Time and time again, rumors of the automotive aftermarket’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. When automakers shifted from carburetors to fuel injection in the 1980s, for example, it was supposed to be the death knell for this industry. After all, there was no way that vehicle owners would trust independent repair facilities to
work on their fancy, high-tech cars and trucks.
Fast-forward to today, and new forms of technology – advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and electric vehicles – are the latest reasons for hand-wringing as we try to imagine the industry’s future without internal combustion.
For the past few years that I’ve been attending the Vision Conference, the threat and/or opportunity of vehicle technology has been a prevailing theme. This year’s Vision Conference in Chicago, presented by MEMA Aftermarket Suppliers, was no exception. Paul McCarthy, president and CEO of MEMA Aftermarket Suppliers, wasted little time in addressing the elephants in the room.
“It’s more than just EVs. The story is more than just ADAS,” McCarthy asserted in his opening remarks. “Vehicle content is increasing at an unprecedented pace. We have a wave of new technologies unlike any we have ever seen. And if history is a guide, that bodes well for the future of aftermarket tickets.”
But, the naysayers would argue, EVs in and of themselves must pose an existential threat to the aftermarket! After all, there’s no gasoline engine – which means no spark plugs, no motor oil, no oil filters, no oxygen sensors, no mufflers, no catalytic converters and no maintenance. Right?
Well, that’s only a small part of the EV story. In fact, EVs are providing “new sources of repair, as virtually every system in the vehicle is redesigned.”
“So, drivers [such as] lightweighting, NVH, safety and an explosion of electronics are leading to new complexity and growth in sectors like suspensions, cooling systems, sensors, HVAC, remanufacturing, tires and others,” McCarthy said. “In fact, dealer data has consistently shown that there is higher service frequency and more fixes per visit for the current crop of EVs versus ICE.”
How about the car-sharing trend? I keep hearing that younger generations have zero interest in owning a vehicle. While I can’t confirm or deny that, what I do know is that this industry’s addressable market keeps growing. In the United States alone, we’re set to surpass 300 million vehicles in operation. Factor in more than 60 million vehicles from Canada and Mexico – along with stubbornly high new- and used-vehicle prices – and “we have a lot of old vehicles to keep on the road,” McCarthy asserted.
McCarthy concluded his remarks by declaring: “The aftermarket should not fear the future.”
“We are adapting. We are lifting off,” McCarthy added. “And you’ve heard me say this before: Change equals profit. In fact, in a market economy, change is the source of profit. So, we believe that technology and increasing content bring opportunity. If we apply our famed entrepreneurial spirit, the aftermarket will thrive for decades to come.”