John Cabaniss: To Serve & Repair


by Bob Chabot, ManicMedia

John Cabaniss shares highpoints and insights about NASTF’s past, present and future in this November 2014 interview by Bob Chabot, ManicMedia.

John Cabaniss, one of the National Automotive Service Task Force’s (NASTF) founding members in his role as the Association of Global Automakers’ Director for Environment and Energy, has retired from the automaker association. At this watershed moment, John says he plans to continue participating in the NASTF, as well as volunteering his time and effort for causes and initiatives he believes in.

Because John was instrumental in forming the NASTF in 2000, served as its Chairman from 2000 to 2005, and in other capacities since, this moment provided an opportunity for me, his cohort on the NASTF Communications Committee, to interview him and ask him to share insights and observations he feels could serve as a compass for members of the NASTF — past, present and future.

“This is great timing for me,” he shared. “I have actually been thinking about some of this for the past few weeks — not all of it, of course, but particularly the ‘where do we go from here’ aspect. Specifically, how should I focus my time and effort to add value to the members of the NASTF and the industry?” Let’s see what John had to share.

In your own words, why did you first get involved with the NASTF? What kept you involved from then through today?

John Cabaniss: I have always been a car guy.  My Dad and my Granddad ran small auto shops when I was growing up. I was a “helper” around these shops. By the time I was 15, I was working after school, weekends and summers in auto shops and gas stations. After college in the early 1970s, I went to work for the State of Virginia working on air pollution programs, and a few years later we were engaged in developing and implementing a vehicle emissions inspection/maintenance program in Virginia. 

Soon after in 1980, I went to work for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) working on the national Inspection/Maintenance (I/M) programs. The core of these programs is proper emissions service and repair and involved working closely with the service industry as well as state agencies across the country. Then came the OBD programs; once again I was involved in working on issues with the service industry. In 1995, I moved from EPA to work for the auto association. One of the important issues at that time was the EPA’s, and then later the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB), development of service information regulations. 

These changes were all related to the dynamic nature of changing vehicle technology and demonstrated the growing need for the industry stakeholders to establish an open forum for discussion of issues and finding mutually acceptable solutions. One early success was a stakeholder forum that resulted from a service information access bill in Arizona in 1998. In Arizona, stakeholders met for two years, exchanged valuable information, and helped guide us toward solutions that could work for automakers and the service industry alike. 

That Arizona effort ended in the spring of 2000. But it occurred to me that we needed to continue the dialogue at the national level involving many of the same stakeholders as in Arizona and bringing others into the dialogue. The result was the NASTF being formed as a voluntary work group effort in November of 2000. Over the years since, while the working details have changed, the overall need and mission has remained the same and even expanded. These needs remain, and while NASTF is not perfect, it still provides a valuable forum for dialogue and solutions.

How will you be involved with the NASTF in the months ahead following your recent retirement?

John Cabaniss: I plan to continue to serve on the NASTF Board of Directors for the time being.  In addition, I plan to stay on as a co-chair of the Communications Committee. I believe NASTF is on the verge of making a significant leap in its growth, and I hope to be part of helping make that happen. Interestingly, at the same time I believe NASTF is also in a very vulnerable position, so it is important to carefully consider our next steps.  It seems to me that it is the perfect time for all stakeholders to consider or remind themselves why NASTF is important to them.

For automakers, NASTF has been and remains an important forum for ensuring equal access to information, training and tools for all service providers.  It enables them to ensure that their customers get the most value from their current vehicles no matter where they get service, and it will promote brand loyalty and bring them back to their dealers for the next purchase. Beyond that, it is smart business for other reasons, especially in providing the ability to sell more parts, tools and services to shops and technicians.  Finally, NASTF provides an important link for manufacturers to demonstrate good faith and compliance with EPA and CARB regulatory programs for service information and for the California key code access requirements. 

For shops and technicians, NASTF provides a forum for direct interaction and dialogue with automakers on a range of service topics, including access to service information, tools, training information and other services. Maintaining this open dialogue is important for the future, too. The auto industry remains one of the most dynamic sectors of our economy. We are continually facing new technologies and having to adapt to a changing landscape. Vehicles and the way they are serviced, diagnosed, and repaired will continue to change, and there will always be important service issues to be addressed.  NASTF as an open nonpolitical forum can benefit this process, and it benefits all stakeholders to recognize this, stay engaged in NASTF, participate in its committees and activities, and continue to promote NASTF to all of their friends, colleagues and constituents.

What do you consider to be the most satisfying successes during your time serving NASTF?

John Cabaniss: There are many successes, but let me share three of them. First, in the 2002-2003 time frame, all the major automakers launched service information websites to provide equal and timely access to all service information for all service providers. This made it possible for all service technicians to directly access factory information for service and training as well as purchasing factory tools where needed. These websites have continued to be improved over the years based on new advances and feedback from users. That process for continual improvement continues today.

Another milestone occurred in 2006:  the formalization of NASTF into a not-for-profit organization with staff to help support our efforts. As part of this process, we established a Board of Directors that has representatives from all sectors of the service industry – shops, technicians, automakers, trainers, tool providers, parts suppliers, information providers, locksmiths, etc.  Everyone is welcome to participate and encouraged to do so.  Since then NASTF has continued to grow.

Then during 2008 and 2009, NASTF developed and launched the Secure Data Release Model and the Registry of Security Professionals. This program has been the most significant NASTF success to date. The numberof Registrants continuesto grow, and the number of security data transactions has shown dramatic growth year over year, now handling hundreds of thousands of security data transactions each year. The National Insurance Crime Bureau carefully scrutinizes all of these activities, which ensures that these transactions are done not only in ways to ensure that security is not compromised, but also in ways to add extra measures of security at the same time.

From a S.W.O.T. perspective (strength-weakness-opportunity-threat), please share how you currently view the NASTF?

John Cabaniss: While there are certainly other attributes, here’s one observation for each.

• One NASTF Strength — All industry stakeholders are represented on the NASTF Board.
• One Weakness — Staff and financial resources limited.
• One Opportunity for NASTF — Now is the time to refocus and redouble our efforts on continuing NASTF’s success.
• One Threat to NASTF— Complacency is a threat. We need active engagement of all stakeholders.

You co-chair the Communications Committee. Which of its initiatives are you most proud of?

John Cabaniss: Due to limited resources, most NASTF activities have been hamstrung at best. But despite that, through volunteer efforts, we have been able to continue to make progress. One bright spot has been our NASTF newsletters. For several years were have been able to provide professional quality NASTF information to stakeholders. Initially, these were quarterly newsletters; more recently, we have moved to shorter, monthly newsletters. But thanks to volunteers as well as the able assistance of Skip Potter, our NASTF Executive Director, we continue to get the news out to NASTF participants.

Another bright spot on the Communications side is the NASTF website. In the past two years, the website has been improved and expanded. Of course, we continue to look for ways to improve the content as well as the functionality of the website.

A current and ongoing initiative is the proposed marketing plan to raise awareness and recognition of NASTF and the benefits it provides to the service industry. I personally believe this effort is long overdue. I believe it’s in the best interest of all stakeholders to have a strong NASTF. And we will benefit many times over by raising industry awareness of NASTF and seeking broader participation and recognition.

Please share some personally or professionally rewarding experiences working with members of the NASTF?

John Cabaniss: Where to start?  There are so many great people who contributed to NASTF and still do!  But right from the beginning, Charlie Gorman (ETI) has been a true friend and NASTF supporter over the past 15 years. It’s impossible to count all the positive things that Charlie has done to help me, NASTF members and the industry. Other longtime friends and supporters include Board members Steve Douglas (Auto Alliance), Doug Greenhaus (NADA), and Mark Saxonberg (Toyota). In my role as Communications Committee Co-Chair, John Lypen (MOTOR Information Systems) and Bob Chabot (ManicMedia LLC) have been particularly supportive. Many others should be mentioned, including Bill Haas, Donny Seyfer, Aaron Lowe, Dave Lanspeary, Claude Hensley, Dave Zwalina, Ron Pyle, and Tony Molla, to name a few. They’ve all enriched my life, and we are fortunate to have so many dedicated professionals working to make NASTF a success.

Given your experience and understanding of the many challenges the automobile industry faces, what would you suggest are the “game changers” that the NASTF should focus its efforts on going forward?

John Cabaniss: Several important vectors come to mind.

• Automakers should embrace the SDRM for all security related information.  This would help them improve their overall security for customers and would help NASTF, too.
• We should also figure out a way to bring some additional revenues into NASTF from the SDRM data transactions. 
• The NASTF marketing public relations program should be initiated.
• We need to expand NASTF committee activities to address not only today’s challenges, but to also proactively prepare for tomorrow’s challenges. 
• Committee members need to re-commit to their respective missions.
• We need to recognize and figure out how to address new challenges, such as telematics and connected mobility, the changing nature of diagnostic tools and information, making education and training more timely and relevant, etc.
• Every automaker and aftermarket supporter of NASTF should prominently display an NASTF promo on its website, including the NASTF logo and the website link.
• The basic promotional and other basic information on NASTF should be included in every major trade publication, including commercial pubs and organizational newsletter that many groups send out to their constituents regularly.
• All NASTF supporters should “like” us on Facebook and mention NASTF in their own Facebook pages.
• Every trainer should spend a few minutes in each training session explaining the value of NASTF to the industry and to each technician.
• We should have an NASTF forum.  Maybe on iATN or some other similar venue.

Is there any one specific initiative you’d like to challenge us with?

John Cabaniss: The place to start is for each person or organization to consider why NASTF is important to them, how NASTF has helped them, and how they can help make NASTF more effective.

Thank you kindly for your time and the thoughts you shared with us, John.

John Cabaniss: It was my pleasure. NASTF matters. It makes a difference for the industry that benefits everyone, from automakers through to consumers.