BETHESDA, MD — Every other week, aftermarketNews.com offers an interview with high-profile individuals in the automotive aftermarket. We give executives free rein to express their views on anything from the state of their corporations to recent legislative news to future trends in their niche markets. Here you see what matters to the newsmakers themselves.
Our latest Executive Interview features Aaron Lowe, vice president of government affairs for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association.
On March 1 and 2, more than 200 aftermarket executives will gather in our nation’s capitol for the 2005 Aftermarket Legislative Summit. The annual event gives representatives of the aftermarket the opportunity to provide policymakers with the information they need to make educated and informed decisions about issues that impact the aftermarket. Major issues to be highlighted during this year’s Summit include: The Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act; association health plans; anti-counterfeiting; and asbestos litigation reform legislation. Lowe recently shared with us some history about this industry-critical event and how you can get involved.
How long has AAIA been hosting the Legislative Summit and why?
Actually, the Summit is a tradition that was initiated by the Automotive Service Industry Association (ASIA) and which became part of AAIA when ASIA and the Automotive Parts and Accessories Association (APAA) merged in 1999. The main idea of the Summit then, as it is now, is to make elected officials more aware of the automotive aftermarket; its economic and political strength; consumer benefits; and critical legislative and regulatory issues affecting its future.
The importance of the Summit to the industry is evidenced by the growing number of groups that have joined AAIA this year as cosponsors. They include virtually every major segment of the aftermarket. (See list at end of article.)
How many people are you expecting to participate this year?
The 2003 Summit had about 200 people attend. While that was a record, it is critical to the success of the aftermarket’s legislative agenda that we have a bigger showing during the 2005 Summit. Unfortunately, the automotive aftermarket does not contribute large sums of money to political campaigns as do the new car dealers. However, with more than three million people employed in the industry, we can be a significant political force if we are vocal. A large showing by the aftermarket at the Summit will go a long way toward demonstrating our grassroots muscle. We will send a compelling signal to elected officials that the industry is intensely interested in what they are doing regarding its future.
The tagline for this year’s event is “Driving Our Message to the Hill.” What are the key points AAIA would like to ‘drive home’ this year?
Despite the importance of the industry to keeping America’s vehicles on the road, few in Congress really have much of an understanding of our industry, how it works and how it benefits consumers and the economy in general. The Summit provides the opportunity for attendees to educate legislators on the importance of the industry to the economy and to consumers. While we want to talk about our critical issues, the bottom line message of the Summit is that a economically viable and competitive independent aftermarket ensures that motorists will continue to have access to the most affordable and effective vehicle service industry in the world.
Will issues like Right to Repair and TREAD Act be a main focus?
Of course, Right to Repair will be the number-one focus of the Summit. No other issue is more critical to ensuring our industry’s future. Right to Repair mandates that, once a car owner purchases a vehicle, they have the right to have it repaired at the facility of their choice, whether it is the dealer, independent or by themselves. The legislation would legally require the car companies to stand by their promise to make the same service information and tools available to the aftermarket that is available to the new car dealer.
Through the massive grassroots efforts of our industry last year, the coalition of aftermarket groups supporting Right to Repair made important progress toward our ultimate goal of final enactment. Specifically, the bill garnered a whopping 118 sponsors in the House and received a highly favorable hearing by the Consumer Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. We now must build on that progress this year.
The March Summit will provide the big kick-off for our campaign to obtain enactment of Right to Repair legislation during the 109th Congress. Since this will be a very busy legislative session, it is critical we get out of the box early in our lobbying efforts in order to have any chance for final passage during this Congress.
Health insurance is another critical issue on the radar screen for most aftermarket companies. Specifically, rapidly rising premium costs are making it harder and harder for many small service operations to provide health insurance to their employees. Association Health Plan (AHP) legislation considered during the last Congress would permit trade associations to offer health insurance across states lines under often less stringent federal rules. The legislation is based on the premise that by being able to pool a larger number of premiums, small businesses would have access to more affordable health insurance. The Summit will provide aftermarket companies the chance to loudly make their voices heard on the growing problem of health insurance, making sure that big health insurance companies are not the only voices weighing in on AHP legislation.
Also high on the list for many attendees will be resolving the asbestos litigation crisis that has been extremely burdensome for many aftermarket companies. With many of the companies that manufacture asbestos containing products going bankrupt, trial attorneys have turned their attention to aftermarket companies in the distribution system, most of which had nothing to do with either the manufacture or use of the product. The current tort system is permitting anyone to sue who might have been exposed to asbestos even when they are not suffering from any adverse medical conditions, thus draining money that could be compensating legitimate asbestos victims. The Summit will provide the aftermarket with a timely opportunity to push elected officials to move forward on legislation that will address the ongoing asbestos litigation crisis.
Finally, many aftermarket companies will want to lobby to provide law enforcement with better tools in order to shut down companies and individuals that market in counterfeit automotive products. Legislation, introduced last year by Representative Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), would have prohibited trafficking in counterfeit labels and provide for mandatory destruction of the equipment used to manufacture and package counterfeit goods. The industry will be able to use the Summit to reenergize Congress regarding efforts for passing this important anti-counterfeiting initiative during the 109th.
Could you give us a break down of what exactly goes on during this two-day event?
The Summit actually begins the evening of March 1 at a reception that will be held on Capitol Hill. During the reception, attendees network with elected officials and their staffs in a casual atmosphere. Last year, more than 300 people attended this event. The next morning begins early at the historic U.S. Chamber of Commerce just across from the White House where attendees will be fully briefed on the issues that will be the center of the Summit and a preview of what to expect that day. Following the issue briefing, attendees will be bussed to Capitol Hill to spend the remainder of the day meeting with their elected officials.
How can our readers participate, if interested?
Anyone who is interested in attending should click on to www.aftermarket.org to find more information on the summit and to register. Once they have registered, the Summit staff will make all of their legislative appointments and do everything to ensure they have an effective and enjoyable summit experience. There is no registration fee, but attendees are responsible for making all of their own travel and hotel reservations. Since March can be busy in Washington, we urge all attendees to get their hotel reservations as soon as possible. We have a block of rooms at the J. W. Marriott which is located at 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Call 202-393-2000 for reservations. Also your readers should feel free to contact the AAIA Summit staff at 301-654-6664 should they need assistance or have questions regarding the Summit.
What should participating individuals do to prepare for the Summit?
They should study the issue papers that they will receive prior to their arrival at the Summit. The more they can personalize the importance of the issues to their business, the more convincing they will be before legislators. Attendees also should have some basic key facts about their business such as the value to consumers of their products, number of employees and their annual sales. Such information will help give their elected official a snapshot of why their visit and their views are important to the economy and constituents in their legislative district.
However, attendees should mainly be prepared to have an enjoyable, educational and productive visit. Spending time with colleagues, meeting their legislators, seeing how things get done in Washington and helping to ensure the industry’s future. It just doesn’t get much better.
The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP), Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association (AMRA), Automotive Parts Rebuilders Association (APRA), Alliance of State Automotive Aftermarket Associations (ASAAA), Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association (AWDA), Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE), Heavy Duty Distribution Association (HDDA), International Truck Parts Association (ITPA), Service Station Dealers Association (SSDA) and Tire Industry Association (TIA).
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