This year's eForum, held in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency hotel July 14-16, was all about envisioning the future of the automotive aftermarket. Scott Luckett, vice president of technology standards and solutions for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), kicked off the conference by projecting the industry's future, which includes accelerating change for aftermarket players up and down the supply chain that will be driven by demanding customer expectations, a rapid evolution of vehicle technology and an increase in online commerce.
"By 2012, industry experts predict that the electronic components in a car will increase from 20 percent to 40 percent," he says. "This presents both challenges and opportunities for aftermarket service channels, which need to find ways to stay relevant and keep our promise to the driving public — that is, delivering replacement parts to service bays in 30 minutes or less, faster than you can get a pizza."
Of course, part of staying relevant within the aftermarket involves manufacturers converting their present data to conform to industry specific standards, such as ACES or PIES. Ed Rammel, vice president of marketing for Dayco Products, LLC, spoke about his company's success standardizing its data. In fact, Dayco was so successful with this process that it was named the winner of the 2007 R.L. Polk & Co. Inventory Efficiency Awards. According to Rammel, once the standards are implemented, all disputes are settled and a company’s inter-departmental issues will go away. As an added bonus, compliance with these standards enables a company to deliver data more quickly to customers and third-party catalog provides — which Luckett affirms is crucial to the industry's success going forward.
However, Rammel was surprised to discover that many manufacturers have not yet begun the process of becoming compliant with either the ACES or PIES standards. And, even more shocking, a large percentage of companies — approximately 20 percent — said they do not plan to even make an effort to be in compliance with these industry standards. Which surprises Rammel, who said: "Data standardization facilitates movement of inventory information up and down the supply chain. Placing better inventory in the channel leads to more accurate demand at the part number level, and benefits everyone."
Of the manufacturers that do practice data standards compliance, several were on hand to explain where they are in the process and how the standards have helped improve their business. Panelists for the "Standards-based Technology Success Is Not Just for The Big Guys: Stories of Innovation with Smaller Manufacturers" session included Donna Snyder from Deka/East Penn, Tim Martin from K&N Engineering, Jesse Jones from MAHLE Clevite and Cameron Evans from Red Line Oil.
"We found that by adopting this type of technology, we will keep relevant to our customers and gain competitive edge for the future — as long as we gain good and clean data," Snyder said during the panel discussion. "And although it sounds like a big investment and requires some commitment, the long-term results are well worth what you have to go through to achieve your goals."
No conference on new automotive technologies is complete, however, without a round up of vehicle telematics. Derek Kaufman, founder and president of C3 Network, Inc., was on hand to present the findings of an AAIA-commissioned study of telematics and to explain how the industry can turn this threatening technology into a business opportunity. This study is available, in booklet form, from AAIA.
According to Kaufman, 28 percent of U.S. cars currently have telematics devices installed, but that is projected to grow to 40 percent of U.S. cars by 2012. Vehicles with aftermarket-monitored telematics systems will grow from 2 to 10 percent by 2012, while non-monitored aftermarket systems will move from 7.25 percent to 30 percent during that same time period. This, says Kaufman, makes the aftermarket the fastest growing segment of the telematics industry.
"Those types of attachment rates will result in some pretty big numbers," he adds. "Telematics will grow to a $2.4 billion market in the U.S. by 2012, and will encompass $9.3 billion world-wide in that same time."
Technology was also the focus of a panel discussion among some of the industry's top shop owners. "What Keeps You up at Night?" featured Tony Zanders of Heritage Auto Repair, Mitch Schneider of Scheider Automotive Repair, Bruce Eccles of Eccles Auto Service and Jim Dykstra of Dykstra Auto Service. The panelists agreed that having access to good catalog data is currently a problem within the industry, and expressed a bit of concern about the future of telematics — although they also admitted that they looked forward to the challenges tomorrow's "wired" vehicles will bring to their service bays.
"I'm a little nervous, but I think the concept (of telematics) is fantastic," Eccles says.
Schneider adds: "The opportunity is going to be tremendous. All of the top-tier shops are looking for any kind of differentiation point that will set them apart from the other shops in the neighborhood. If we use this new technology, and stay on top of the technology, we'll remain competitive. In fact, there's not a challenge that we've been presented with yet that, as an industry, we haven't been able to meet."
Of course, Eccles hopes that telematics brings a different kind of user feedback into the bays.
"I can't wait until you can listen to your customer and hear what they're saying as they drive away," he deadpans.
Next year's eForum will take place in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency hotel July 13 - 15. For more information about this year's eForum, or to read transcripts of the event and listen to audio files of the speakers, visit the eForum Web site.