In today’s AMN Executive Interview, we chat with Ira Davis, president of AutoFocus Consulting & Research LLC and chairman of the Import Vehicle Community, about the genesis of the name change from Auto International Association (AIA) to Import Vehicle Community, as well as the vision for the future of the organization.
What was the genesis of the name change from Auto International Association to Import Vehicle Community?
Several years ago the Auto Care Association undertook the huge task of rebranding the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association. Why? While all of the industry “insiders” understood what “aftermarket” meant, the universe of our stakeholders didn’t. The association hired a marketing firm to determine what we should call ourselves so that ALL stakeholders – industry professionals, banks, stockholders, government, educators and the public – could easily understand who we are and what we do. After multiple interviews with several groups of stakeholders, the marketing company presented the name change to the executive committee and the board of directors. The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association became the Auto Care Association, which clearly explains what we do … take care of autos!
During this time, AIA also began to examine its brand and focus, and most importantly, its role as a segment of the larger association, rather than the independent association it once was.
The AIA Leadership Council had already gone through several strategic sessions, looking at ways to remain relevant while continuing to serve our members’ needs. As a result of one of these sessions, we decided to expand our focus to include export activities and trade in general, seeing a need for this within the association. However, in the end, we realized this need related to all Auto Care Association members – not just our segment members – and recommended the formation of the International Trade Committee, a new committee within the Auto Care Association. As to our “import segment,” we decided we should refocus our efforts on what we had always specialized in – serving members who are significantly engaged in the sales, service or support of parts for import nameplate vehicles. And, we needed a name that clearly represented this.
We enlisted the services of Bella Group (the marketing firm used by MPS) and after a good deal of input, debate and Leadership Council discussion, we chose Import Vehicle Community as our new segment name.
Has the group’s mission statement changed at all, and, if so, what is the segment’s re-defined focus?
True to its roots, the Import Vehicle Community is the segment of the Auto Care Association that remains hyper-focused on serving the needs of Auto Care Association members engaged in the import nameplate aftermarket, irrespective of the business size or share of the business devoted to this segment of the industry.
Are there any new initiatives planned under the new Import Vehicle Community umbrella that will provide added value to the membership?
Our first major initiative was to undertake a direct phone survey of existing members, asking them what THEY felt were the most important values that our segment was or should be providing them. Each of our Executive Leadership Council members participated in the survey, contacting more than 60 of our segment members to see what was on their minds. We received great feedback and some really interesting ideas, which we are in the process of studying for potential implementation.
Beyond any new initiatives, our focus continues to be on recognizing and rewarding the industry through our awards programs, providing top-notch networking events and continuing education efforts specific to our segment
Tell us about the Import Vehicle Community’s presence at AAPEX. Specifically, what events are being planned? Also detail any changes to what was formerly carried out under the Auto International Association.
We are extremely excited about our AAPEX events. New for this year will be the location of our newly designed Import Vehicle Community booth located on the upper level as you enter the first door of the hall. Returning are both our product and people awards, in which we celebrate the “best of the best.” The new products display will be adjacent to the new Import Vehicle Community booth and winner announcements will take place on Tuesday afternoon.
Immediately prior to the show opening on Tuesday morning, we will have the first of two educational seminars, Technician Panel: “Selling Parts for Imports — Have You Tried Listening to Your Customers?” with Moderator Marty Gold. On Thursday morning, Marty will also moderate our second seminar, a very interesting panel of experts discussing synthetic oils.
Tuesday evening is our Fabulous Networking Reception, which will be enhanced in both food and appearance from last year. This is a great place to meet and greet 600 of your closest import industry friends!
Wednesday is our Import Vehicle Community People Awards luncheon program, in which we celebrate the achievements of folks in our segment at all levels. This event was recently enhanced to include videos, a new layout and a guest speaker, who last year, presented key industry trends impacting the import vehicle market.
We are seeing increased efforts within the industry to engage, recruit and retain bright young professionals with organizations such as YANG and Multi Parts’ SPARK Initiative as two examples. How does the Import Vehicle Community support these efforts?
This was a point of discussion at our last executive leadership committee meeting and has been discussed since by our nominating committee. We currently have one YANG member, Nick Bauer, as an executive council member. In light of the need to bring more new faces into the segment and the association, I have decided to finish out my term and then leave the Executive Leadership Council, providing an opportunity to bring in new blood to the committee.
During discussions with the nominating committee, a suggestion was also made to create a position specifically for a YANG member to gain exposure to “life” on a standing segment committee. Although not a voting seat on the council, it will nonetheless allow full participation in the council meetings and committee activities, while giving us the opportunity to begin developing the next generation of Import Vehicle Community council members.
We also continue to offer our Import Specialist Counterperson training programs. These open book tests are designed to increase the skill and knowledge of import nameplate vehicle systems, and are a great way to introduce those new to the import segment to questions they will encounter every day on the job.
With the increased globalization of the automotive industry today in terms of where vehicles are built, for example, can you tell us how the Import Vehicle Community defines an “import vehicle” today?
Our definition remains pretty much as it has throughout our history. If a vehicle carries a nameplate of a foreign-owned entity it is still foreign, i.e. Toyotas from Georgetown, Kentucky; Hondas from Marysville, Ohio; BMWs from South Carolina and Hyundais from Alabama, are all “imports.” The one exception might be Chrysler, which is now Fiat Chrysler America owned by Fiat, but Chrysler remains a domestic nameplate.
Our import specialist parts suppliers are keenly aware of “crossbreeds” and in many cases supply parts for “domestic cars” that actually are just rebadged imports so they are the “next call” from their domestic competitors!
In general, what is the outlook for the import market and what is your organization’s forecast for this segment in the next several years?
More and more companies appear to be recognizing that with the growth in import nameplate parts and service, expected to be about 50 percent of all parts sales within the next five years, it pays to focus on them. Our members know which parts are the “right” parts needed for import specialty repair, they know where to buy them and they know who is buying them. Despite the proliferation of auto parts from low cost countries, there is still a high demand for parts manufactured by the genuine factories and for genuine brands. Those companies with an exceptional focus on servicing this segment will have a bright future!