Gear change: NRMA mulls roadside help for cyclists

Rolling recovery: the NRMA is considering extending its service to cyclists. Photo: James Alcock “We can learn how to price it”: NRMA deputy president Wendy Machin.

The NRMA is considering providing roadside assistance for cyclists and expanding its car repair service, and will target people aged over 50 with information on jobs pensions and public transport to try to retain members.

The company is being driven by a decline in the need for roadside assistance because cars are more reliable and break down less often. Roadside job requests from the group’s 2.4 million members fell 7.3 per cent last year.

“We want to move beyond roadside and motoring into the broader lifestyle area,” NRMA chief executive Tony Stuart said. “For our business model to do well, we need eight to nine members [out of every 10] to stay with us each year.

“Once upon a time they broke down once a year, now they’re breaking down every two to three years.

“But, if we we are helping them with other things, emergency home assistance, advice around mum’s retirement, fixing a car as opposed to going to a dealer, people will stay with us.”

The NRMA now has 18 MotorServe centres, which provide servicing and repairs in Sydney, Canberra and Newcastle, making it more competitive with other independent car servicers such as Kmart Tyre & Auto Service, Midas and Ultra Tune.

It is expanding the centres into Wollongong and other country areas and aims to lift the percentage of members who bring their cars to the centres to 20 per cent from 5 per cent.

The motoring organisation is considering capitalising on the growing number of cyclists in metropolitan areas with a road assistance service. It hopes to introduce the cyclist service in about a year once it beds down a new IT system.

The NRMA is monitoring the progress of groups in other states with cycling services such as RACV Bike Assist, which is operating in Victoria.

“Then we can learn how to price it, how it works, what happens if we can’t fix a cycle,” NRMA deputy president Wendy Machin said.

The motoring group generated a $24.3 million profit in 2013.

To expand away from motoring, the NRMA has launched a new service, Emergency Home Assist, which gives members eight visits by tradespeople annually to fix common household problems such as blocked drains or faulty hot water systems for $190 per year.

Next month, NRMA will formally launch a new website, the Living Well Navigator, which provides information on jobs, pensions and public transport for people aged over 50.

Although the website may be commercialised at some point, the initial intention is to encourage greater member interaction, Mr Stuart said.

“We see it like Facebook,” he said.

As the largest retailer of car batteries in NSW, and the owner of almost a third of global battery provider Club Assist, the NRMA wants governments do more to encourage the use of electric cars.

“Fuel is a major cost and it’s going back up,” Ms Machin said.

She said governments were not prepared to invest in networks supporting electric cars, such as providing charging stations, even though it would reduce reliance on fuel imports.

So-called “stop-start” batteries, which reduce fuel consumption by switching off when cars’ engines idle, were becoming more common, creating more opportunities for NRMA to provide them, Mr Stuart said.

The NRMA’s other businesses, such as its 50 per cent stake in the Travelodge hotel chain, were performing well, with the group keen to increase its holdings of “bricks and mortar” rather than rely on investment income.

To reflect the breadth of products it is moving into, the group has reverted to its original name of the National Roads & Motorists’ Association instead of NRMA Motoring and Services.

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