
Béchard said. " I wasn't even born when
she started here. "
Although the company has adopted
online sales, the consumers of eastern
Quebec still prefer to buy in person,
Béchard said. " We still live in a small
town. People like to come in and look at
the cars in the lots. "
There's no big secret to succeeding in a
small market, Béchard said. " Being honest
and treating people right - I'd rather
lose a deal by being honest rather than
win a deal by being dishonest. " - ANC
AI can predict when a vehicle will break down
The technology is being
pioneered in Canada and
is in the testing phase
By DAVID KENNEDY
T ORONTO BUREAU CHIEF
WATERLOO, ONT. - ON A SNOWY
track in late February, researchers from
Nissan Motor Co. and local tech firm
Acerta Analytics Solutions Inc. provided a
glimpse into the future of technology and
the future failure of engine components.
A line representing the health of the
engine bounced up and down on an
onboard monitor as the test vehicle travelled
a short circuit, driving slowly along
with nothing perceivably wrong.
But as the vehicle slowed to a stop, yellow
indicators lit up the monitor. " A sign
of failure, " it warned, indicating that the
condition of the engine had climbed into
unhealthy territory a handful of times
during the drive.
The tool - which pulls data from the
vehicle's electronic control unit and uses
machine-learning algorithms to predict outcomes
- estimated that the fuel injectors
become a standard part of Nissan's service
packages, preventing on-road failures
before they occur, he said.
The current tool is limited to
fuel-injector failures, but the company
is looking to broaden its
application to other powertrains,
cameras in advanced driver assistance
systems and electric-vehicle
components.
Acerta Analytics' artificial-intelligence
tool predicted a future fuel-injector
failure in a Nissan test vehicle.
SUPPLIED PHOTO
in the vehicle would fail in 9,000 kilometres.
" Finding that early indicator of a failure,
and predicting that failure is going to
get worse over time and actually lead to an
on-road failure ... has been a big leap, " said
Acerta CEO Greta Cutulenco.
The early-stage tool is the result of a
$1.4-million research partnership between
Acerta and Nissan's research division
based in Japan.
Kazuhiro Doi, corporate vice-president
of research, said the collaborative project
is just a first step for the automaker.
Eventually, predictive analytics could
NEW APPLICATION OF TOOL
Developing the series of
machine-learning algorithms
for a fleet of test vehicles is also
a new endeavour for Kitchener,
Ont.-based Acerta. The company,
founded in 2017, has been mainly
focused on in-factory applications
of artificial intelligence to detect
problems with parts quality.
" From that perspective, it's a
bit of a different application, in
terms of looking at one vehicle
for a very long time, as opposed
to many, many components that are passing
through very short cycles of testing and
assembly data, " Cutulenco said.
The research project, officially initiated
last year, also has potential to accelerate
closer collaboration between Nissan's global
research office and Ontario's overlapping
technology and automotive clusters.
Doi said his trip to Canada was
also designed to scout possible
partnerships with other AI leaders,
pointing to startups and university-based
researchers in both
Waterloo and Toronto. Today,
much of Nissan's North American
AI research takes place in Silicon
Valley.
Cutulenco:
Using AI to
anticipate
problems on
the road is " a
bit of a different
application "
from using AI
during vehicle
assembly.
FILE PHOTO.
The Ontario Vehicle
Innovation Network (OVIN)
backed the Nissan-Acerta project
with an investment of about
$350,000. The partnership is the
type of collaborative atmosphere
that the province-backed automotive
development organization
is designed to foster, said OVIN
head Raed Kadri.
" It sends a message to the rest
of the world and says, 'Hey, come
knock on our door, we've got a lot
to show here,' " Kadri said.
Acerta and Nissan are assessing possible
next steps for their partnership but to date
have not firmed up plans for future collaborative
work. - ANC

Automotive News Canada - April 2023

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Automotive News Canada - April 2023

Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - Intro
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - CT1
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - CT2
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 1
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 2
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 3
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 4
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 5
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 6
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 7
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 8
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 9
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 10
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 11
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Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 13
Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 14
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Automotive News Canada - April 2023 - 34
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