Howard Laster is head of Aftermarket – North America for Continental Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket (CVAM). He is responsible for overall business strategy, product quality and performance; as well as development of effective sales and marketing activities in North America for the Continental, ATE and VDO brands. In his 21-year tenure with the company, he has served in a variety of executive and sales management roles.
During his role as director of product management and new business development, Laster was instrumental in helping Continental create and successfully launch its flagship product, the VDO REDI-Sensor Multi-application TPMS Sensor and make it into one of the leading TPMS programs on the market.
In 2015, Continental Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket launched a new VDO “OEM Only” program. Can you tell us a little about the program and what was the impetus behind its launch?
Last year we launched a new “OEM Only” Engine Management and Fuel Supply Replacement Parts program under the VDO brand. The program included OE Air Actuators, Electronic Throttle Valves, Fuel Injectors and Fuel Modules, as well as Mass Air Flow and Manifold Absolute Pressure Sensors. It was designed to make these genuine OE parts available to the North American aftermarket. We were able to do this because we are the manufacturer of these original equipment parts and they are the exact same parts we supply to vehicle makers worldwide.
Prior to this offering, these were parts typically only available from the OE dealer. Now, we make them available to auto parts stores and professional technicians in the US and Canada direct from Continental. One of the key benefits of our program is that the parts are competitively priced for the aftermarket and the coverage and availability is exceptional. Plus, many of our parts are first-to-market for aftermarket applications on popular late model import and domestic vehicles.
As we expanded beyond our initial focus of Engine Management and Fuel Supply, we rebranded the program as VDO OEM Direct Parts to better establish our unique positioning and diverse offering. Overall, our program is quite robust and includes a range of components that are essential to the vehicle’s well being and can directly affect overall drivability, power response, efficiency, fuel economy and even warranty.
The impetus for our program actually came from our customers. As you may know, there is a growing concern among professional technicians about ‘what’s in the box.’ With a continuing increase in warranty rates and service comebacks in the aftermarket, technicians do not have time to question the quality of the parts they are using and need to have confidence in the performance and reliability of the components they install in their customers’ vehicles. And every return means lost profitability; that’s why the push for certified and validated OEM parts is so strong.
The VDO parts we offer from Continental are not just “meets OE spec” or “like OE”; they are genuine original equipment parts. So there is never any question of quality. Our parts are made on the same production lines and deliver exact fit and function for trouble-free, labor-saving installation you expect from an OE part. They are vehicle specific with OE connectors and install right, the first time, every time. You won’t find any pigtails or universal fits in our program.
When you’re talking about critical components such as air actuators, electronic throttle valves or mass air flow sensors, it’s important to note that not all aftermarket parts are created equal. While there are aftermarket parts out there that cost less, they may not deliver the required OE quality and performance. They may look and fit the same, but they may not work the same.
You know, the repair procedures for some of these high tech components, especially the fuel modules, are quite complex and very labor intensive. After all that sweat and effort, it’s very hard for anyone to deal with the realization that you may have installed a ‘dud.’
Tell us about the advantages the VDO brand has through Continental’s OE heritage.
Well, it kind of works both ways, because VDO has a renowned OE heritage of its own. Even prior to its acquisition by Continental, just about a decade ago, the VDO brand was synonymous with quality and part of the portfolio of a global manufacturer of automotive electronics. Through the acquisition, capabilities in instrumentation, powertrain, engine and chassis electronics were integrated with Continental’s expertise in safety, chassis and stability control, brakes, tires, powertrain systems and telematics to create one of the world’s leading automotive suppliers. As a brand, VDO has a substantial advantage in the market because it can draw on Continental’s powerful resources in R&D, innovation, technology and production capabilities to deliver an unbeatable aftermarket solution for our independent service customers.
I understand you also recently expanded the VDO OEM Direct Parts program. What has been added to the lineup?
Since our initial launch, we have added two new high tech components to the family, Flex Fuel Sensors and Temperature Controlling Water Pumps.
Our VDO OEM Flex Fuel Sensors are a featured green technology for GM vehicles. They calculate the percentage of ethanol in fuel and adjust the output signal to the ECU creating dynamic ignition timing and E85 capability. With our four sensor SKUs we have coverage for over three million vehicles up to current model year. VDO OEM Temperature Controlling Water Pumps are designed to provide precise engine temperature control independent of the main cooling circuit and combustion engine operation for over 430,000 BMW vehicles currently on the road.
Additionally, we have been continually expanding the SKU count and the coverage for the overall program.
What kinds of value-added services do you offer through the OEM Direct Parts program (such as training, apps, warranty etc.)
Continental maintains an excellent field training program, which include service clinics and an extensive educational library comprised of videos, tech tips and service manuals for all of its product lines. At present, we do not offer specific training for our OEM Direct Parts because we have not had the demand. Since our OEM Direct Parts are authentic OE parts, they are installed and serviced using the same procedures as specified in the vehicle’s factory manuals. We are however running a comprehensive media campaign via advertising and public relations to make our customers aware of our new program and its many benefits. We also offer a technical support hotline, so if there is ever a question we are just a phone call away. And of course, we are always listening to our customers and professional technicians and addressing any need for additional tools and services.
To make parts search and look up easier, we offer a free iOS and Android-compatible Mobile App, which customers can use to identify all of the replacement parts we offer for that vehicle by VIN scan, make, model and cross-reference.
Our parts warranty for OEM Direct Parts is the standard period of one year, but we typically stand by and support whatever warranty our retail partners offer to their customers. We are very confident and have experienced low warranty rates with this program – it is an expectation we take from the OE and bring to the aftermarket.
What’s next for VDO in terms of expansion and areas of focus?
We are constantly evolving and expanding our VDO OEM Direct Parts line up. Our launch of new Diesel Fuel Modules is around the corner and it will be on display for customers to see at this year’s AAPEX show in Las Vegas. Additionally, we are working on the release of future technologies that will include more diesel components and ADAS (Automatic Driver Assistance Systems) products such as collision avoidance sensors. We are also planning on popular niche products that are only available from the OE dealer such as windshield washer pumps for GM, Ford, and Honda vehicles as well as various European makes.
Will you be exhibiting at AAPEX? If so, what do you have planned for this year’s show?
We will be exhibiting at both AAPEX and SEMA. At AAPEX, we will unveil a brand-new booth and will feature all of our current products as well as a sneak peek at some of the new technologies we will be bringing to the market in 2017. In addition to our OEM Direct Parts program, we will also showcase our industry-leading VDO TPMS program, including our revolutionary VDO REDI-Sensor Multi-Application TPMS sensors as well as our ATE Premium Brake Parts, VDO Electric Motors and Cooling Fan Assemblies, Window Lift Motors, Regulators and Assemblies, Door Lock Actuators and a demo of the Autodiagnos Check Electronic Service Tool. Our SEMA booth will feature the latest in instrumentation, sensors/senders, camera systems and radios for the custom vehicle market.