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Manufacturers Add to the Aftermarket Parts Feud

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In July, Ford Motor Co. took the floor at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) in Chicago with a presentation that slammed the quality of aftermarket parts. Since then, other auto manufacturers—like American Honda, Hyundai Motor America and Nissan—followed suit with similar public statements.

“We do not support the use of any parts that are not OE,” says Bob Shih, Hyundai’s parts pricing, planning and administration national manager. “We only stand behind parts that we manufacture and test.”

That viewpoint has brought the aftermarket parts debate to a frenzied pitch, says Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), adding that the industry wants this issue resolved.

What effect will the highly publicized comments of auto manufacturers have on the aftermarket industry? The simple answer: more parts testing. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has gotten in on the action. Look for new results early in 2011.

Why Now?

The debate on whether aftermarket parts should be used for collision repairs has been going on for decades now. So why are auto manufacturers suddenly coming out with these comments? Aftermarket industry professionals say it’s simply economics.

“There certainly haven’t been big profits in vehicle sales recently,” points out Aaron Lowe, vice president of government affairs for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). “Profits today are more in repairs and parts for vehicles because people are keeping their cars longer.”

Ford cites safety as the main reason for the timing of its comments, not money. “Ford’s testing addressed a recent trend of aftermarket companies copying structural parts that are key components of our integrated safety systems that meet rigid standards,” says Paul Massie, manager of powertrain and collision parts for Ford’s customer service division. “We are addressing safety issues that in many cases are regulated by law for new vehicles, but do not apply to copy parts.”

But Jack Gillis, executive director of the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA), says Ford’s sudden focus on safety is surprising. “For years, Ford has been a leader in fighting against safety innovations in Washington,” he says. “Ford doesn’t want any competition in the parts marketplace. Their brand of aftermarket parts is one of their greatest profit centers, and they want to put a halt to as much competition as possible.”

The Answer is in the Evidence

The biggest question remains: Is resolution between OEMs and the aftermarket possible? Schulenburg says it is. “But it will take a continued push from people who believe there needs to be improved standards and certification for parts that enter the marketplace,” he says.

“We’re not against competition in the marketplace,” Lowe says. “Car companies can push their products and services based on convenience or quality, but they can’t question the quality of aftermarket parts without proper justification.”

Clarification is something the IIHS is working toward. The IIHS is hoping to bring more concrete evidence to the debate, says Russ Rader, spokesman for the IIHS.

“We decided to help CAPA with parts testing to look at whether aftermarket structural parts can be reverse-engineered to match the performance of original OEM parts,” Rader says.

“Being able to identify truly comparable parts to the expensive car company parts will not only provide repairers with more choices, but [will also] keep vehicles from being totaled out and never making it to the repair shop,” CAPA’s Gillis says.

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