DIAMOND BAR, Calif. (Jan, 1, 2007) — The more things change, the more they stay the same, and nowhere is that adage more true than in the automotive aftermarket industry.
Chris Kersting, president of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), knows this well.
Vehicle technology is changing all the time, growing ever more complex, Mr. Kersting noted, but the need of SEMA members to comprehend this technology and turn it to their advantage remains urgent as does the association´s mandate to help its members understand new systems and features on cars, to serve their customers better.
``Vehicle technology is something that will be a major challenge for our industry into the foreseeable future,´´ Mr. Kersting said. ``It isn´t something that will be addressed and then go away.´´
To serve its customers in this vital area in 2007 and beyond, SEMA hired John Waraniak last May as its vice president of vehicle technology. Mr. Waraniak is attached to the association´s OE relations department, under Carl Sheffer, vice president of OE relations, and is based in Detroit.
Mr. Waraniak, who has a long resume of senior engineering and leadership positions with General Motors Corp. and other global companies, serves as staff liaison between SEMA members and OEM or Tier 1 supplier companies. He also is expanding SEMA´s technology-related workshops and conferences, connecting SEMA members with the benefits of various technology transfers and working with organizations such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and the Society of Automotive Engineers on various technology issues.
``The important thing is that we are in a situation where we can work with our Wheel & Tire Council and our other industry councils on vehicle technology questions,´´ Mr. Kersting said. ``We have a go-to person on our staff who can help us with these problems, and who can organize joint activities and other cooperative efforts.´´
Tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) are among the top new technologies on SEMA´s radar. The TPMS issue is the main reason why the association expanded its Wheel Industry Council into the Wheel & Tire Council (WTC), Mr. Kersting said.
The WTC will meet this month to establish the specifics of education and training programs covering TPMS and other tire- and wheel-related issues, he said. The TPMS issue, particularly, has sparked collaborative efforts between SEMA and other associations, such as the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and the Tire Industry Association (TIA).
``It´s been a nice development, working with TIA and the RMA to let them know we´re there to help,´´ he said.
Among the government-related proposals Diamond Bar-based SEMA is watching are the tire fuel efficiency bill that the RMA and TIA championed earlier this year and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)-proposed rule to require electronic stability control (ESC) systems on all passenger vehicles.
The RMA floated the tire fuel-efficiency bill, which would establish a national consumer information program, as an alternative to much harsher legislation, and TIA decided to support it. SEMA, however, felt the bill as written placed an undue burden on small businesses.
``It´s our expectation that the issue will all be taken up again in the next Congress,´´ Mr. Kersting said. SEMA is working with the RMA and TIA on the tire fuel-efficiency issue, with the idea of developing legislation on which they can all agree, he added.
The ESC proposal, which NHTSA issued last September, promises to be more controversial. The agency wants a final rule in place by April 1, 2009, with a phase-in of ESC requirements over the following three years.
Commenters on the rule were all over the map, from the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers´ total support for it to consumer advocacy group Public Citizen´s dismissal of it as ``blatantly inadequate.´´
For its part, SEMA is concerned that the ESC proposal doesn´t address the question of how ESC equipment will interact with other vehicle equipment and systems. It also doesn´t consider how vehicle modifications-of which millions are performed-might hamper or deactivate ESC systems.
``Our comment to NHTSA concerns how the system must be set up to accommodate our industry,´´ Mr. Kersting said. ``We can design products compatible with ESC, as long as we understand how it relates to wheels, tires and suspension.´´
SEMA representatives hope to meet with NHTSA officials soon to elaborate on their concerns, he said.
On the benefits side, Mr. Kersting is proud of the ``Pro-Pledge´´ aftermarket parts warranty program unveiled in 2006. Pro-Pledge offers auto dealers a standard three-year, 36,000-mile warranty on both aftermarket products and their installation. The program shields those dealers from liability if an aftermarket part should fail, thus giving them more confidence to buy and install aftermarket parts.
``It´s a tool for our members to expand their sales to the auto dealer network,´´ Mr. Kersting said. Pro-Pledge is just now going into the marketplace after some unexpected delays, he added, but the program has received an excellent response at meetings hosted by J.D. Power & Associates, the National Automobile Dealers Association and others.
SEMA also is moving on its plan to help its members understand and utilize business-to-business software in their operations, according to Mr. Kersting. That effort is headed by the association´s Business Technology Committee, he said.
``The pilot program will allow some of our retailers the chance to use basic technological tools,´´ he said.