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TWO years ago, the industry disappeared but, behind the scenes, Autocare Services is operating its own conversion operation in Port Melbourne, adding features to various models and performing specialist fleet fit-out of vans for dealers, fleet operators and OEMs.

One of these services is the conversion of the Toyota HiLux Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X range.

Autocare Services, which delivers to dealers more than half the million-plus cars that arrive by ship each year, puts the finishing touches on all manner of vehicles where local flexibility is required to fit competitive features to vehicles that high-volume assembly lines find difficult to handle. 

Emilio Suarez, Toyota Conversion Operations Supervisor (left) and Chris Lee, Toyota Conversions Plant Manager

By reserving the installation of special equipment to the last minute before shipping to the dealer or direct to the customer, OEMs are able to manage the customisation of premium offerings more closely and react more quickly to local market competitive conditions.

One great advantage is that the vehicles are already in Autocare Services’ holding yards so these important modifications are able to be done, in effect, on the spot without any additional transport handling before being shipped in the normal manner to dealers, fleet buyers or OEMs.

The HiLux conversion operation is located at the Autocare Services vehicle receiving operation beside the vehicle wharf at the mouth of the Yarra River.

Michael Feltscheer, the national accounts manager at Autocare Services, told GoAutoNews Premium that OEMs like Toyota have identified that both the manufacturing skill and engineering capability left behind from the closure of the automotive industry have created an excellent opportunity to utilise this know-how with products like the HiLux project and set up a conversion operation to try and capture this higher end of the market.

“So that is how it came about. Being their incumbent logistics provider, they enquired about our ability to perform these tasks and essentially offer the infrastructure in terms of the site and the equipment and the set-up,” Mr Feltscheer said.

“Some of the relevant equipment was transferred to Autocare and even some of the ex-OEM employees who found themselves redundant applied and were successful at becoming Autocare employees. These guys were able to utilise their knowledge and help us build up a knowledge base.

“They are now working for us installing accessories on various models.”

The Toyota HiLux project consists of both removing and installing a number of components. For example, resin bumper to bullbars. Various versions get side steps, rock rails, a functional sports bar that is rated to carry loads that is drilled into the tub of the vehicle, a heavy-duty rear step, driving lights incorporated into the bullbar, snorkel, decals and badging.

The company has the capacity to convert 25 cars a day and recently performed its 6000th conversion. The modified vehicles all come into Melbourne and are then shipped around the country for delivery to dealers.

Mr Feltscheer said that Autocare Services was already working with other OEM clients on complex engineering treatments to imported vehicles and that the company’s experience was a factor in winning the HiLux project.

“We do extensive work for other customers involving a high degree of technical skill and therefore these customers place trust in us to do the work properly and to factory standard,” Mr Feltscheer said.

“We were able to show that we had the skills and knowledge and the track record to perform the work.

“The mantra of all those involved in the Toyota conversion program is ‘quality, quality, quality’ and it is no coincidence that most of those involved have been subject to Toyota training and the Toyota culture through past employment at Toyota,” he said.

By John Mellor

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