For more than a decade, the automotive aftermarket supplier industry has acknowledged – and worked to address in a variety of ways – the need for better promotion and education for technicians on the investment, services and R&D that goes into creating and supporting quality parts. However, the question of what makes a part a “quality” part is still a subjective one.
This point was driven home recently by an article posted in the Everett, Washington, Herald newspaper, titled, “Mechanics Warn about poor quality parts.” The article focused on the frustrations technicians face over “Cheap car parts, often from China,” that have flooded the market in the past 15 years, according to the article.
The article quoted Daniel Ninivaggi, previously CEO of Federal-Mogul Motorparts and now managing partner of the automotive segment of Icahn Enterprises L.P., which owns Federal-Mogul. The Herald article, which also was recirculated in the MEMA Industry Newsletter, struck a chord with supplier executives, including Ninivaggi, who shared with us his thoughts on the standards behind quality parts and also where those parts are made.
“Federal-Mogul Motorparts is a global supplier of premium automotive parts for both OE and aftermarket customers,” said Ninivaggi. “Our global footprint includes five large manufacturing facilities in the U.S. We maintain rigorous engineering, manufacturing, testing and quality control processes and hold ourselves to the highest standards of quality, safety and reliability in the products we design and deliver to our customers.
“We were founded in Detroit in 1899 and North America remains a significant market for us. We design and engineer all of our products for the North American market in the U.S. and manufacture a substantial portion of our core products here. There are certain products with high steel content that cannot be produced competitively in the U.S. – by anyone – because of direct and indirect steel subsidies in Asia – so there is not a level playing field for U.S. manufacturers.”
This issue of what goes into a quality part and where those parts come from was the impetus behind the creation of the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association’s (AASA) Know Your Parts (KYP) campaign, which was created in 2009 to spread the word about the value of trusted, quality parts backed by full-service suppliers. When we asked Bill Long, president and chief operating officer of AASA, for his thoughts on this continued disconnect between suppliers and technicians, Long had this to say, “From our surveys and focus groups of technicians, we know that repair outlets service professionals make their parts purchasing decisions based on trusted brands and their trusted supply chain partners, choosing quality over price. This decision is driven by the desire to fix their customers’ car right the first time and avoid a ‘comeback,’ which can destroy customer confidence and relationships, cut into technicians’ time and impact the shop’s bottom line.”
The Know Your Parts website, www.KnowYourParts.com, has been incredibly successful in reaching and informing service professionals, according to Long. “When the site launched in 2014, it received more than 400,000 visits – but more impressive is that we found visitors were spending more than two minutes on a page. In other words, technicians were going to the site and using it to find the information they needed about quality parts,” he noted.
KnowYourParts.com has continued to grow in popularity, according to Long. Visits to the site in 2016 totaled more than 1.6 million with nearly 1 million of those visits made from smart phones and tablets – technicians using the site in the bays as they repaired vehicles.
In his comments, Ninivaggi echoed what Long says he’s hearing from the supplier segment.
“Our industry was built on a clearly defined value proposition: to manufacture, distribute and install parts of OE quality or better that can be sold at a competitive price,” said Ninivaggi. “At Federal-Mogul Motorparts, we still ascribe to that core principle. Our experience is that when you deliver the highest quality parts, you build trust with channel partners, technicians and consumers – and, through those trusted relationships, you are also able to provide valuable alternatives. As an industry, we must offer quality alternatives that provide good value – otherwise, customers will look elsewhere and potentially suffer the consequences of an inferior quality product.”
Robert Bosch, which is an active and very public proponent of the Know Your Parts campaign, sees education as the first step in getting technician support.
“Education is the first step, making the technician aware of the difference between a true OE specification/product and an aftermarket product/specification,” said Jarod Adams – director, product marketing, Bosch Automotive Aftermarket NA. “At Bosch, we will be pushing this topic to the market later in 2017 to provide more communication and we hope to see other suppliers making similar efforts. Technicians can also research specific brands from car enthusiasts or other technicians on vehicle forums (learning from other people’s experiences). If you see a specific brand has issues consistently receiving poor reviews then likely they lack the engineering ‘know how’ for that product. Likewise if a specific brand is consistently receiving positive reviews then likely they have the ‘know how’ the consumer or technician can trust.
“We would like to see the industry take a tougher stance on the usage of OE specification. It’s misleading to the technician and consumer when suppliers use this terminology when they rightfully know their product does NOT meet OE tolerances or specifications. There is a widespread difference between aftermarket specification, or lack thereof, and true OE specifications. Any manufacturer reading this knows what we are referencing.”
When asked for his take on the misconception that country of origin can determine the quality of the product, Adams said, “We don’t believe it is about what region of the world the product is manufactured but more importantly about the manufacturer’s level of competence with the specific product, automation within the plant – and engineering ‘know how’ – to design, build and validate the product. Too many suppliers are running to low-cost countries and buying products directly out of a catalog. These companies perform quick checks stateside (which cannot truly measure performance). They are simple checks only verifying presence of components and ignore testing that OE suppliers know to be critical. A Bosch engineer once told me, ‘you can’t inspect quality into a part, you have to engineer quality into a part.’ Bosch has a worldwide presence and with this comes a vast amount experience that we engineer and build into our products.”
Speaking on the issue of low-quality and even counterfeit parts, Ninivaggi agreed, “Counterfeit parts can have serious, and perhaps even deadly, consequences for consumers. That’s why it is so important to choose a trusted brand from a reputable, quality-focused parts and service provider. Premium-branded replacement parts are engineered and built specifically for each corresponding vehicle model, which helps ensure they provide the quality, safety and performance consumers need and expect.
“In many cases, counterfeit and other low-quality parts might look exactly like premium-branded parts, but there is no guarantee they have been manufactured from the appropriate materials or through the correct processes to ensure safe, reliable performance, said Ninivaggi. “Among the many benefits of premium-branded parts is the manufacturer’s significant investment in anti-counterfeiting measures that help protect the consumer’s safety as well as the reliability and value of their vehicle. Aftermarket, or non-OE, parts are not the issue. Many aftermarket parts are manufactured by the same companies that produced the originals. It is important to purchase any part – aftermarket or OE – from a source you know and trust.”
The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), the parent association of AASA, has a long history of successfully fighting counterfeiting and IP violations. One of its latest successes is the decision by the U.S. Office of the Trade Representative (USTR) to place the web portal Taobao, a subsidiary of business-to-business web portal Alibaba, back on its annual “Notorious Markets” report due to the site’s continued trafficking in counterfeit products. MEMA had urged the USTR to take this action, citing the serious safety concerns associated with counterfeit motor vehicle parts. (The full MEMA statement is available here.)
MEMA has provided Alibaba opportunities to educate supplier members on the tools available to IP rights owners to take down infringing product from the Alibaba platforms. MEMA encourages suppliers to make use of Alibaba’s tools and provide feedback on their experiences to both Alibaba and MEMA to develop an ongoing dialogue.
AASA also is addressing the issue of counterfeiting and intellectual property (IP) rights through its newest council, the Intellectual Property Council (IPC). The Council’s goal is to provide a forum for suppliers to learn about, exchange ideas on and discuss market challenges regarding areas that impact patents, copyright, trade dress and other intellectual property.
Through the IPC, suppliers can discuss IP violation trends and violators with other suppliers, and gain insights from government regulatory agencies, such as the Department of Justice, FBI, ICE, IPR Center, etc. The group has the opportunity to influence IP policies of major trade shows. Its member-only resources include the IPC IPR Solutions Directory (companies that provide PI services, track and trace technologies, online monitoring, software, legal counsel and other solutions), the U.S. Joint Strategic Plan on IP Enforcement and USCO Software Enabled Consumer Products Report.
AASA also is in the process of launching Know Your Parts 3.0, a new and improved version of KnowYourParts.com that will be released later this year. The enhanced site will feature more informational videos, greater assistance in trouble-shooting problems and focus on doing the complete repair job, expanded information about trusted, name brand products and more connections to the expertise of full-service manufacturers.
“This dialogue among all aftermarket industry partners is vital,” added Long. “Suppliers are dedicated to improving the “experience” customers have with their products, ease of diagnosis and installation to functionality and life-cycle. Know Your Parts campaign helps stimulate repair professionals to ask the question ‘what is in the box’ of the parts they buy and to answer that question by emphasizing the value all the hidden benefits found in products from full-service suppliers. “