7.1 Our next call was the automotive workshop.
7.2 At first sight, the workshop appears very much the same as any other large, efficient, well-equipped workshop. There is the usual division into mechanical and electrical sections, battery bank charging facilities for cars parked along the outside wall, hydraulic hoist with uplights, tuning and testing equipment for petrol and electric motors. There are three jobs in progress on the shop floor: one petrol engine is on an engine stand and is partially stripped down, the owner having maintained mobility by driving away in the electric mode, thereby avoiding cluttering up the workshop with another unnecessary car body; one car is in the electric test bay undergoing electrical traction testing; and one is on the wheel alignment machine.
7.3 The mechanic has two apprentices and judging by the lack of talk and the deft handling of tools and parts, considerable teamwork exists between the trio.
7.4 The mechanic recognised us as outsiders and stopped work for a short time to talk to us: "This is predominantly a maintenance shop for basic transport," he said. "Only the partners’ cars are serviced here. We are too specialised and haven’t the people to do any outside work. Even a partner’s entitlement is limited to one standard Partnership car. Partners with two or more cars have to have all but one serviced outside, and if they are not content with a standard car, they have to have them all serviced outside."
7.5 "This doesn’t allow much consumer choice," I said. "There is a much larger range of cars on the market than you are prepared to service - is that fair?"
7.6 "For most partners, after their investment in The Partnership, the two most costly consumer purchases in their life are their house and their car. We reduce to the necessary minimum the expense of the latter and there is no way we can achieve this with three people without standardisation. Whenever a partner needs another car, because their old one is uneconomic to repair, one of us goes with them while they make their selection to offer advice and help - if we make a mistake we soon get to know about it! All the partners’ cars that are serviced here are second hand: we choose from two or three makes that have interchangeable components then modify here in the workshop to the standard Partnership car. We have developed a smooth routine: after the original petrol engine wears out, we replace it with a new or reconditioned one; usually the electric traction motors last the life of the car, but occasionally an armature requires rewinding and we have the capacity to do this here; no panel beating or spray painting is undertaken since panels are bought in pre-painted and the body is scrapped if it has major structural damage. Our achievement is the provision of properly maintained basic transport for each partner, at a price that is the envy of the trade."
7.7 We thanked the mechanic for his time, looked at the guide on the back of our invitation for the next place to see, and decided on the medical section in the main office block.
Go to next chapter.
From The Partnership, by Graeme Doel.
Converted to HTML by Simon Grant, 2003.