by Amy Antenora
Managing Editor, aftermarketnews.com
CHICAGO — While the theme of this year’s Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS) — Leaner, Faster, Better — may connote the automated efficiency of a well-run machine, the true focus of the day’s numerous presentations was on the talented pool of people who make up that machine and how to make better use of them. “The core of any great business is the people,” said GAAS founder and chairman Mort Schwartz, who welcomed approximately 400 aftermarket executives to the event.
The ninth annual GAAS, which kicked off yesterday, May 18, at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago, included a number of diverse presentations and panel discussions featuring global economists, industry veterans and consulting experts.
Economist Dr. Jeffrey Rosensweig, of Emory University, opened the day with a broad overview of the global economy in his presentation “Winning the Global Game.” From statistics on birth rates to trade deficits, Rosensweig, who specializes in macroeconomic forecasting, addressed the increasing role of China as a major player in the global economy and, more specifically, the automotive industry. “China is on everybody’s mind and should be,” said Rosensweig. While the U.S. continues to be the dominant country in terms of economic growth, Rosensweig said China, India, Mexico and Brazil will see major growth in the future. India alone, Rosensweig noted, adds 18 million new people every year, the equivalent of adding an entire Scandinavian country to its population.
From the broad perspective of Rosensweig’s presentation, the discussion of Asian Pacific aftermarket opportunities continued with presentations from Steve Ganster of Technomic Asia, a firm which helps Western companies become successful in the Asian market; and Frank Ordonez of Delphi. Delphi has been involved in the Asian aftermarket for 11 years and currently employs 7,000 people in the region. Ordonez reaffirmed Rosensweig’s prediction about the continuing growth of China. “China is now the fourth largest trader in the world and will be the leader in the future,” Ordonez noted. He predicts that the next new major vehicle — comparable to a Toyota or Hyundai — will come from China.
The day also included a candid discussion with executives of manufacturers that sell to both the OE market and the aftermarket about what they predict for under-the-hood car trends for future. The panel, which featured Ben Bendixen of Robert Bosch Corp., Greg Gyllstrom of Visteon Corp., Peter Klotz of DENSO and Tom Synder from Delco Remy, included an interesting debate about whether hybrid or diesel cars would prosper in the future. While not all on the panel agreed, Bendixen made a strong case for diesel. Seeing that diesel cars make up 46 percent of new car purchases in Europe currently, he predicts that this trend will follow in the U.S. in the next 10 to 15 years. The panelists also discussed the increasing complexity of vehicle systems, why OE suppliers are becoming more active in the aftermarket and warranties.
Dana Automotive Aftermarket Group’s John Washbish reprised his popular and entertaining look at adopting new technological applications in his presentation of the “John R. Washbish 12-Step Program for Technophobes.”
GAAS attendees had the chance to hear NASCAR driver Bill Lester speak during a lunchtime session. Lester, an accomplished electrical engineer, left a successful job with Hewlett Packard to pursue his dream of driving race cars full time. Persistent in pursuing his dream, Lester sat out of racing for seven years due to lack of corporate sponsorship. An advocate of networking and creating relationships, Lester went on to become the first African-American driver to race in the NASCAR Busch series. He is currently working with NASCAR on its NASCAR Diversity program, designed to bring more African-Americans to the sport.
On more than one occasion, politics and the upcoming U.S. presidential election entered the conversation. “Jobs are the issue of this election,” said Rosensweig. The topic came up again in a charming and down-to-earth presentation from SEMA Chairman Corky Coker, president of Coker Tire, who is deeply involved in politics in his home state of Tennessee. Coker urged GAAS attendees to take an active role in politics, referring to current major legislative issues for the aftermarket, such as the Right to Repair Act and vehicle scrappage legislation. “The ability for independent service dealers to repair cars — I think that’s a freedom issue,” he said.
Jeff Stankard, a publisher with Babcox Publications, led service dealer panelists through a thought-provoking discussion of service dealer operations. The diverse mix, which included John Francis of Francis Automotive Service, Eric Griffith of Bridgestone/Firestone Retail & Consumer Operations, Mac McGovern of Lee Auto Parts, and Doug Moody of Canada’s Active Green & Ross, discussed training, vehicle complexity and strategies to keep smaller service shops successful. One striking statistic from the panel was the increasing rate at which service dealers are going online for their parts ordering needs. Three of the four panelists each said they order 60 to 80 percent of their parts online, giving reasons such as accuracy, ease of use, having an audit trail of an order and having the ability to provide more accurate estimates.
Sponsored by R. L. Polk & Co., the first day of GAAS 2004 also featured a multi-media presentation on inventory management from Polk’s Mike Gingell and Mike Swearengin from O’Reilly Auto Parts, which worked with Polk to improve its inventory management processes. The day of presentations closed with an enlightening talk with Tiffany Vasilchick, a consultant with Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve, about advertising and targeting the female consumer.
Stay tuned, tomorrow, aftermarketNews.com will continue its live coverage of GAAS 2004 with news from the second and final day of the event.
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