Lowell’s School Tools

Lowell's is pleased to release School Tools, which is a companion guide to the Bluegrass Vehicle ReportSchool Tools is designed to help teachers, parents, and students develop their own interesting real-world insights about cars in the Bluegrass.  Along the way, they will engage their skills in research, creativity, and applied mathematics.

The School Tools guide is meant as a starting point – please adapt it to your particular needs and the particular aptitudes of your students. 

School Tools is free to teachers, parents, and the general public.  All we ask is that you give us suggestions for making it better, and that you share your stories about how you used School Tools.  We can't wait to see what you do with it!

Or, you can download a PDF of School Tools 2009 (5804.0K)

[where: 111 Mechanic St, Lexington, KY 40507]

Toyota is #1. And will stay there.

In 2008, Toyota became the largest carmaker in the world, producing nearly 9 million vehicles.  Toyota surpassed General Motors, who had held that title for 77 years, by over 600,000 vehicles.

As Toyota specialists, we're pleased.  As lifelong fans of GM, we're also a little sad.

Both manufacturers downplayed the significance of Toyota's ascension to the top of the sales charts, which is the culmination of a decades-long steady climb by Toyota and a precipitous drops by GM, especially in the past year.

While GM executives are optimistic about a return to the top spot, the Lowell's Corporate Office of Fearless Predictions says that won't happen.  Toyota will remain #1 for the next 20 years or more.

As we've noted before, GM and the other Detroit automakers have structural disadvantages in their business design relative to Japanese automakers which their executives have been either unwilling or unable to decisively address.

Meanwhile, Toyota has historically invested in new technologies and new capabilities long before the market demanded them, and stood ready to take advantage of sudden shifts in market demand.

Toyota isn't always right — they released their huge 2008 Tundra and Sequoia models right into the teeth of $4 gas — but they almost always put themselves in position to be right.  With gas prices lower, their big models may get some traction, especially against similar GM, Ford, and Dodge models.  When gas prices shoot back up, they can rely on the Prius and their other hybrid models to continue their market gains.

Toyota consistently makes collections of bets which advantage the company relative to its competitors.  When those bets don't work out (witness the Tundra), the Detroit 3 suffers more than Toyota (witness the sudden implosion of Detroit's truck-heavy business).  And the other bets Toyota makes (like hybrid, solar, and electric vehicle techologies) more than compensate for the ones that don't succeed.

That's why Toyota will stay in the top spot.

Lowell’s is underwriting WUKY

Once in a while, we get a chance to do something which does good for our community while also doing well for ourselves. 

We've found such an opportunity with public radio.  We've long admired the quality reporting and programming of National Public Radio and our local public radio stations. 

So we are pleased to announce that Lowell's is the newest underwriter for WUKY 91.3 FM, public radio at the University of Kentucky.  Our first of many underwriting announcements (kind of like an ad spot) will run at 7:09 AM on Morning Edition.  Other announcements will run on All Things Considered, Marketplace, and (a personal favorite) Car Talk.  (You might remember our post a few weeks ago about Lowell's on Car Talk.)

We are also proud to announce that Lowell's is the first underwriter of WUKY's HD Radio programming.  WUKY is the first station in Lexington to offer HD programming, and has 3 separate HD broadcasts which you can hear with an HD radio, or via webstream:

  • WUKY Main: WUKY's usual mix of news and adult rock, which can also be heard at 91.3 FM on standard radios or over an internet connection here.
  • WUKY HD-2 ("Wookie 2"): Adult rock 24/7, with a webstream here.
  • WUKY HD-3 ("Wookie 3"): All news all the time, including many NPR and BBC programs not formerly available in Lexington: Talk of the Nation, Day to Day, Diane Rehm, and other news, with a webstream here.  (As a news junkie, I'm often camped out at the WUKY 3 webstream…)

We are proud to sponsor listener-supported public radio.  Please listen with us!

Toyota developing a solar car?

In another example of Toyota's consistent ability to anticipate the future and develop for it, the Nikkei is reporting that Toyota has a completely solar-powered car in the works. 

This follows similar reports in July showing spy photos of a next-generation 2010 Prius which would help power its hybrid engine with solar panels.

Toyota already exemplifies how a relentlessly innovative company can come to dominate its industry.  It appears poised to continue that domination for a while.

Looking forward

What will we be doing at Lowell's in 2009?  In no particular order, here's some of what we'll be working on:

  • Being the best.  We will continue to try to be the best place for automotive service in Kentucky.  We know we won't always be perfect, but we will keep striving…
  • Reaching out to customers.  We want to know what we are doing that works and doesn't work for our customers.  We'll be developing little ways for you to help us get better.  (Feel free to give us feedback in the comments section below!)
  • Blogging.  We're going to continue to talk about cars, business, and life here at the Under the Hood blog.  We've gotten good feedback — not as much as we'd like, but good nonetheless — about our posts, and we'll continue to use the blog as a platform to keep you updated about Lowell's.
  • Raising our profile.  Surprisingly, much of Lexington still doesn't
    know about Lowell's yet.  We'll be trying some creative ways to get the
    word out.  You'll hear more about them soon.
  • Improving the website.  We redesigned the Lowell's website in November, but still have a lot of improvements we'd like to make.  Look for those over the next few months.
  • A community project.  We've had an idea for a big community project brewing for a while.  We'll keep it under wraps for now, but keep an eye out for it in February.

[where: 111 Mechanic St, Lexington, KY 40507]

Looking back

As the calendar gets ready to flip to 2009, it is natural to reflect a bit on 2008.

The past year has been eventful one for Suzanne and I.  I "retired" from Lexmark after nearly 14 years (I walked off the campus for the last time in November 2007, but my official departure was in February), while talking with Lowell and Betty about buying Lowell's.  After many twists and turns, we completed the purchase of Lowell's at the beginning of July.

Pleasantly Surprised
And it turned out better than we imagined: Employees, customers, and Lowell and Betty have all embraced us as the new owners of the business they built over the past 29 years. 

All of our employees have stayed with us after the ownership change.  Their knowledge, expertise, and patience were enormously helpful to me as I drank from the firehose to learn about Lowell's.  I've been able to focus on the financial and technical details of the business, while they continue to run day-to-day operations. 

I initially worried that customers might leave after Lowell and Betty retired.  I shouldn't have.  Our customers have been wonderful to us — it is clear that they want the business to continue to live up to its great reputation. 

Lowell and Betty have also been exceptionally generous with their time and insights after the purchase.  Their openness and honesty were a big part of our decision to buy Lowell's.  They still come in each week to help me with questions, issues, and much-appreciated advice.

Even as the economy crumbled and business slowed, the commitment of our employees and customers has kept us relatively healthy as we see other businesses struggle.

Disappointments
We had a couple of disappointments this year.

The first was that one of our technicians broke his ankle in a mountain biking accident in late October.  As a result, he has been unable to work on cars for a couple of months, and still has a couple of months more left on his recovery.  We've been working with him to find "non-vehicular" ways he can help us from home, and he has started calling customers to follow up on the quality of our service.  We've also asked him to study to improve his technical skills and increase his certification level.  But we still miss his repair contribution, and we eagerly look forward to his return near the end of February.

The second was that both ACE Weekly and the Lexington Herald-Leader dropped the automotive service category from their annual readers' polls.

  • After having won ACE's Best in Lex poll for "Best Mechanic" 7 times – including 2007 – ACE's editors decided to "retire" the category in 2008.
  • And after winning our second Herald-Leader's Readers' Choice Award for "Best Repair Shop" in 2007, the category disappeared from the 2008 poll (We do, however, appreciate the nice write-ups this year from Herald-Leader business columnist Jim Jordan).

Over the years, these polls — coupled with the enthusiasm and loyalty of our customers — have helped us create enough credibility to attract new customers and continue to grow.  So, we were sorry to see them go, and hope that "automotive service" might make a return appearance in 2009.

A Great Year
All in all, 2008 was a pretty great year for us: we finally owned our own business — and it was a good one — and we were able to work with and serve fantastic people.  Who could ask for more?

[where: 111 Mechanic St, Lexington, KY 40507]

A decade of comments on Car Talk

We have long enjoyed listening to Car Talk on NPR on the weekends.  Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the brothers who host the show, are very funny and informative. 

Until recently, we didn't realize that Car Talk had a rating and comment section on their website which prominently features Lowell's.  You can see what customers have said about us (mostly good!) over the past 10 years.

As always, we are deeply appreciative of support from our customers and community.  Thank you, and please let us know how we can do better!

[where: 111 Mechanic St, Lexington, KY 40507]

Why we specialize in Toyota (and Lexus and Scion)

When Suzanne and I bought Lowell's back in July, a lot of our friends and family wondered why the business focused exclusively on Toyota brands (Toyota, Lexus, and Scion).  There are historical reasons, but there are also significant benefits to our customers.

At first, specializing in one brand seems like a very limiting choice, since only a fraction of the cars on the road are Toyotas.  Why not serve the whole market?

There are three basic reasons we specialize:

  1. It makes us better.  With cars becoming more and more complex, keeping detailed knowledge of the unique properties of all of the brands becomes impossible.  By getting specialized training for Toyota, we're better able to recognize problems unique to Toyota vehicles.
  2. It makes us faster.  Our specialized knowledge lets us diagnose and repair problems faster than a multi-brand repair shop can.  We also stock a variety of original Toyota parts so that we can perform most maintenance or repair in the same day as the vehicle came in.
  3. It makes us more affordable.  Servicing today's more complicated vehicles requires very specific parts and equipment, which is costly to keep across multiple brands.  By focusing exclusively on Toyota, we can keep our inventories smaller and our equipment more up-to-date.  These lower costs help us keep prices lower.

Finally, this combination of better, faster, and more affordable reinforces itself: When we have deeper expertise, we provide superior service faster, which helps us keep costs (ours and yours) lower.

[where: 111 Mechanic St, Lexington, KY 40507]

Lowell’s South?

Occasionally, we'll come across a fan of Lowell's in the most unusual places.  We found a really great endorsement from a former customer in Orlando on this forum.  Here is an excerpt:

One thing I miss about my previous town 8 years ago was a place called Lowell's Toyota in Lexington KY. They had to be the best mechanic shop I ever came across…. I'm in search of a mechanic shop that is 20% as good as Lowell's if not better. Yes I do mean 20%.

Twenty percent as good?  Maybe it is time to open a Florida branch of Lowell's.  (Yes, I'm kidding.  We're happy right where we are.)

[where: Orlando, FL]