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Clancy Harrip
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Michael Weber Prestige and Performance was founded a decade ago by a young and enthusiastic mechanic keen to offer quality service to owners of new VW, Audi and BMW vehicles. Today, still only in his thirties and operating with the philosophy of delivering quality service through hard work and investment in well-trained staff and a facility that uses the latest in diagnostic equipment, Michael Weber has established one of Brisbane’s premier shops for the service, repair and modification of high-tech models from the German brands. 

What products and service does Michael Weber Prestige and Performance provide?

MW: Primarily, we do service, repair and modifications to late-model VW Audi Group and BMW vehicles. This includes mechanical work, tyres, wheels, air conditioning, wheel alignment, road worthy certification – the whole lot. 

In the aftermarket area we do suspensions - bushes, coil overs, sway bars - and the tuning side with software upgrades, APR tuning, and some piggyback computer work. We don’t do cosmetic modifications, that’s not our style. It’s all under the skin - intakes, intercoolers, exhausts. That’s the sort of work we do.

When and how did you come to establish the business?

MW: We’ve been operating for 10 years and I established the business after working for some years in dealerships. I started in the industry in the late ‘90s at Mazda and finished my light vehicle apprenticeship working at Holden before working for VW and BMW.

I always knew I wanted to start my own business, although back then I probably was thinking about hot roads and muscle cars! But I saw a niche in the market when I was working for VW/Audi and BMW, and that was that there really wasn’t anybody, outside of dealerships, working on these newer model cars. There were plenty of people who would work on older VW and Audi models but no one really wanted to tackle the new stuff. Older mechanics seemed to be scared of all the technology in these models and didn’t want to touch them in case something went wrong and they didn’t know how to fix it.

And people were looking for an alternative too. At the time, they had to keep going back to the dealer because they couldn’t find anywhere else to go.

However, I was doing that work at the dealership without a problem and I knew I could get the tools we were using, so there was no reason or need to be at the dealership. I decided I’d go and do that work somewhere else, and get paid properly to do it too! 

I went out on my own in April 2007 and worked by myself for almost two years. I did bring another guy on, but he didn’t work out. The next guy I brought on is still with me today.

We soon got busier so I brought on another mechanic, and then someone to look after the office. We continued to grow and now have six guys working on the floor – four technicians and two apprentices - plus the workshop manager and me. 

That growth saw us move a couple of times to bigger premises but all in this area. We are now in our third shop, but our first location was just around the corner and our second was just across the road. We’ve probably moved a grand total of 400m over the years. I like the area! 

Who are your customers and how do you reach them?

MW: Our customer base is broad - from guys in their 70s to those who have had their licences for just a few years - and about 80 per cent of our work is VW/Audi with 20 per cent BMW. 

We work hard and do the right thing by our customers - we use the right, genuine parts, and there are no concerns with warranty. 

We are competitive in price with the dealers. Initially, they will always quote a lower price than us, especially on a major service. However, customers can find that there are other costs they didn’t expect, and when that happens they ring us back and ask, ‘Did your quote include that?’, and we say, ‘Absolutely, a major service is what you asked for.’ 

Our customers come from those looking for an alternative and a lot of our business comes via word of mouth and social media. That’s basically what we use to advertise now. We don’t do print media or billboards or flyers at all. In fact, today, word of mouth is social media - it’s all one thing. So we have a professional website and use Facebook heavily.

The industry is evolving fast and seems to be embracing ideas such as all-electric vehicles and self-driving technology. You specialise in high-tech vehicles, so how do you keep on top of the technological advances? 

MW: Going full electric in Australia is a challenge and probably not feasible - our power grid can’t even keep our air conditioning on in summer let alone charge up an extra 1 million cars every night, and then there are other considerations such as the distances we travel. Having said that, those cars still have suspension, tyres, battery packs and so on, so while there might be a shift in work, there will still be work. Things will still wear out.

Of course, we do keep an eye on what is happening in the industry. We go to Germany to the big trade shows and that gives us a good idea of what is on its way. For example, the technology on display from companies such as Bosch and Siemens is technology that we will probably see in cars in 5 to 7 years. So we have a fair idea of what’s coming and what we have to do to keep up.

We have invested heavily and every bay in the shop has its own computer with all the information the boys need uploaded to it. Everyone has their own laptop to work from too and we have a selection of the latest diagnostic equipment.

We also have our own training room and most of our main aftermarket suppliers run their own training programs and have their own equipment available for workshops to use. It’s system-specific training rather than brand-specific training, and that is pretty much what we need.

Everyone looks at new cars with some trepidation but once you start working on them and understanding them, there isn’t a problem.

The main thing is getting the issue of the right to repair sorted out. If it isn’t, then there’ll be no keeping up for anyone.

To what do you attribute your success?

MW: Work hard, target the market, don’t rip people off and be good to your guys. That’s all there is to it. Pretty simple really. There’s no secret ingredient.
What does the future hold for Michael Weber Prestige and Performance?

MW: As far as the workshop goes, keeping up with the cutting edge of things. That’s what we have to do, something we continue to do, and that won’t change. It’s about keeping systems in place so that we don’t fall behind, constantly monitoring, and being proactive about getting it right. 

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