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AutoTrancTech: 15 years on the rise

Alexey Khresin Alexey Khresin
Journalist, AutoTransTech company, Moscow

2017 год, семинар в Москве

In the late 1990s, there were almost no specialists capable of repairing automatic transmissions. There were enthusiast engineers, handy craftsmen, and progressive-thinking car-care center owners perplexed with the new customer needs.   Any subject-related information was nowhere to be found, technical manuals were hardly available, and repair technologies were unknown.  However, vehicles with automatic transmissions had already appeared in the country, and their number grew exponentially in comparison with the Soviet era.  Before the customs duties were increased dramatically, a lot of American cars had already been imported. These vehicles quickly became popular among Russian businessmen.  Japanese and European cars also flooded Russian market. Most of those vehicles had automatic transmission.  New cars made modest sales because the ruble exchange rate was too low.  Few people could afford to service their vehicles at authorized dealers. While engines and other assembly units could be explored by drawing parallels with similar designs, automated transmissions were only known to the USSR specialists working with rare vehicles rather than widely popular ZIL and “Chaika” cars.  Hence, car-care centers had to rely on insight.  Every specialist was reinventing the wheel their own way. 

By that time, MIMS that started as a motor show was gradually transforming into the Russia’s largest international-level exhibition focused on car-care services. However, as it often happens at such large-scale events, even specialists sometimes had difficulties in navigating themselves to find the required information.

It became evident that the professional community needed educational seminars allowing transmission repair specialists to study various repair technologies, get acquainted with cutting-edge equipment, exchange and share experience, and discuss the technical questions that stored up.

Foreign Experience

In the early spring of 2004 Hans de Boer, a business partner of Vyacheslav Bakalov, invited him to a seminar for transmission servicing specialists that was held in England. Vyacheslav remembers, “I went there in order to find new suppliers but was captivated by the idea itself as a result”. It impressed him how many people such events involved.  They were exchanging unique technical knowledge that was so difficult to find in Russia since there were no relevant sources at that moment.  It was no surprise that such information was unavailable in Russian, as specialists were scarce too. However, it was not available in English either, since the Internet was only starting its development then while books and reference materials were difficult to find, whether as hard or soft copies. A lot of information could be obtained via the American ATSG (Automated Transmission Service Group) organization. However, you had to become its member and pay the annual membership fees of 300-400 USD.   “At the seminar held on March 2004, I delved deeply into the world of repairing automatic transmissions for the first time in my life”, says Vyacheslav. “Here, I was introduced to the representatives of Sussex and Hydra-Test companies, I had my first encounters with Bill Haney, Wayne Colonna, and many other expert specialists who later gave speeches at our “AutoTransTech” seminars.  Then I took part in the US-based seminar in 2004, the seminar in Australia, and so on. The experience grew as years went by”.

2008 year. Alan Smith testing a control plate.

2008 year. Alan Smith testing a control plate.

Being impressed with what he saw, Vyacheslav immediately felt the intention to organize a similar event for specialists from Russia and CIS countries.  Without further ado, Vyacheslav united his forces with Sergey Arkhipenko, the owner of the Ukrainian transmission servicing center UTC, who also participated in the seminar in England. Almost immediately, they agreed to organize an event like this in Kyiv in May 2004.  This seminar did not attract a lot of people since there were only ten visitors. However, a solid foundation for the future was laid that day.

Shaping the Format

The first seminar “Design, repair works, and diagnostics of automatic transmissions” took part in August 2005 on the premises of the World Trade center in Moscow.   It was organized within the scope of the ninth Moscow MIMS event that was undergoing the transformation into an exhibition of automotive spare parts, components, and repair equipment at that moment.  The seminar was organized by the Russian TransParts company and the British HELC Group. The first participants of the seminar attracting 34 visitors total were specialists from various cities of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.  Almost all of them soon became transmission industry experts and regulars of “AutoTransTech” seminars.  Four or five experts including Holger Frauschtein (Newco Autoline), Bill Henney (HELC Group), and Alan Gadd (Sussex Auto Parts) delivered lectures to these audience. Lecturer speeches were accompanied by simultaneous interpretation.

The first team of AutoTransTech in 2005.

The first team of AutoTransTech in 2005.

The outcomes of the event demonstrated that such seminars are be demanded by specialists. However, they also revealed the drawbacks of this format. It was evident that a single day was insufficient for providing adequate communication opportunities. Also, theoretical part had to be accompanied by practical activities.   Moreover, the seminar had to become a regular independent event, not a point in the agenda of a large-scale exhibition.

The second seminar was organized a year later at the “Olympiets” center for international cooperation located in the most picturesque area of the Moscow region.   The seminar was divided into two parts.   The first day included lectures while the second day was focused on practical exercises held on the premises of the car-care center owned by the “TAHOE Transmission” company.  Its head, Oleg Ratnikov, provided this opportunity, which has contributed to the prestige of the seminar since “Takho Transmission” was one of the most reputable companies in the industry at that moment.  Besides, that seminar offered an opportunity to purchase technical literature, reference materials, and repair manuals in both printed and electronic formats for the first time.  The seminar agenda was complemented by a business party that has become a tradition since then. This is a highly effective method of establishing rapport between seminar participants and its organizers.  Starting with 2006, certificates were given to all event participants.

2008 year. The second exhibition of spare parts.

2008 year. The second exhibition of spare parts.

This formed the format of these seminars as a convenient and attractive place allowing visitors to combine recreation with productive work, offering the lectures by both foreign and Russian specialists, combining lectures with practical exercises, and presenting new products and solutions. 

In 2007, the autotranstech.ru portal was launched where users could learn more about the event details and sign up for them as future participants.  For the first time, an exhibition of spare parts and equipment was held during the seminar. 

2005. Holger Fraushtein

2005. Holger Fraushtein

Ten years ago, in 2009, AutoTransTech held its own “Automatic Transmission  Territory” exhibition within the scope of MIMS.   This format proved to be highly demanded since one of the primary goals of this exhibition is to allow expert specialists to study new market offerings within the scope of a limited and space-effective area and purchase them if they need to.  Here they can also communicate with the suppliers of spare parts and instruments directly, tell them about their issues and needs, and inform them about the elements that were required or unnecessary.  All market members from “both sides of the counter” find it extremely important to transfer feedback from customers to suppliers and manufacturers”.

Expanding the Horizons

From 2015 onwards, seminars became more frequent. In addition to the Moscow seminar held in August, the organizers also held an additional spring one (usually in April) and autumn one in the late November or early December.  While the autumn seminar is usually held in one of the Russian cities, the spring one was moved beyond the borders of the Russian Federation.
2015 year. Foreign partners.

2015 year. Foreign partners.

Offsite seminars are held in the most beautiful parts of Russia and the world to combine education and communication with colleagues with sightseeing. This creates a synergy of practical benefits and entertainment. 

Seminars were held in Kazan, Minsk, Sochi, Saint Petersburg, Yalta, Chisinau, the Caucasian Mineralnye Vody, Astana, and Belgorod.  Last spring the seminar was held in Prague, the very heart of Europe. The choice of seminar locations depends on the requests of their participants. 

In the nearest future, participants can visit events at Ekaterinburg and Baku. 

“Holding seminars abroad is extremely useful from the standpoint of getting acquainted with the international markets. They allow us to see how our colleagues in other countries organize their work, how they perform repair works, what unique technologies and solutions they apply, how they perform quality control, what instruments and equipment they use. Everyone has their own way of doing the same job.  This format is equally interesting for domestic experts and foreign participants coming to Russia to join the seminars”, explained the chief manager of “AutoTransTech” Irina Bakalova. 

Besides, the foreign seminars of “AutoTransTech” offer an opportunity to visit specialized enterprises located near the venue, which has also become a tradition. 

Last spring, the agenda of Prague seminar included a visit to a local Suvik car-care center and a tour to the German-based LuK Schaeffler plant. “The participants loved this format so much that we are planning to organize a dedicated tour of similar facilities in the US in the nearest future”, Irina says. “And one more thing: these foreign seminars allow participants to visit them with their families. They can educate and recreate at the same time since they have a rare opportunity to visit the places they would not go to normally.   Our combination of technical and cultural elements within the same event allowed us to be several years ahead of the Bleisure (*) format of events that is highly popular now”.

Starting with 2007, it was possible to find the information about new transmission models at our events before similar information was provided at European and US seminars.  “We had special agreements with such renowned experts as Bill Haney and Wayne Colonna (ATSG) to deliver their first lectures about new products and services at our events”, Vyacheslav recollects.  For example, the participants of “AutoTransTech” events learned about AW50-55E earlier than their European colleagues. The lecture on DSG250 was delivered during our 2007 seminar, a lecture on 722.9 was delivered in 2008 while a lecture about the JF016/017 variator was given in 2011. Wayne Colonna told us about JF011 in Moscow before his book was published in the US.   Russian lecturers keep pace with their foreign colleagues and one of the best lectures were made by the representatives of the “Agregatka” company from Kazan.  “Without excessive modesty, it is possible to state that first lectures on such transmission models as Mercedes Benz 724.0 (7G-DCT), General Motors 6T40, Jatco JF414, SsangYong BTR DSI-6 M11, and Jatco JF016E and JF017E variators were delivered at “AutoTransTech” seminars”, Vyacheslav says proudly. Over time, this became a trademark feature of these seminars that made “AutoTransTech” widely recognized among transmission specialists. Articles about our events were written by such well-known professional magazines as Gears Magazine, Rematec News, Transmission Digest, World Remain, and many others.  Russian seminars cannot compete with the US ATRA yet, but we are steadily advancing in the right direction”, Vyacheslav says. 

Presentation of AKPPro magazine in 2016.

Presentation of AKPPro magazine in 2016.

Number of Participants Keeps Growing

While the first seminar held 15 years ago was visited by 34 participants, recent “AutoTransTech” events involved on average 200 people each, with the total number of people who have visited its seminars at least once exceeding 700 individuals. As many as 26 countries were represented at these events. The are a few devotees who have not missed a single event and many regulars who took part in 13-14 seminars. In the years to come, the “AutoTransTech” seminars are expected to involve 300-400 people, which is comparable with other global events in the same industry. Similar events in Mexico attract 1000-1200 participants, in Australia 600-800 participants, and in the US, where this format originates from, the major event held each November attracts more than 500 participants..

Fence sitters wanted

In the nearest future, “AutoTransTech” is planning to embrace new event formats including roadshows and webinars.  This, however, poses a problem as in the West such webinars are usually organized by independent researchers while there are no such experts in Russia as of now.  “I would like to hope that such disinterested experts will appear in our country with the creation of the Association that we have been working on for several years already”, Vyacheslav notes.  This Association is supposed unite Russian transmission manufacturers to provide comprehensive legal, technical, and advertising support.  However, its main goal is to develop common requirements to form a civilized market and establish proper relations between companies.  With Russia launching the production of automatic transmissions of proprietary designs for the first time while a few relatively large enterprises for restoring automatic transmissions with the continuous repair technology are underway, there is a growing need for an organization combining both the technical information and the experience accumulated throughout the years. 

Besides, the ongoing decline in the transmission repair market that is going to become even more severe in accordance with even the most optimistic year-end predictions, the consolidation of market members into an Association may allow them to survive these hard times by optimizing the expenses. We are trying to promote this idea to all market members through various channels including the “AKPPro” magazine.  It can be said that this magazine is laying the foundation for the creation of the Association and serves as its voice.  

“I am sure that the Association will emerge in the nearest future because the main outcome of the previous 15 years is more than just successful organization of seminars and exhibitions or the creation of this magazine.  These are merely instruments for implementing the key objective, namely to coach people how to communicate, trust and help each other, and share the accumulated experience”, Vyacheslav said to summarize the outcome of 15 years of work. 

Why the 15th?

Overall, within the 15 years of work, 24 “AutoTransTech” seminars were organized in 11 cities including Moscow. 

The first 10 seminars were held in Moscow once a year. In 2015, it was decided to organize as many as 4 events a year, which raised the question of numbering. “We decided to keep the numbering only for the Moscow seminars and name other ones in accordance with the venue location. For example, we have the Kazan, Crimean, Saint Petersburg seminars now”, Irina Bakalova explained. “Probably, if we decide to come to the same city where a seminar has already been held, we will call them the second Minsk seminar or the second Prague seminar”.