You might say my Job at AAA Hoosier Motor Club is to take crazy ideas and make them happen. I might also add that anyone who knows me knows I love that job.
Located in Indianapolis and independently operated, AAA Hoosier Motor Club serves 55 Indiana counties and approximately 400,000 members of the 55 million AAA serves in the United States. A few years ago, our company had a vision to start a mobile tire service division to complement our traditional and well-known emergency roadside service. As you may have guessed, the task of making that new mobile tire service offering a viable business fell on my shoulders, and frankly, I was excited by the prospect.
You see, of the 600 to 700 members who call us each day for emergency services, like battery failures and lockouts, 25 percent of those pertain directly to tire service. So we knew we had a sizable and ready-made customer base. That was the easy part. We also knew that we had a successful battery replacement service that we had started a few years earlier. The hard part was going to be figuring out how to literally bring a mobile tire shop to the customer, all without making the customer uncomfortable.
As an MBA, I understand the business aspect of building a new service offering. And since I’m also a certified master service technician, I understood the nuts-and-bolts side of the actual services we wanted to deliver.
What I didn’t yet understand was how we were going to first package, and then remotely deliver, full-service tire replacement, balancing, repairs, rotations and all of the other services that most tire stores offer, and do it on four wheels.
One of the main issues of creating a retail mobile tire service shop is how to supply it with the electricity and compressed air necessary to run the equipment. We looked at a number of potential solutions, but they all had one confounding problem: They all required a generator powered by an internal combustion engine.
Mobile power generation has been around for a long time and it’s common to see large engine-driven generators being hauled to and fired-up at worksites. The problem with that approach was that these generators are large, loud, hot and produce significant amounts of exhaust. If they are towed behind a vehicle, they are somewhat unsightly and unwieldy, and if they are mounted inside a service vehicle, they take up a lot of room and can make the internal environment a lot less pleasant for those who have to work around them.
The target audience for our appointment-based mobile tire service included those in residential neighborhoods, people working in offices and anyone else who was interested in the convenience of having a full-fledged tire shop come to them. So, we didn’t think they would want some of the noise, smells, and unsightliness that would come along with an actual retail tire shop.
I’m not sure how we came across Vanair’s Electrified Power Equipment (EPEQ) line, but I knew of the company for their other mobile power solutions. They were also another Indiana-based company, and we liked the idea of potentially working with an advanced manufacturer in our home state.
On paper, or at least on Vanair’s website, the EPEQ System looked almost too good to be true.
From what we could tell, here was an all-electric version of a generator with compressor capabilities and enough power to totally run all the necessary equipment and then some. It was also very compact, so compact it could easily fit in a service van envelope with enough room left over for all the tire service equipment. And, since there was no internal combustion engine involved, there was very little noise and no heat or fumes to contend with. They even called it “Clean, Quiet Power”.
We reached out to Vanair and Chip Jones, their strategic manager - Electrified Products, who came down to Indianapolis to give us a presentation. He explained that the EPEQ product offering included a wide variety of practical, fully-electric mobile power components. Each component in the EPEQ line is purpose-designed and optimized to work within its battery-powered system. The advanced ELiMENT brand lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery contains a one-of-a-kind battery management system that has the ability to discharge power while being charged itself.
Chip explained that Vanair was able to tailor an EPEQ system to meet the needs of virtually any fleet, depending on what the fleet is trying to accomplish: A single-function machine is available, and an “ecosystem” of products can also be configured. This combines exactly the functions needed for a specific fleet’s applications, including providing users in enclosed bodies with access up to 45 CFM of battery-driven air compressor power, with no exhaust fumes, no heat and far less noise than a traditional engine-driven compressor.
Coming up with the perfect fit
We were impressed enough to start seriously exploring the use of the EPEQ system in our mobile tire service concept. We started doing our due diligence on Vanair and the EPEQ.
In the meantime, we began exploring the practical branding and messaging we wanted associated with our service. With the ability to fit both our power source and equipment into a smaller space, we ultimately decided that we could use a van vehicle platform for our service and, in 2021, we chose three Ford Transit 250s. We also came up with “My Pit Crew” as our brand name.
Because, at the time, the EPEQ system was new and we were early adopters, Vanair worked directly with us and our preferred Vanair dealer on the initial upfit of our three vans. I have to say, they have some very smart and proactive people up there in Michigan City, and they literally sketched their ideas out on paper, and we were impressed with what we saw.
We ended up upfitting two of the Transits with the EPEQ and added Level-2 electric vehicle charging capabilities to the third. We opted for the EPEQ AIR20 compressor, which is a 20-cfm, 175-psi unit, and two Vanair ELiMENT 100-amp hour batteries running the compressor.
Vanair supplied all the ancillary components, which are only a small portion of their total offering. In our case, these included 220-volt inverters for the EV charging, 110-volt inverters for computers and other equipment, as well as the shore charger used for overnight charging of the system.
The rubber meets the road
Our stated goal was to make to-your-door tire replacement quick and easy. Today, anyone can browse our tire catalog online, narrow their search based on their vehicle, tire size, or preferred tire brand. Once they know what they want, they can request a quote or schedule with one of our “Crew Members,” or they can make the purchase and schedule the tire replacement online. Then we come to them.
Our vans are beautiful to look at, with well-designed graphics that present My Pit Crew as a professional service organization that can confidently drive into even the most exclusive neighborhood. Once at a customer’s home, place of business or almost anywhere they choose, our technicians can get a vehicle’s tires fully changed in about an hour, and with travel time between runs, can perform about four or five tire changes per day.
Thanks to Vanair’s EPEQ system, most of the work takes place inside the vans. The system quietly powers the tire changers, balancers, and grinders and fills the tires with air and provides more than enough energy to do everything our mobile tire shops need to, with plenty to spare.
Other clubs now are looking seriously at what we’ve done and how we’ve done it, and realize that we’ve got the branding, the POS system, the website, the training and all of the processes in position, including the right technology to power vans. Just two years in we’ve proved the concept, and My Pit Crew is about to really take off.
It isn’t easy starting a new brand from scratch and this initiative certainly wasn’t my first rodeo, but with a lot of elbow grease, a little luck, and the right equipment and systems, we’re on the road to bringing professional mobile tire service to the rest of North America.