The steady growth of import vehicles in North America has Tenneco Automotive eyeing a larger slice of that business.
The maker of Monroe-brand shock absorbers and struts and Walker exhaust systems said it already has the products to service many of these foreign-nameplate vehicles, it just needs to convince more vehicle owners and repair shops to give its products a try.
It promises they won't be sorry.
``A large part of the problem has been the perception that quality replacement parts for many imports aren't readily available within the aftermarket supply chain,'' said Richard Alameddine, Tenneco's vice president of marketing, North American aftermarket.
That's a viewpoint the company is out to change.
``We have to get the word out that we, as aftermarket companies, have products that are very good quality, have lifetime guarantees and have the availability for the (vehicles) that are out there,'' said Bill Dennie, director of ride control channel management for Tenneco.
Part of that effort involved inviting a dozen or so tire and automotive trade journalists to the company's Monroe facility June 28 to hear about the firm's efforts to grab more import vehicle aftermarket business.
Over the past 18 months, Tenneco has added 265 import parts numbers covering 100 makes and models to its lines of Monroe Sensa-Trac and Monroe Reflex shocks and struts. That's taken the company to the point where those brands now cover more than 93 percent of the foreign-nameplate vehicles registered in the U.S. and Canada. Sensa-Trac shocks and struts are designed for passenger cars, while the Reflex line is targeted at light trucks, minivans and sport-utility vehicles.
The company also offers hundreds of Walker QuietFlow3, direct-fit welded exhaust assemblies and engine-to-tailpipe applications for import models. And it has recently expanded its line of direct-fit replacement OBD I and OBD II catalytic converters by nearly 200 SKUs.
``There's no question that each year more and more consumers who own foreign-nameplate vehicles will be looking for exhaust and emission services,'' Mr. Alameddine said. ``The challenge and opportunity for aftermarket providers is to demonstrate that they have all the right products to restore the OE-style sound and performance these consumers clearly prefer.''
Citing vehicle registration statistics, Mr. Alameddine detailed the shift in import and domestic vehicle market shares that's occurred over the past decade. Between 1993 and 2003, import registrations grew 57 percent compared with 9 percent for domestic vehicles, he said. Light truck import registrations increased 366 percent over that same time period.
``Instead of those Tauruses and those Chrysler minivans, it'll be Camrys and Hondas that will be the primary vehicles for us,'' Mr. Alameddine said.
But some import vehicle owners and repair shop operators are reluctant to install Monroe shocks and struts, thinking they have to take their car back to the auto dealer to restore the OE-style performance, the Tenneco execs said.
Mr. Dennie found this out firsthand recently while spending a month in California talking to owners of import repair shops.
``It's amazing, when you talk to these guys, they will use the aftermarket products on domestic applications-Ford, Chrysler, GM-but when it comes to a Toyota, a Nissan it's, `No I've got to use something else,''' Mr. Dennie said. ``That was the perception that we have: Monroe has been around for 90 years and that was my father's shock absorber.''
This is despite the fact Monroe is original equipment on many of these vehicles-including models made by Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda, DiamlerChrysler, BMW and Volvo.
Tenneco research has found that just 31 percent of import owners currently rely on general automotive service shops for ride control replacement. That compares with nearly 50 percent of domestic-vehicles owners, who choose general automotive repair locations.
To capture a greater share of this market, Tenneco executives want to get the word out to repair shops that, with the growing number of foreign-nameplate vehicles, they have to embrace the import customer.
And they want these shops and their customers to know that Monroe and Walker components are engineered to deliver precisely the level of performance they expect, Mr. Alameddine said.
Tenneco, for example, sets the valving on its shocks to match the OE ride and profile of each vehicle, a company spokesman said.
To help installers and import specialists capture new shock and strut sales, the company has published an import-only catalog of replacement ride control products.
It also has backed up its components with a 90-day money-back trial offer dubbed the ``Safe and Sound Guarantee.'' Consumers who purchase Monroe shocks and struts can receive a refund for the product purchase plus labor of up to $50 per axle if not completely satisfied with premium Monroe units.
QuietFlow3 exhaust assemblies and mufflers also are covered by the Safe and Sound Guarantee as well as a limited lifetime warranty.
``That's what we want to get out in regards to the aftermarket,'' Mr. Dennie told the journlists at Import Tech Day. ``We've got great products, they're probably cheaper than you're going back to the dealer for, and they all have lifetime guarantees.''