The Pandemic Has Ensured Everyone Has Had To Take A Crash Course In Digital Tools. Mechanics Have Been No Exception - Rajeev Radhakrishnan Mechanik TV

Rajeev Radhakrishnan, Founder and CEO of MechaniK TV talks to Siddharth Shankar from BWBusinessworld about his initiative to skill and reskill the automotive aftermarket sector.

Rajeev Radhakrishnan, Founder and CEO of MechaniK TV

The Automobile Service segment has two parts to it, the First being the OEM side, where company authorized service centers operate, here the technicians and mechanics are trained by the OEMs to work on the latest technologies that their vehicles come with. On the other side of the equation is the Aftermarket sector, with roughly 1 Mn independent mechanics in this ecosystem, concentrated in urban and semi-urban pockets across India, servicing crores of bikes, commercial vehicles, tractors, and passenger cars every year, by sourcing parts and consumables from the over 100K parts retailers. The mechanics in the aftermarket ecosystem, often do not get formal training to work on the vehicles, they usually learn the nuances over time working with someone more experienced. The need for skilling and reskilling the aftermarket mechanics is a problem that needs an urgent solution. 

MechaniKTV is one startup that is working in this area, The company focuses on the aftermarket Mechanic fraternity. ThePlatformis India's first and largest independent digital platform for automotive mechanics. This android application is a free-to-use, one-stop-shop for automotive mechanics looking to gain technical knowledge. The mobile app also has troubleshooting videos, industry news & insights, live webinars, new vehicle reviews helping the mechanics gain new skills. 

Rajeev Radhakrishnan, Founder and CEO of MechaniK TV talks to Siddharth Shankar from BWBusinessworld about his initiative to skill and reskill the automotive aftermarket sector. 

Excerpts – 

Skilling and Reskilling of mechanics is a very pertinent issue, Mechanik TV a first-of-its-kind platform, what was the Eureka moment behind this move?

When I co-founded T7E (the parent company of MechaniK TV), it catered to the automotive aftermarket. When we started out, we were purely brand-focused. Today, we have learned to balance better the needs of mechanics and brands. 

Our clients, who are brands in the automotive space, usually come to us looking to solve a go-to-market problem in the automotive aftermarket. It involved working with mechanics and auto-parts retailers to help brands meet their marketing & business goals. 

But as we worked closely with the Mechanic community, we realized that their challenges are far more pressing, and no one is addressing them adequately. Even mobility start-ups in this space focus on convenience for the vehicle-owner but do little for the mechanic community.

We believe that helping the mechanic develop the right skills and get organized will benefit the entire ecosystem. Two of the biggest challenges faced by the mechanic in an independent workshop today are access to regular technical training and on-demand support to troubleshoot faults in their customer’s vehicles. The operative words are “regular” and “on-demand.” 

But, when we realized that the first wave of the pandemic in India will coincide with the switch from BS4 to BS6, we knew that the independent 2-wheeler mechanic needed help more than ever!

One could say that this was our Eureka moment. In April 2020 we launched MechaniK TV, an android application for mechanics that provides technical videos, troubleshooting tips, and industry perspectives, in select Indian languages. 

As early as June 2020, BS6 bikes were coming to the independent workshops. By this time, we had built better reach with the mechanic community. The content on MechaniK TV explaining how to service BS6 bikes was an instant hit amongst the users who went on to become our earliest adopters

After Market industry is huge but an unorganized industry, How can this Automotive Aftermarket be organized?

It is one of the most pertinent questions about the auto-aftermarket. How I wish someone knew the complete answer to that question, though! 

The independent aftermarket certainly has its drawbacks. But we must start by understanding the reasons why multiple generations of vehicle owners have patronized it. It offers them the advantages of low cost, convenience, and personalized attention. Of course, the quality and reliability of service here remain a challenge. That is where the efforts to organize the aftermarket need to focus.

Without a shred of doubt, the first step in this direction would be to provide the mechanic in an independent workshop with ready access to technical training and on-demand access to experts to troubleshoot faults in their customer’s vehicles.

But this is easier said than done! The preferred learning style of most mechanics is experiential, not visual, or aural. Besides, traditional classroom or lab-based training models force the mechanic to choose between the prospect of a better income tomorrow over the certain income he can earn today. Many mechanics are not financially well-placed today to exercise this choice in favor of undergoing the training.

Fortunately, with MechanicK TV they do not have to make this difficult choice. They can get the knowledge and information they need, when they need it, and where they want it. That too in a style that combines theory and practical knowledge in an easy-to-understand style of delivery.

What are the skill training programs that need to be introduced to secure the future of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry? 

A skills training program for the Mechanic community needs to cover technical and non-technical aspects. When it comes to technical areas, it urgently needs to cover electric vehicle technology as well as conventional drivetrain. This is going to be critical because there will be an extended period when we will see both hydrocarbon-fuelled and electric vehicles parked in a workshop. A lot of people in the industry are questioning the relevance of independent workshops in an EV world. Our view is that armed with the right perspective, skills, and enabling associations, they will help drive the penetration of EVs and their servicing. 

When we talk about skills, the owners and chief mechanics of these workshops need support in reorienting their perspective too. When they were learning the ropes of their trade years ago, having knowledge of the mechanical systems in a vehicle was adequate to diagnose, repair and service vehicles. Today, electronic systems govern the mechanical systems in an automobile. So, knowledge of electronic systems, wiring, and sensors is key to be technically relevant in a service bay today for a mechanic. 

But we see too many senior mechanics trying to achieve mastery in the technical aspects of electronics themselves. While a grasp of the fundamentals of auto-electronics is necessary, the mechanic community would benefit more if the owners of these independent workshops focused on learning how to drive business growth, processes and using the right tools for the right jobs. They need to be able to attract talent that is already trained in these areas and give them a good working environment in their workshops. This would in turn attract more talent into the industry and drive its growth.

Making the mechanic community see this is going to be a tough ask. But that’s the challenge that we want to address. 

What does Mechanik TV offer in terms of training? Electric vehicles? Technology in cars etc?

For us our content plan starts with who is consuming our content today. Close to 70% of MechaniK TV users are two-wheeler mechanics. And the rest are mostly car mechanics. About 80% of our users are either owner-mechanics or are the chief-mechanic in their workshop. So, our content is designed to cater to them. 

Technical training is our staple offering to the mechanic community. But we try to go well beyond offering just technical training. Our primary focus today is free technical content on BS6, drivetrain and other latest technologies in two-wheelers and cars. We are working on a BS6 certification course with guidance from the Automotive Skills Development Council (ASDC). We are also starting training for Electric Vehicle technology in Hindi along with a training partner, which will give the participants a solid foundation in the EV ecosystem- across motors, controllers, batteries, and chargers. 

We have a guest speakers session on Mondays, where we talk about topics other than technical or commercial matters too. For instance, we sensed vaccine hesitancy amongst a few of our users. So, a few weeks back we had a veteran doctor come in and interact with them live on video.

How are you reaching out to the people working in the aftermarket industry with the opportunity of learning new skills? 

We realized long back that reaching out to mechanics at scale remains one of the biggest challenges in the industry. We are grappling with similar problems. We are fortunate that due to the unique nature of our offering, we get a lot of organic downloads. 

We had seeded the product initially by using feet on street. We had also reached out to a few influencer mechanics on YouTube to tell their users about our mission. Many of them saw value for their audiences in and supported us in our early days in getting the right audience for our content. 

With the future being electric, do you think reskilling the aftermarket for electric vehicles will help build the EV Ecosystem? 

Oh yes! From our perspective, they should not just be reskilled for EV technologies. They can play a key role in the rapid adoption of EVs. Especially in cities, where a major chunk of two-wheelers bought will either be additions to the two-wheeler fleet in the household or a replacement of an old 2-wheeler. Here, the advocacy for electric vehicles by mechanics and the assurance that the neighborhood workshop can also fix issues with EV batteries, battery management systems, and chargers will go a long way in penetration of EVs.

The earliest adopters of electric vehicles are going to be hyper local delivery services and last mile logistics, providers. There are EV manufacturers who are already actively seeking out suitable independent workshops to be a part of their service network.

Any collaborations with OEMs, supplying their repair manuals for mechanics in the aftermarket?

We would love to collaborate with OEMs to cascade their training efforts down to our users. Our users are in fact encouraging us to tie up with OEMs. OEMs spend crores of rupees training the independent aftermarket mechanics. MechaniK TV could save them a lot of effort and spends if they choose to partner with us. 

As a platform, we are ready to support certification courses. There are a few conversations in the pipeline, but it is early days to make any announcements. 

What kind of traction did you see during the pandemic?

The pandemic has ensured everyone has had to take a crash course in digital tools. Mechanics have been no exception! We feel mechanics today are much more open to adopting digital learning tools than they were pre-pandemic. Lockdown-1 also gave mechanics free time that many of them were looking to gainfully use. MechaniK TV could not have found a better time to launch, actually!

What are your future plans, expansions, funding? 

Today we offer content to both two-wheeler and car mechanics. That we will continue to do. But independent workshops across the country are our big focus.  We want to reskill and organize one lakh independent workshops. This vision has the power to impact the entire aftermarket. 

We are raising capital to fund the efforts to turn this vision into reality. If we get it right, the impact we will create is to make the life of a mechanic easier and better. We would have helped them find their rightful place in society and feel proud of the work they do. Like us, a mechanic too would be proud to have his child follow him into his profession. 

What is the future of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry in India?

The automotive aftermarket is going through turbulent times, but a few trends in the industry are evident.

The electric vehicle era is finally here. For a long time, they will co-exist with conventional vehicles. In the early days, the low operating cost of EVs is making hyperlocal deliveries and last-mile connectivity their most popular use case!

For the mechanic, this is good news. Because commercial EV manufacturers will be able to better back up their products’ go-anywhere capability by giving their customers the assurance of a well-trained network of workshops rather than insisting that they get serviced only at authorized workshops. The training the mechanic community receives for servicing and repairing electric commercial vehicles will stand them in good stead when electric 2-wheelers and cars hit critical mass. 

It is too early to write off hydrocarbon-fuelled vehicles. Petrol and diesel-powered vehicles are likely to move farther away from urban pockets. Creating a reliable and capable service network for them will require some out-of-the-box thinking. 

The aftermarket today is shedding some of its old-school images and is comfortable with going digital. I see a lot of business models disintermediating and going direct to workshop or direct-to-consumer. This will grow soon and will have a far-reaching impact on how and where consumers spend on the upkeep of their vehicles. 

We also see greater collaboration between auto-brands and independent workshops. This will be a key enabler in navigating the transitionary period that the industry is going through. We see an opportunity for MechaniK TV to play a material role in these changing times. 



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