Parts make our world go around. They might also make your head spin if you donâ€™t keep on top of what youâ€™re sourcing, where from and how.
An industry outsider, or an aftermarketeer from another country, would marvel at the way our supply chain hangs together and works to deliver millions of parts a week (or even a day, perhaps).
The aftermarket is an incredibly adaptable, nebulous and ingenious thing, but could everything not just be a little bit easier, somehow? A bit more simple?
How much should we worry about quality? Are parts from China a threat to our livelihoods? What about getting parts from dealers and vehicle manufacturers?
OE or not OE, that is the question
Well, itâ€™s one of the questions, and depending on who you listen to, of course, the answer is very different.
Why would you want to fit anything but an original part, say OE suppliers. For peace of mind you canâ€™t beat it. Nobody wants to supply a bit that comes back to bite them, whether theyâ€™re a factor or a garage.
Nigel Morgan is the Managing Director of the Schaeffler Group: â€œThe only sure way to guarantee youâ€™re supplying the right product is to go OE, but then I would say that, wouldnâ€™t I?
â€œThere is a danger that in the current climate people are prepared to dip their toes a bit more than they have in the past.â€
Thereâ€™s a pressure on price, but Morgan also thinks vehicle manufacturers and franchises are going to fight harder for a slice of the aftermarket supply. Heâ€™s surprised VMs havenâ€™t yet gone â€˜undercoverâ€™ to expose some of the worst parts that might be being used and tarnish the whole aftermarket with the actions of a dubious few.
â€œItâ€™s going to happen. Theyâ€™re going say, â€œThese guys are fitting spurious parts that are life endangering, and youâ€™re asking us to give them information to help them do the job?â€â€
Hang on a minute, though. There are plenty of companies with fine reputations for matching quality parts, components which might even outdo the â€˜built to a budget, not to a standardâ€™ part demanded by a vehicle manufacturer with a beady eye on costs and profit.
The trouble is knowing one company from the other. CAT has visited plenty of those with long-established and profitable brands that would do anything to risk their reputation. Theyâ€™ll be well known to you, too.
AMK spoke out about the danger of white box products in the last issue and detailed the lengths they take to ensure quality. Dan Joyner at First Line also said: â€œThe companies that opt for non-branded white-box products are substituting quality with margin.â€
It may well be that no part has to go through a testing procedure to signal that it is of matching quality, but that doesnâ€™t mean it canâ€™t be done.
Lee Quinney is General Manager at AC Delco, part of the GM empire: â€œThose parts suppliers that continue to thrive will be organisations that strive to deliver only the highest quality and most reliable parts. Anyone failing to reach such standards will become exposed at some point; thatâ€™s inevitable. Itâ€™s all about building up faith in a particular brand or supplier.â€
Perhaps a system of approval for every part that wishes to claim it is matching quality would clear the waters, but could this be done. The consensus is that it would be too difficult, and anyone that takes a brief look through the catalogues will recognise this pretty easily.
Peter Cox of Motaquip says: â€œThe cost associated with testing every part through an independent test house would be prohibitive and the time taken to test every part would equally rule out this route.
â€œThe testing of parts is however a good idea and policing parts claiming to be matching quality either by random testing or in response to either industry concerns or consumer issues would be welcomed by Motaquip.â€
Chinese crap and counterfeits
Unfortunately not everyone seems worried about their reputation or the impact sub-standard parts could have on the aftermarket. Weâ€™ve met one company, for instance, which was happy to hold up a part to a web camera during a Skype chat to a factory in China in order to get components made.
We hope everyone reading this would run a mile if asked to supply or use a part like this.
While China is the source of much of the low-quality parts available, itâ€™s obvious that you can get substandard, dangerous and fake parts made in Germany.
With the right tooling and facilities China also produces the highest quality components. OE suppliers all have facilities in China, and if youâ€™re in the business of supplying matching quality parts youâ€™ve either already been there or need to book some flights.
China, though, is also most likely to be the source of counterfeit parts which obviously have no regard to any quality standard whatsoever.
Even one counterfeit brake set can be a lethal problem, but how big is the scale of the problem really?
Patrice Claverie is Director General of Corteco: â€œCounterfeiting is mainly based in North Africa and Middle Eastern countries. In Europe so far we donâ€™t have many problems with fake products. Outside of Europe itâ€™s a totally different situation.â€
There are some astonishing figures about, thoughÂ – $12 billion worth of fake parts each year, says the USAâ€™s FBI.
Though shock absorber giant KYB has some reason for hope: â€œThere are fake parts, although fortunately not so much in the UK. Across Europe itâ€™s another story, especially in Eastern Europe.â€
Peter Cox of Motaquip sounds a note of caution amidst the economic pressures, too: â€œThey are not a major issue at the moment but the potential is always there for the problem to grow. Everyone in the industry has a duty of care to raise concerns over parts they believe may be counterfeit.
â€œThis risks not only the reputation of the industry but potentially the lives of our customers.â€
Where and how to get your bits
Bill Stimson, marketing director of ECP, says: â€œEven if you count each part just once, then itâ€™s fair to say that the aftermarket, as a whole, moves millions of parts each week. At times of peak demand it wouldnâ€™t surprise me if a million plus parts are moved in a day.â€
Thatâ€™s an awful lot of bits flying around the place. Any garage chasing its tail to find the cheapest of them is in trouble. Similarly, any factor who doesnâ€™t try to sell the benefits of a more expensive part to a garage is also doing a disservice.
For many garages we speak to, itâ€™s often not too hard a sell a better bit once the benefits are explained. Not always, of course, but often, so if youâ€™re struggling on this front try and listen to Mike Owen on page 17 and make better friends with them. Seriouslyâ€¦
Rob Hall is Director and Technician at the TJ Hall and Sons garage in Sandford-on-Thames: â€œYou need to fit parts you can trust as we donâ€™t like doing a job twice.
â€œAs for price matching, we will only do this on rare occasions. We just tend to see who has stock so we donâ€™t end up with dead cars on ramps. Price isnâ€™t everything its more a reliable service we look for.â€
Hall reckons 80% of his parts come from one place â€“ ECP as it happens â€“ but this may not be an altogether typical approach. Plenty of factors complain to CAT that garages still phone five factors to race one part to their door.
Have factors worked themselves into a position where they now need to overservice garages? Peter Cox of Motaquip: â€œYes!Â The industry as a whole has created a monster. The UK is currently over supplied at every level and as things get tighter financially all factors have to look at ways of managing costs.
â€œIf factors donâ€™t work in unison, and garages donâ€™t modify their processes, we will not get away from the current inefficiencies which ultimately put parts prices up.
â€œI would look to have one or two main suppliers and focus my spend with them and in return would expect excellent support and competitive terms.â€
Lee Quinney is sanguine about the position factors are in, but thinks thereâ€™s a potential solution to help them: â€œCommerce revolves around competition. It will be market forces that dictate who survives and who doesnâ€™t, and not just in the current climate.
â€œOnline is definitely the way to go and the moves that suppliers and the motor trade have implemented over recent years reflects this.â€
Andrew Page, Euro Car Parts, Unipart â€“ they all offer garages management systems that aim to make it as easy as possible for garages and factors to identify all of the parts that are required for a job the first time. They help with orders, fitting, planning, marketing and more.
Group Auto is developing its own, while the Parts Alliance hopes that an initial 150 site rollout of its GS Onestop garage management system will eventually extend to three or four thousand sites.
Commercial Director of the Parts Alliance Andrew Field said: â€œEvery single transaction with us now starts with a vehicle registration number. We write all our catalogues to suit the information that we have – we want to avoid ordering the wrong parts at all costs.
â€œYou have to make online ordering easy for the garages to use. We canâ€™t dictate to garages, the only way we can increase uptake is to communicate with them.
Dingbro is leading the charge with the system. Chairman Allan Dingwall sings its praises: â€œOnestop is a big leap forward because it gives garages a full package, and itâ€™s also linked into Allicat catalogue which weâ€™ve found to be a very efficient tool in the marketplace.
â€œPeople are looking for more streamlined ways of running their businesses now. The next generation is now coming through to the trade and theyâ€™re much more switched on. â€œ
Thereâ€™s been a quiet row about CAT taking advertising from the Vauxhall Trade Club going on for a couple of months now.
We were contacted by a factor group which questioned whether we were still an aftermarket magazine since weâ€™d taken their advert (yes, by the way).
We invited the factor to have a reply and a rant at our expense on our opinion page, but they werenâ€™t interested. Instead, Brian Spratt of the IAAF had a good dig saying: â€œItâ€™s about time independent garages understood who their friends are, and how the dealers are scheming to take business away from them.
Another supplier of alternative parts that didnâ€™t want to be identified told us: â€œWhy on earth would you want to feed the hand thatâ€™s doing itâ€™s best to choke you?â€
Vitriolic stuff, and something that the Vauxhall Trade Club was keen to have a comeback on, too. After a long wait for their reaction it was, well, very measured.
â€œThe Trade Club network always strives to deliver the correct parts on time every time, delivering peace of mind for independent workshops and their customers.
All parts supplied by Vauxhall Trade Club are of the same quality as those parts fitted on the line at the factory. Vauxhall parts are put through a rigorous testing procedure to ensure compatibility with the vehicle to which they are to be fitted.
A final thought on parts from Cortecoâ€™s Claverie. Parts are becoming more and more complex, and he thinks that means the aftermarket will have less and less option but to call on the OE supplier for the components:
He says: â€œFor our business 80 percent of our total parts are captive. Car manufacturers work in a complicated way. We expect so much in terms of lower emissions, and for this to happen we need better technologies.â€
Itâ€™s an amazing figure, and it raises an eyebrow with many. KYB says: â€œEventually someone will offer an alternative anyway.â€
So weâ€™re back to ingenuity. The market always seems to have found a way, and the chances are it will continue to make an excellent stab at the challenges it faces going forward.
If the aftermarket can find the best way to deal with parts, not just a good way, then it can start to make a serious amount more money.