Tempest after the storm The plain-speaking boss of Texa UK tells Tim Blakemore how and why the attitude of truck-makers and their dealers to his company’s diagnostics equipment has changed dramatically in the past three years. As for technical colleges, they are accused largely of having lost the plot when it comes to up-to-date commercial vehicle technical training.
hen Dave Tempest was first offered a job by Texa more than eight years ago his initial reaction can be summed up as deeply sceptical. Small wonder, really. The Italian manufacturer of vehicle fault diagnosis and air-conditioning service equipment was all but unheard of in the UK at the time. And Tempest already had a good job at Andrew Page, a big and expanding Bolton-based car parts distributor, which he had joined after a successful career at his family firm, Tempest Motors, where Bosch technical training had been his forte. Tempest recalls being distinctly unimpressed by the first contact he had with Texa, but he agreed nevertheless to meet a director at the Birmingham Commercial Vehicle Show of 2005. “That meeting made me think that maybe I’d misjudged the company,” he admits. “Then I went to the Texa base in Italy (at Veneto, near Venice) and my reaction was: wow, I really need to look more seriously at this offer.” The gist of the offer was the opportunity to set up a new whollyowned Texa subsidiary in the UK. Fancy new Veneto headquarters notwithstanding, this was still no easy decision for Tempest. Would UK technicians and workshop managers take to the unfamiliar, Italian-made equipment as readily as their continental counterparts apparently had? How hard would it be to persuade vehicle
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manufacturers and their dealers to accept diagnostic equipment designed from scratch to be multi-make and multi-purpose? And perhaps most crucial of all, was Texa’s remarkable growth rate since its formation as recently as 1992 going to prove sustainable? Eight years after deciding to take a chance and set up Texa UK as its managing director, Tempest now has answers to all these questions. The number of Texa UK employees has just passed thirty, and the latest expansion plans at the company’s Nelson, Lancashire base include a new, 500-square-metre (5,000sq ft) training centre in an adjacent building. Texa equipment such as the Axone diagnostics tablet computer and Konfort air-conditioning service station are now common sights in many UK commercial vehicle workshops as well as in those dealing with cars, motorcycles and agricultural equipment. And despite the recent eurozone woes and the parlous state of Italy’s economy in particular, the Texa group continues to thrive, investing around €50 million (£43 million) in a new manufacturing plant in Italy only last October. This is a company set up with no more than 10 employees in 1992 by a car dealer, Bruno Vianello, with the help of his technician friend Manuele Cavalli. The central aim was to help workshops deal with the electronic control systems then starting to
become common on cars. The Paul Murdoch of Golden Boy Coaches: sticking with robust name Texa stands for “Electronic Axone 3 and upgrading its Technologies for Automotive.” Now the company has 440 software. employees (including 100 research and development engineers and technicians) and can claim to be one of the top global manufacturers of vehicle diagnostics equipment. Tempest sees nothing secretive or mysterious in this extraordinary success story. “The company is run by people who own it and are passionate about it,” he offers by way of explanation. “If I were to go into the head office at 7.30am I would probably find directors like Manuele Cavalli already there. And if I leave at 6.30pm their cars are still in the car-park. The company is not driven by a big corporate group like some of our competitors. We can react fast because we manufacture everything in our own facilities.” This corporate nimbleness, coupled with evident understanding of real-world workshop problems, is certainly something that impresses UK users of Texa equipment. Take Paul Murdoch for instance. He is fleet engineer and workshop manager at Golden Boy Coaches, a long-established family firm based in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. The company not only runs and maintains a mixed Axone Direct: plugs into vehicle’s fleet of buses and coaches but diagnostics socket.
also has expanded into repair and maintenance for other bus, coach and truck operators. Golden Boy’s GB Fleet Maintenance division has been up and running since 2010. Versatility and expandability were top priorities for Murdoch when he first went in search of diagnostic equipment. The only manufacturer he could find to offer exactly what he required was Texa. When we visited Golden Boy Coaches five years ago Murdoch had just invested several thousand pounds in Texa’s Axone 3 tablet computer and was already well satisfied with its performance and especially with the fast, helpful responses he was getting from Texa distributor Blyth Equipment and from the Texa UK head office to any queries about the Axone 3’s operation. Has the equipment and its supplier stood the test of time? Perhaps even better than Texa would have wished. Murdoch reports that he has kept the Axone 3 and upgraded its software rather than switch to the more modern Axone 4 which looks to him a good deal less robust than its predecessor. These days it is not uncommon to find Texa equipment in use in various truck manufacturer franchised dealer workshops throughout the UK. But time was when Texa’s relationship with truck-makers and their dealers was altogether less cordial. Tempest recalls his first determined effort to break into the truck dealer sector of the UK aftermarket about six years ago. “I thought I’d be cheeky, so I sat here in my office and rang all the truck manufacturers,” he says. “They pretty much all told me to sod off, and one was even ruder than that.” But he reckons that the global financial crisis of 2008 and its dire effects on the UK truck market (with registrations of new vehicles hitting record lows in 2009 and 2010) had a profound effect on the attitudes of truck-makers and their dealers. He notes with some amusement that the particularly rude truck-maker was the one that approached Texa UK most eagerly a couple of years ago as it sought to find additional work for its UK dealer network. Now most workshops in that network and their breakdown vans use Texa equipment. “Traditionally, we’ve always supplied fleets and independent workshops,” explains Tempest. “Now we supply a lot of OEM (original equipment manufacturer) workshops as well. They are not using our equipment for their own products. There’ll never be anything better for Scania trucks than Scania’s own diagnostic tools, and the same applies to Daf and Mercedes and the others. But though the Daf Davie tool may be phenomenal on Daf trucks, it won’t do anything on a Mercedes, MAN or Volvo. This is where we come in. We have managed to earn the respect of the manufacturers.” Yet it is clear from a statement issued only last month by the UK’s Independent Garage Association (a division of the Retail Motor Industry Federation) that a long-running dispute between vehicle manufacturers and independent (non-franchised) workshops over
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it would be,” explains Tempest. “Basically, we can go to a manufacturer now and request that they provide us with data. The costs have got to be “reasonable” but there is a problem in defining that word. Furthermore, we don’t know exactly what we’re going to get. It might just be a spreadsheet or a CSV (comma-separated values) file with thousands and thousands of lines of data. That’s not an instant solution, it’s a starting point. We still have to do all the work and collate the data.” There continues to be widespread misunderstanding of the old EU “block exemption” rules which used to govern much of what vehicle manufacturers did in the European aftermarket, according to Tempest. “People think of Euro 5 as an emissions standard, it’s not,” he argues. “There are a lot of other things in Euro 5 documentation which have replaced many block exemption rules. A lot of the documentation is complex and subject to interpretation. I think a lot of people have latched on to the word ‘freedom’. There’s a big difference between making information freely available and providing information for free.” He has more sympathy for the vehicle manufacturers’ position than might be expected. “We’re talking about technical information that manufacturers have spent millions developing,” he says. “They are not just going to let people have it for free. I can see both sides of the argument. The manufacturers are
Axone 4: latest wireless diagnostics tablet computer.
access to technical data, the kind on which Texa diagnostic equipment depends, is still far from being resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. The IGA and a like-minded Dutch trade body, Bovag, have complained to the European Commission that manufacturers are failing to comply with European Union law on access to technical information, specifically relating to vehicles type approved at Euro 5 and later (Commercial Vehicle Engineer August). “Our report (from IGA and Bovag) proves that vehicle manufacturers are still not meeting the legal requirements that the European Commission has set for them,” says IGA director Stuart James. “Technical information is the lifeblood for independent garages to be able to repair cars in the future. Without it they will struggle to carry out an effective diagnosis. Therefore it is imperative that the European Commission acts now to ensure that vehicle manufacturers are meeting the requirements.” But Tempest is quick to point out that it would be wrong to see this dispute as simply a matter of vehicle manufacturers on one side withholding technical information and independent workshops on the other demanding it. Texa UK is deeply involved in the discussions with the European Commission, with technical manager Danny Barker (who worked with Tempest at Andrew Page and moved with him to the new company in 2005) a technical group member. “It’s not quite as clear-cut as perhaps everyone suggested
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ODD Matrix: award-winning on-board trying to protect their data recorder, now programmable. interests, for all the right reasons in some instances.” He is thinking in particular of vehicle safety and security and cites speed limiters as a case in point. A surprisingly large number of telephone calls to the Texa UK head office are on this subject, it seems. “We constantly get asked about speed limiters,” says Tempest, underlining that many of his customers are independent workshops. “But we don’t want people out there messing about with things they don’t understand. There’s no technical reason why we can’t make changes to speed-limiter settings but it’s covered by legislation, and if we make the option available to end-users
everybody would be tweaking settings by a couple of mph. So we refuse to make it available.” Though much of Texa UK’s business continues to come from fleet operators and independent workshops, Tempest is understandably wary of alienating newer, hard-won customers such as vehicle manufacturers and their franchised dealers. “We’ve earned respect because we’re professional about what we do and we don’t tell lies,” he says. “We’re not out to harm their business. We’re not about power uprates. It’s all about service and maintenance. They are all chasing fleet business, and we can help with that because hardly anyone runs solus fleets these days.” Many of the truck dealer workshops chasing that fleet business have recognised that they need the capability to service and maintain a wide range of trailers as well as trucks. This surely creates yet more opportunity for Texa diagnostic equipment to come into play? Tempest agrees, but is frustrated at what he sees as lack of cooperation from trailer-makers and the suppliers of trailer braking systems, such as Haldex, Knorr-Bremse and Wabco. He accuses them of being too protective of the data needed to maintain and repair their systems, perhaps because they all have their own individual fault-diagnosis kits. “There is a lot of misunderstanding out there about trailer braking systems,” says Tempest. “A large percentage of the phone calls we get
Texa UK managing director Dave Tempest: “Technical colleges sometimes seem to be a million miles away from reality.”
are trailer-related.” One of the most common faults, he reckons, is simply an air-leak from the trailer’s main valve-block/electronic control unit (ECU). This generally cannot be repaired, so the solution is a replacement unit. Straightforward enough, but because each of these units will fit a huge variety of trailer applications, each new one needs to be tuned to the trailer to which it is being fitted: “parameterised” is how Tempest describes it. “Provided the old ECU is in good electronic form, so we can communicate with it, we just copy and paste, transferring the data from old to new ECU. We call it
configuration transfer. But if the ECU has lost the plot, completely failed, which is unusual but does happen, then we have to go in and reset all the data, including braking threshold pressures and airbag pressures.” This is where he would like more co-operation from trailer-makers and their braking system suppliers. “All I want to do is repair the trailer,” he says. “There are suppliers of copy/pattern trailer equipment out there, including one Spanish company in particular, which are much more of a threat to trailer-makers and braking system suppliers than me. We’ve just finished developing a training course on trailers. It’s due to start next year. We’re not interested in building trailers. We just want to diagnose faults and get the information needed for repairs.” Technical training in general is one of those subjects, like motherhood and apple pie, on which everyone can agree, it seems. But it’s a topic on which Tempest’s background and recent experience at Texa have given him some especially strong views, and he is more than happy to express them in plain English, with none of the platitudes and academic jargon that often bedevil this sector. He is particularly critical of modern-day technical colleges, accusing them of “sometimes seeming to be a million miles away from reality.” To illustrate the point he cites an invitation he received recently to go to a college “not a million miles from our base here in Nelson.” The college wanted some electronic diagnostic equipment. Tempest was happy in principle to play ball but when he dug a little deeper about the particular vehicles on which the Konfort series air-conditioning maintenance equipment would be and recharging equipment: comfortable with used he was astonished old and new refrigerant gases. to be pointed towards some old, R-registration trucks and then to a bus chassis so ancient that it was powered by a Gardner engine. No electronic control units there. Texa UK had to spend around £30,000 acquiring trucks (including a Euro 4 Daf and a Euro 5 Iveco) for its training course on selective catalytic reduction (SCR) exhaust emission control systems, he points out. There had been a 1997 Mercedes-Benz Actros at the Texa UK training centre, but though this had electronic control systems aplenty they were judged too out of date to be of any practical use to modern technicians and apprentices. “We had to invest,” says Tempest, failing to understand why colleges are not prepared to do the same when they charge handsomely for their courses. “I can’t do a training course on emissions and not have any practical content in it.” He makes much the same sort of criticism of the Irtec technician certification scheme being run jointly by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) and the IRTE division of the Society of Operations Engineers, a London-based engineering institution. Tempest is all for the principle ostensibly behind the Irtec scheme, raising skills and training standards among commercial vehicle technicians. But like many other impartial commentators he thinks the scheme is too vague and impractical in its content and too biased towards truck manufacturers, who anyway already have their own specialised, high-quality technical training schemes. “It’s a really good idea, though technician licensing is never going to happen because nobody has any money to enforce it, but it’s not been thought through for fleets and independent workshops,” says Tempest. “It’s been driven by vehicle manufacturers and one or two big bus fleets. Irtec seems to be a sort of review of everything a technician has done. What value does it add? I think maybe we’ve missed an opportunity here.” K
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