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Tailpipe – Tales from the workshop floor

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In conjunction with Clive Atthowe, owner of CAT Automotive, Norwich, Iain Robertson highlights the benefits of a positive communications strategy and the values attached to a high-end independent vehicle tuning business.

Nobody loves a ‘smartypants’, until that smartypants resolves an impossible scenario that a host of other smartypants failed to. While Clive Atthowe might resist such a handle, his business has been built on more than forty years of multiple awards- winning problem solving.

Clive’s casebook is packed with extremely satisfied client testimonials. It is not a big business but its positive business spread is immense. You can check it out personally (www. enginetuning.net) for added proof. CAT Automotive is in a vanguard of traditional engine tuners that have ground their teeth in the traditions of tuning engines in the carburettion, then injection and latterly forced induction arenas. Although Clive is quietly intense, he understands only too well the intensity of the work he carries out.

More recently, his field of speciality has been Teutonically- based and even narrowed down to Volkswagen-Audi (which, naturally, includes both Seat and Skoda products). It is a fortunate place to reside, as VW is the world’s largest carmaker and, unsurprisingly, creates a high demand in the mopping-up scene. As Clive recalls, “In the post-‘dieselgate’ era, my company has been resolving innumerable problems related to VW’s cleansing operation. Not all customers have been content with the actions taken by VW dealers and, yes, CAT Automotive has been picking up the pieces to result in much happier VW customers. The end result, despite some genuine technical intricacies, has been beneficial all-round.”

In many cases, CAT has been an automotive last resort. Clive continues, “Innate knowledge is the key. Yet, not all exponents of the PC-based fraternity, where ‘flash-and-dash’ is a common ECU problem perpetrated by well-intentioned and often mobile fee-grabbers, possess that time-served understanding. On many occasions, my business has been confronted by unnecessarily costly repairs, where more care in making connections should have been taken that would have resulted in a £60 bill, rather than ECU replacements venturing into thousands of Pounds.”

Clive admits that being in the right place, at the right time, has been essential to his survival and that good fortune has played its part but, while luck may arise, managing the art of communication has been vital. “Many of our clients arrive frustrated and bruised,” he states, “provided with conflicting information, it is little wonder that explaining their issues can be difficult. I have to prise out information before tackling any job that they can find hard to assimilate at times. Yet, those conversations are components of the solution finding exercise.”

Popping into CAT’s premises reveals a technological showpiece that includes a high-power, all-wheel drive dynamometer (rolling-road), racks of high-tech equipment and clean benches. As a skilled technician, Clive is not averse to mechanical stripdowns, although the bulk of his work is fairly clean electronics. Employing the most up-to-date VW-Audi test and diagnostic equipment underscores his independent value to VW Group customers. In fact, it is that level of independence that perpetuates the demand. Clive does not have a manufacturer’s axe to grind.

“The simple truth is that I do not need to promote my business regularly,” he explains, “as word of mouth remains our strongest asset. Yet, having a positive online presence is essential and our ‘google page’ allows several strands of communication to develop.”

Clive Atthowe may not realise it but he is not a ‘smartypants’… in fact, he is a ruddy genius! What he does not know is scarcely worth knowing but, as a fount of all tuning knowledge, his time-served trade is his signature and it is wrote large at CAT Automotive, Salhouse Road, Norwich. Now, keep that handy!

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