Last week, 140,000 people filed into Messe Frankfurt to see some 4,300 stands bristling with aftermarket parts, accessories and garage equipment. Some 650 exhibitors were from China, reflecting the significance of the Chinese market for the global automotive industry.

For some time, however, the automotive aftermarket for replacement parts has been in slow decline.  In this depressed, highly competitive market, parts manufacturers have responded in a number of ways, not least by offering more and more support to the independent garages, helping them locate, order and fit the right part is less time. Here are just a handful of initiatives promoted at this year’s Automechanika.

Delphi Automotive Systems wants to be the technical integrator for aftermarket service, bringing together the information, diagnostics and training needed for today’s technicians just as they are the vehicle integrators for the original equipment market. Two years ago, Delphi introduced its conceptual ‘Garage of the Future’. The web-based concept allows customers to request quotes, schedule services and run electronic diagnostic checks on a vehicle. Delphi’s handheld, wireless diagnostic tool was introduced in the US in 2000 and the company used this year’s Automechanika to launch it in Europe.  In looking ahead, Jog Lall, Delphi’s director of e-business and service technology, said: “It won’t be long before our Integrated Service Solution system will be able to communicate with a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics without a cable, allowing instant warning of problems and remote diagnosis.  Wireless technology is expected to play a substantial role in connecting vehicle systems with external devices and to the internet, meaning that a vehicle’s fault could be diagnosed and parts ordered in preparation before the car is even brought into the garage.”

Expert Analysis

Automotive Aftermarket in North America to 2006

provides historical data and forecasts to 2006 and 2011 by aftermarket product and performer for Canada, the United States and Mexico. It also examines the market environment, assesses industry composition, details market share data and profiles industry players.

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The German lighting manufacturer, Hella used the show to launch its own Internet Café.  In a corner of Hella’s website is a password-accessed area for wholesalers, Hella Service Partners and other independent garages.  Visitors can view information on products, technology and marketing. In 2000, Hella launched its Hella Service Partner concept.  As ‘partners’, garages receive support and advice on marketing, technology, replacement parts, accessories and garage equipment.  The company now has more than 1,000 such partners across Europe.

Recognising the difficulty garages and parts dealers have in understanding the sales potential of their local market, the aftermarket division of the German clutch maker, LuK, has developed a tool to help with on-site marketing.  Its AutoView system uses data from the Federal Office for Motor Vehicles to determine the car parc by postcode zones, including vehicle make and age.  The user can also identify which garages are also active in his sales area.  It can help the user determine the optimum stock provision for the local market as well as orientate the business towards certain customer groups.

Volkswagen was honoured by the jury of the 2002 Automechanika Innovation award in the ‘autobusiness’ category for its iTV channel.  ITV is Germany’s first web-based, interactive information and training channel, with which VW has created a network in TV quality between manufacturer, dealerships, importers and suppliers.  The live programmes, which are broadcast from Volkswagen’s own broadcasting studio in its Technical Service Centre, Wolfsburg can be received by all VW dealership staff worldwide on their PC.

In providing support for the independent aftermarket sector, Bosch has also launched a number of initiatives. Last year, the German group introduced its Bosch Response Centres, providing dedicated phone and fax lines and e-mail addresses for its customers in distribution, factoring and retailing, while its Technical Response Centre provides service technicians with instant access to Bosch experts in servicing and vehicle systems.

Taking this support initiative one step further, the company launched the Bosch Technical Programme in 2002, a major new scheme designed to facilitate the delivery of support for key technical products and systems to the trade at all levels. Any distributor of Bosch products or equipment can now offer training, technical data, test equipment and technical products to factors, service workshops, quick fits and repairers alike, all on a local level.

The business-to-business online platform, TecCom, aims to shorten, simplify and automate parts ordering and replacement parts procurement for manufacturers, wholesalers and factors. TecCom claims it can streamline and speed up business processes in the notoriously fragmented European parts aftermarket.  Suppliers, retailers and garages participating in the exchange can be connected via one portal using a personal computer equipped with a modem.  TecCom’s associates include some of the biggest manufacturers, such as Valeo, Bosch, Delphi, LuK and TRW. More than 1,000 wholesalers and 86 suppliers now use TecCom. The group processes more than 340,000 queries and order transactions each month. TecCom expects to have 3,000 wholesalers and 150 suppliers connected to its network by the end of 2003. The exchange also expects to be profitable in 2003.

In addition to the vast range of support being offered by the manufacturers to garages and workshops, a number of new technologies for the aftermarket attracted our attention.

For some time, exhaust makers have been working on ways in which to make noise coming from the tailpipe ‘fit’ the car. The ‘sound signature’ (the amplitude and harmonic content of the sound) of a new car is an important part of the overall vehicle package.  Bosal engineers used computer analysis and design techniques to ‘design in’ the desired acoustic character during the design phase of a new system.  Using technology similar to that used in naval submarine detection, Bosal engineers take CAD computer models of a forthcoming car model’s structure in order to calculate acoustic and vibration characteristics of the basic structure.  They can then model the pattern of radiated sound from areas like the tailpipe, assessing the effect inside the passenger compartment.  Although initially developed as part of Bosal’s OE activities, this process is now applied to all Bosal’s aftermarket exhaust products.

Federal Mogul’s stand brimmed with its ‘power brands’, such as Champion spark plugs, Feroda friction products and Moog chassis and suspension parts, reiterating its OE pedigree.  In the spark plug arena and following months of market research, Champion identified two distinct market needs: to eliminate the confusion caused by a plethora of different plugs and simplify the choice based around manufacturers’ OE specifications.  Federal Mogul’s EON spark plug was the answer to the first need. This short range plug uses just six part numbers covering 85% of the post-1990 car parc.  Its ‘OE’ concept offers an OE specification product aimed at making spark plug buying a simple choice.

The jury of the 2002 Automechanika Innovation prize also selected Visteon as the second group winner in the ‘autoparts’ category. The company was awarded the prize for its Advanced Front Lighting System.  Viseton shares the prize with Valeo and Hella, which have developed similar systems.  Viseton’s advanced lighting technology adjusts headlights so the beam pattern is optimised for different driving conditions, such as vehicle speed and direction.  Intelligent Front Light Lighting Systems that anticipate bends in the road by swivelling the low beam function will be introduced in 2003.  Future developments will go a step further.  For example, adaptive headlights and intelligent light distribution control systems could be integrated with a navigation system, allowing the lighting to be optimised to the road conditions ahead.