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Aftermarket Suppliers Shift To The Long Game

The industry resumes its focus on the “Your Car. Your Data. Your Choice.” campaign as it looks ahead.

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Amy Antenora has served as editor of aftermarketNews since 2002 and has worked in the field of journalism for two decades. A graduate of Kent State University, Amy also earned her AAP designation from Northwood University's University of the Aftermarket in 2009.

With a significant portion of business today being conducted virtually as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) has been hosting live quarterly webinar updates to provide insight into the fast and frequent changes happening within the aftermarket today. Sharing data as well as feedback from member surveys, AASA leadership in August gave an inside look at shifting market dynamics at the moment. AASA President Paul McCarthy talked about COVID-related changes and data related to recovery, a look at supply chain disruptions, updates on aluminum and raw materials, as well as intellectual property rights and cybersecurity issues as the association resumes its focus on the “Your Car. Your Data. Your Choice.” campaign.

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 In his opening remarks, McCarthy said he’s reminded of the famous quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” when thinking about the past several months in the aftermarket.

“It was the worst time in terms of the incredible disruption we experienced in the industry and as a country and as a world. In some regions and some months, we had the worst sales we’ve had since [World War II]. And, while I’m not sure we’re in the best of times, the sales we’ve had the last number of months have been incredibly impressive,” he said.

Looking at several industry benchmarks, McCarthy noted that there’s been a “steady and very impressive uptake” in driving throughout the summer, as shown in Apple mobility data. 

“We talk about ourselves being an essential industry and that data truly supports it. I loved the New York Times statement that the car is the ultimate PPE. It’s our safe place, to have freedom, to have mobility – safely. We’ve seen the importance of the car, not just as an essential for the economy and for business, but essential to our mental health and our ability to have a life; that’s really a testament to the aftermarket and our importance,” he said.

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McCarthy also described the past several months as a “roller coaster of a year” for AASA members. In AASA’s Quarterly Barometer member survey, the association asks members about their expectations for the next quarter’s sales. The results fluctuated wildly at different points in the pandemic, he said.

“Coming into the year, in 2019 Q4 people were actually pretty positive, the most positive they have been for a while, and then it fell off a cliff and we got one of the lowest readings [indexed] we’ve had in 20 years in the Barometer,” said McCarthy. “People were extraordinarily negative in Q1 about what the rest of the year would bring us. And as we came to the end of Q2, back to positivity. I think you’ve seen that in some of the numbers and performance from companies. It’s just a year like no other, and those figures show that.”

McCarthy said the big takeaways from the data and member sentiment center on the incredible resilience and performance of the aftermarket. “We are truly essential industry – not just in North America, but to the North American way of life,” he said. 

Earlier in the year, many members of the association were hyper-focused on the immediate issues at hand, and uncertain about long-term plans, McCarthy said. However, now members are once again beginning to look at the long game and the opportunities ahead for the automotive aftermarket.

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Long-term, the focus for the aftermarket will be on electrification, ADAS, connectivity and telematics. 

“I’d say what we’ve been hearing from members is that one of the burning platforms right now is a big focus on the telematics side. As we look to the next few years, this is going from a theoretical concept to something that you can see on the horizon. It will become real, and the aftermarket needs to understand this, understand what it means for our business models, and lay the groundwork for customer satisfaction. When we do have access to data, and access to that repair and maintenance data that we need, that will be achieved,” he said.

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