Parts police

Jan. 1, 2020
Forgive me for digging up bones, but the Ford Pinto carcass can never truly be buried.

Forgive me for digging up bones, but the Ford Pinto carcass can never truly be buried.

All product quality and liability discussion should begin and end there because it serves as the example of what happens when profit takes precedence over business logic, and worse, human life. For those who did not live through the Ford fiasco or have forgotten, Ford officials decided not to spend $11 per vehicle to remedy an engineering flaw in the Pinto’s gas tank, which led to many of the Pintos exploding when struck in rear-end collisions. The company determined in its cost-benefit analysis that it was cheaper to pay for an estimated number of lawsuits than fix the problem. The strategy would have worked if Mother Jones magazine hadn’t acquired an internal Ford document revealing Ford’s “reasoning.”

Ford survived because it was one of the world’s largest car companies, though it took a good decade to rebuild its image and product confidence. I can’t think of a single aftermarket company that could survive such an ordeal, leading me to the recently released Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association’s Special Report titled, “Independent Aftermarket Image: Quality Does Matter.” AASA says that poor, and in some cases dangerous, products can be avoided by simply dealing with and buying from full-service manufacturers, i.e., ones who unequivocally stand behind their products no matter where they make them. Who can argue with that? But how many full-line manufacturers offer comprehensive value-added services?

We have the tendency to think that we arrived at this point strictly by external pressures – that somehow we were/are powerless spectators in how product quality is or could be compromised. Fact is, representatives from all levels in the distribution channel cut deals with low-cost countries to reduce cost and increase profit. No one wanted to see parts quality suffer in search of these things, but it was unrealistic to think that wouldn’t be an unwelcome byproduct.

No matter how we arrived at this point, we did arrive. AASA has made a call to action – a policing, if you will – to “Know Your Parts,” which was and still is the answer to assuring parts quality from the manufacture of parts down to the consumers who buy them. AASA’s recommendations are a throwback to longstanding industry standards where each channel participant acts more as a partner than as an adversary.

The gist of AASA’s call to action is for manufacturers to make quality parts, distributors to buy them and shops to install them. To do otherwise could lead to the influx of tainted parts and their subsequent failure at independent shops, which in turn could lead to consumers turning to car dealerships for their vehicle service. Or one major catastrophe anywhere in the channel a la the Pinto debacle could take us down.

Is there any doubt that our vulnerability rests with how each channel partner interacts with the others?