A competitive alternative

Aftermarket careDo you find the concept of the independent automotive aftermarket confusing? The Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation's chief executive Brian Spratt explains his members’ businesses

The economics of today’s transport industry mean even quite small savings in operating costs can make significant difference to efficiency and profit. But operators often fail to take advantage of significant savings available to them in the form of vehicle components supplied through the independent automotive aftermarket sector of the motor trade.

For many the concept of the independent automotive aftermarket is a confusing one; what’s the aftermarket, and what’s independent all about?

Component suppliers
It’s worth remembering that a high proportion of the content of today’s vehicles; trucks and buses just as much as cars and vans, is not manufactured by the company whose name is on the grille. There can be as much as 80 per cent supplied by component manufacturers feeding into the production lines. As well as supplying the vehicle producers for assembly and service parts, they also supply the independent aftermarket.

Aftermarket is the commercial term for the market for service, repair, parts, accessories and materials supplied to the user ‘after’ the vehicle enters service – hence ‘aftermarket’. The well known aftermarket is that supplied through the vehicle producers via their dealer network, but there is a parallel aftermarket of independent companies offering a competitive alternative to the dealer.

Cost savings

Independent workshops offer significant savings to operators in terms of repair costs and reduced downtime; their operations often running at more flexible hours than dealer workshops. Many of these are subsidiaries or customers of independent parts distributors.

Their relationships with the actual producers of the parts used "on the line", means the highest level of technical knowledge and diagnostic equipment is readily available. This enables the independent sector to mirror the service available from the dealer network. Some workshops and distributors are members, not only the IAAF, but cooperative business networks, such as ‘G-truck’.

High quality products
Confusion about the quality of components supplied by independents is common. In specifying parts for vehicles the operator has a wider choice by using independents who, along with offering the ‘original equipment’ or OE part from the parts manufacturers, can also offer replacement parts at a budget rate, or expertly remanufactured items, especially clutches, and rotating electrics. Global component supply companies, such as Bosch, Federal-Mogul, TRW, through to ZF, all supply to the independent sector.

An important point for the operator to remember is the role of the IAAF here. Members of the Federation operate under a Code of Practice which, amongst other things, demands that the member always indicates the provenance and quality of the items they supply.

Invariably this means that if the operator wants to replace a defective or worn component with a like item, it will be supplied; invariably, in the packaging of the part manufacturer. This, when you think of it, is an extra safeguard for the operator.

Under the terms of European legislation – known as ‘Motor Vehicle Block Exemption’ – component manufacturers cannot be coerced into removing their logo from a component they supply to a vehicle producer’s line. This means that, when a component is removed from a vehicle, the original manufacturer can be identified and a suitable replacement from the same manufacturer can be supplied.

Many operators will have concerns regarding vehicle warranties but this same legislation permits vehicle maintenance outside the dealer network providing that the vehicle has been serviced to the vehicle producer’s schedule and provided appropriate quality parts have been used, and records of all service activities retained.

No longer, then, the blank refusal of warranty just because a vehicle has been maintained in the independent sector.

Rights for operators
The EU Block Exemption referred to above is reinforced by aspects of the EuroV & VI Regulations, which give additional rights to independent operators to access repair and maintenance information, service history data, validation of diagnostic tools, and other items intended to prevent the creation of a monopoly for dealer service.

Operators with their own workshops needn’t feel that, by using the independent offering, they are cutting themselves off from training or technical information. Parts distributors work closely with the parts manufacturers to deliver regular training opportunities, designed to keep technicians at the forefront of technical developments and techniques. Similarly diagnostic and other equipment is available in the independent sector.

Fair and consistent
So where do the savings come in?

IAAF members don’t claim to be the cheapest option, but the fairest and most consistent. Operations in the independent sector provide a lower cost base that is passed to the customer and, it must be said, independent parts distributors generally operate from functional premises, rather than the glass and chromium edifices which typify dealer operations.

The majority of independent operators supply for all makes of vehicle, hence the costs of distribution itself are more easily absorbed across multi-drop delivery schedules – in some crowned urban areas it sometimes resembles a milk round! Likewise parts application data has exploded so that, even with databanks of parts information galore, identifying the correct part for the specific model is akin to an art.

Staff accreditation
These complexities in parts distribution have been recognised of late by the introduction of the Institute of the Motor Industry’s Accredited Technician Award for parts personnel, at two levels of expertise. Many parts distributors have worked their complete workforce through the ATA scheme, which is a clear indication to employees, employers and their customers of the level of expertise in the business.

This accreditation of expertise doesn’t stop in the parts distributor’s warehouse, it extend to technicians working on cars, van, light commercials and, latterly with the introduction of the IRTeC/ATA via IMI and SOE, commercial vehicle, buses and coaches as well.

All clear demonstrations of the confidence which can be placed in appropriately staffed parts distribution and independent servicing businesses in the industry. A cost effective, reliable and professional adjunct to the operator’s own business.

For more information

If you’re an operator wishing to meet professional independents in parts supply and vehicle service, get in touch with the IAAF.
Tel: 0845 3131506
Fax: 0845 3131508

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