BAUDETTE, MN — Noting that dealership sales personnel remain the first line of information for most consumers, automotive supplier Robert Bosch Corp. is training such staffers to spread the word about electronic stability control (ESC) systems.
“A well-educated dealership sales force is really the way to go,” says Bosch Marketing Director Rich Golitko, who is spearheading a new program called “ESCential” aimed at informing vehicle shoppers about the benefits of ESC systems.
“We're going to train as many dealership people as possible,” says Golitko.
But he notes more than 20,000 dealerships are in the U.S., too many for Bosch to handle directly. “So we're going to train the trainers,” he says.
That includes pitching ESC benefits to auto makers' training divisions, contractual trainers and professional driving schools which often host dealership events.
The program also consists of setting up shop at vehicle-launch tours for dealership personnel.
Bosch spent $80,000 participating in a 28-city launch of the Buick LaCrosse in which 6,500 dealership salespersons learned about the new car as well as its optional ESC system.
The presentation included a video that simulates an ESC-less vehicle on slick pavement spinning out of control contrasted with the stabilized movements of a vehicle with ESC.
“Dealership people's eyes lit up when they saw that video,” says Golitko. “We gave them copies to show to their customers. We can't say how many will, but they seemed truly interested. We surveyed them, and their comfort level as to talking about ESC with customers increased from 35% to more than 90% after participating in the program.”
Bosch trainers quickly learned that dealership personnel were interested more in what ESC does rather than in the intricacies of its technology.
“In the initial program, their eyes glazed over during a technical discussion,” recalls Golitko. “It's too technical when guys start looking out the window.”
ESC combines antilock brake systems, traction control and a host of sensors to prevent a car from losing control on slippery roadways, and when a driver under-steers or over-steers in a turn or veers suddenly to avoid a crash.
Detecting that a car is moving in a direction other than that which the driver is steering, ESC applies different brake pressures to individual wheels, as needed, to stabilize a vehicle.
“The sensors tell what the vehicle is doing vs. what the driver wants it to do,” says Scott Dahl, a Bosch systems engineer. “The sensors detect how fast the tires are spinning and how much sideways movement there is.”
Golitko says the system is particularly effective in preventing rollover accidents which account for more than 30% of the 32,000 vehicle fatalities last year in the U.S.
Bosch introduced ESC 10 years ago on the '95 Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
It is in 64% of new vehicles in Germany (Bosch's home base) but only in 11% of new vehicles in the U.S.
Bosch predicts the U.S. rate will increase to 33% by 2008 and keep climbing, especially in light of General Motors Corp. announcing ESC will be standard equipment in all of its vehicles by 2010.
The average retail price of ESC is approaching $600, says Golitko. He anticipates it will reach a price point and level of consumer demand at which auto makers say, “Let's just put it in all vehicles.”
Bosch executives and engineers outlined the dealership training effort and demonstrated ESC's capabilities at the company's 600-acre proving grounds and test facilities in this remote town, population 1,100, on the Minnesota-Ontario border where snow and sub-zero temperatures are common.
“To do the job right, you need to be up here testing on real snow, not artificial surfaces,” says Dahl. “Besides, it's fun up here. Some people say I'm odd, but I love the cold.”