A decade on from the adoption of the free market, the face of aftermarket autoparts distribution in Poland has been transformed completely. Gone are the inefficient and poorly stocked wholesale and retail outlets of the old state-controlled Polmozbyt organisation and the inadequate vehicle servicing structures that were supposed to serve the fortunate few owning a car. Local entrepreneurs and foreign companies have now come onto the scene - initially enjoying a buoyant market as car ownership boomed during the 1990s. Now, however, the number of players and the level of competition have reached the stage where a process of rationalisation is due to begin.

Old Polski Fiat Models Dominate Parc

The composition of the Polish car parc has also changed significantly. Today less than half the parc comprises the old Polski Fiat models - 124, 126 and Polonez - which were the mainstay during the communist era. Following the very large influx of used cars from Western Europe in the early 1990s and annual new car sales of over half a million units in recent years, the population of popular European marques - GM, VW, Ford, Fiat, Renault and Peugeot- is high and growing fast.

This transformation of the car parc has given an opportunity for the new aftermarket wholesalers to build their presence in the market. Most have concentrated on the spares requirements of the imported makes and have stolen a march on the franchised dealer networks of the vehicle manufacturers, who lost significant market share initially. The latter are now, however, fighting back, but still only command less than 50% of the aftermarket.

Wholesalers with National Coverage

Some of the new wholesalers have managed to achieve national coverage through a network of their own regional branches - a commendable achievement when one considers that many of their counterparts in Western Europe still remain regional players. However, the cost of operating the branches in Poland is in some cases becoming a heavy burden, leading many to rethink this strategy and to change to a system of franchise-style links to independent companies in the regions.

To date very few foreign companies have invested in aftermarket wholesaling in Poland. Rhiag, the large Italian OE and aftermarket parts company, has acquired the Holbex chain and the French and German buying groups, Auto Teile Ring, Autodistribution and Groupe Auto Union, have been actively trying to recruit members. A lot of companies are still supported by venture capital and are seeking strategic investors.

KGP Director, Rodney Joyce, was invited by the Polish Association of Automotive Wholesalers to address its Annual Conference in Szczyrk in March 2000. His paper focussed on the contrasts in the aftermarket distribution structures and practices in Western Europe and North America as well as the changing patterns of product usage resulting from changes in automotive technology and the move by vehicle manufacturers to lengthen service intervals.

Need for Rationalisation and Foreign Investment

The underlying theme of the conference presentations by the Polish companies focussed strongly on the need for rationalisation amongst the independent aftermarket wholesalers. Basically there are now too many players at a national and regional level, all competing for a share of a market which has gone through a period of rapid growth, but is now stabilising in volume terms and being attacked more aggressively by the franchised dealer networks. Picking the winners and losers will be a difficult task.

Another interesting feature of the Polish aftermarket is the arrival of French retailers, Norauto and Feu Vert, as well as fast-fits, Midas and Maxauto. The Polish motorist seems to be slow to take to these kinds of outlets, but it is early days and their networks could well grow in future, particularly as disposable incomes rise and the convenience/time-saving advantages become more important.

Some Key Players in Polish Aftermarket Distribution
Wholesalers: Quick Repair:
Auto Art Maxauto
Intercars Midas
Confex-Battek Hypermarket Outlets:
Holbex Norauto
Retailers: Feu Vert