Halfway through his tenure as chairman of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), Mitch Williams is particularly proud of the ``ProPledge'' aftermarket parts warranty system.
``Before ProPledge, a car dealer might say, `I don't want to get involved with the aftermarket exhaust system you're selling,''' said Mr. Williams, president of Vehicle Performance Systems Inc. in Peachtree City. ``But in the future, he can sell aftermarket parts, make money selling them and be completely protected via ProPledge from any possible liability.''
Designed as a cooperative venture between SEMA-member accessory manufacturers and professional parts installers, the ProPledge plan offers a standard, 36-month/36,000-mile warranty that covers defects in both products and installation. If aftermarket products meet certain criteria, Mr. Williams said, they can participate in the ProPledge program and be sold into the car dealer network.
SEMA announced the program last January but plans the full rollout at this year's SEMA trade show in Las Vegas, according to Mr. Williams. ``ProPledge provides a major benefit to accessory manufacturers and their ability to do business with car dealers,'' he said. ``It also creates an additional profit center for car dealers.''
ProPledge is only one of the factors in the five-year strategic plan. ``The strategic plan identifies opportunities within the industry, prioritizing those and allotting resources to deal with them,'' Mr. Williams said.
The growing complexity of vehicles, for example, is an opportunity of which the aftermarket must be aware, he added.
``It is most important for us to understand and be competitive in the new technologies,'' he said. ``We can serve as the pipeline to our membership to tell them what they need to know.''
Regulatory and legislative issues also present challenges and opportunities to the aftermarket, according to Mr. Williams.
``We have a lot of friends in Washington and in the state governments, but only just now do we have a good degree of coordination with people who realize how the vehicle aftermarket contributes to the U.S. economy,'' he said. ``There are 1 million jobs in the specialty equipment market alone.''
What SEMA is striving to create is a network of people in the federal and state governments to address regulatory and legislative problems that arise when the vehicle aftermarket receives more than its share of the blame for environmental or safety problems, Mr. Williams said.
``Most people don't realize that one cargo ship sailing into and out of port creates as much pollution as 1 million cars,'' he noted. ``We have to keep things in perspective. Vehicles are safer, better constructed, cleaner, better performing and more durable than ever before. More can be done, but we don't have to sacrifice performance to do it.''
Like Corky Coker, his predecessor as SEMA chairman, Mr. Williams identifies the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as part of the problem.
``NHTSA has a lot of good intentions, but unfortunately there's a lot of misinformation from those who advise them,'' he said. That in turn creates regulations that hamper or outright kill the ability of auto enthusiasts to accessorize their vehicles or of parts manufacturers to innovate.
``We stand for your right to accessorize your vehicle, as long as you keep it safe and environmentally responsible,'' he said.
Mr. Williams has been active in promoting SEMAPAC, the political action committee initiated by Mr. Coker to advance legislation that promotes the aftermarket industry and oppose bills that would harm it. There is now about $100,000 in SEMAPAC, he said, and SEMA has distributed contributions to candidates who support the aftermarket.
SEMA also takes seriously its function to educate future aftermarket professionals through the SEMA Scholarship Fund. This year the fund distributed 92 scholarships worth $140,000 out of 303 applicants.
``With a record number of applicants and awards, we want to look at ways to distribute even more scholarships,'' he said. ``We're looking at ways to raise funds to invest in our future and help young people who want to be in our industry.''
Vehicle Performance Systems operates under a strict QS9000 quality system, and getting SEMA members certified under various accredited quality systems is a major goal for the organization, according to Mr. Williams.
``We host Webinars and technical seminars to instruct members interested in quality standards,'' he said.
``Anyone who wants to do business with an original equipment manufacturer or a major distributor will have to have some sort of quality certification.''