OTTAWA LAKE, Mich.—``Spicer'' hauls a lot of history around with it wherever it goes. A storied name in the automotive industry, the brand—and Clarence Spicer, the man behind it—date back to the turn of the century and the early days of the internal combustion engine and self-propelled vehicle travel.
Today, descendants of Mr. Spicer's universal joint—which he engineered and patented while still attending college—and many other Spicer-brand products are used on 95 percent of the world's motor vehicles, according to Toledo, Ohio-based Dana Corp.
As the next century fast approaches, the firm is focusing new attention on its Spicer brand name with the introduction of Spicer Professional Grade Chassis Products for the automotive aftermarket.
At a press conference Sept. 23 at the Dana Technical Resource Park in Ottawa Lake, executives provided an overview of how the new product line fits into the company's brake and chassis division lineup—and will hopefully propel it and pro installers to higher profitability.
Signs garnishing a Dana conference room bore ``The Power of One'' and ``Driven To Be the Best'' themes—signifying that, according to the company, it is ``working as one'' with its customers and bringing together as one unit its brake and chassis divisions.
Larry Pavey, president of the Dana Automotive Aftermarket Group's Brake and Chassis Division, promised members of the trade and automotive press that the new Spicer product line ``will be manufactured to the industry's highest quality standards, will be the most dependable, as well as the safest, and will be supported with a very strong and aggressive marketing program.''
Spicer, he said, ``has the reputation and name that will serve us well in the aftermarket...,'' with the ultimate goal: improving the safety of the motoring public.
The firm's overall objective, Mr. Pavey added, is to offer support to the professional installer by solving ``comeback'' problems while helping shop owners be more efficient and profitable.
Introducing the Spicer line, Alan Morrissey, vice president product development, called it a ``new generation of chassis parts, designed and manufactured to meet specific vehicle demands, while handling the toughest steering and suspension applications.''
When the company set out to develop the line, it found that, especially in SUV and light truck applications, ``there was no competitive solution to driveability problems,'' he claimed.
Products in the new line include idler arms, pitman arms, ball joints, drag links, center links, tie rod ends and bushings, as well as a number of alignment products and tools. More than 5,000 SKUs for domestic and import applications are available for passenger cars, light trucks, sport-utility vehicles, medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
The line—which has already been launched in Mexico—is aimed at the high-end market. It will have ``20 percent more SKUs than our closest competitors,'' Mr. Pavey said, and ``will be value priced and competitive—but (it) won't be cheap.''
The new products build on the synergies Dana has with the original equipment and replacement markets, said Paula Schaff, vice president and general manager of the Chassis Products Division.
To ensure superior wear characteristics, the company is using the latest in synthetic materials for the Spicer products, which she said are ``benchmarked'' to OE manufacturers as well as aftermarket competitors so that they ``live up to the highest performance and quality standards.''
Training is critical to today's aftermarket, said Kevin Judge, vice president marketing. Consequently, Dana is developing programs offering technical service, technical training, catalogs, sales promotions and advertising opportunities for professional installers.
The company plans to support the products ``with the type of marketing programs that have been so successful for our Raybestos Brake products,'' he said. ``For example, we will be launching the Spicer Steering and Alignment Center''—a shop membership program geared to assisting the professional installer ``with the complex steering and alignment issues of today's vehicles.''
Dana, which has a dealer council and regularly conducts customer surveys, will use that program as a ``sounding board'' to provide feedback on the new products, Mr. Judge explained.
A big push for comprehensive training will be undertaken for the Spicer rollout. Mr. Judge said that will include classroom and hands-on instruction by ASE-certified personnel. It will be available at Dana's training centers in McHenry, Ill., and in Ottawa Lake.
Classes will cover conventional and strut suspension systems, rear-wheel- and front-wheel-drive suspensions, alignment theory and component replacement for entry-level through advanced.
On-site instruction at a service shop could encompass "basic" four-hour programs or more comprehensive four-day training, as well as video conferencing with two-way interaction ``for maximum learning potential,'' a ``counter pro'' course, instructional videotapes, and a technical hot line.
A new Spicer Internet web page is oriented to technical help, Mr. Judge said, rather than simply providing a list of locations where the products can be purchased.
Pro installers who become members of the steering and alignment center program receive many training opportunities free and, for every product they install, will receive ``points'' redeemable for rewards.
To promote the new products, Dana has developed point-of-sale material such as bay banners, posters and counter mats.
Mr. Judge said the same sales force handling Dana's brake components will be expanded to also sell chassis products. Their day-to-day job, he noted, is ``troubleshooting out in the field.''
The Spicer chassis product line will be rolled out to the industry at the upcoming Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week trade shows in Las Vegas in November, and will make its public debut via ad campaigns in general circulation magazines, newspapers and periodicals next January.
In connection with the consumer launch, the company will conduct a special sweepstakes for its customers. The grand prize is a Hummer—since 15 percent of the vehicle's parts are manufactured by Dana.