BETHESDA, Md. (Jan. 5, 2009) — The economy may be in trouble, but to the automotive aftermarket it's an opportunity, according to the top executives at the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA).
“We are on the verge of the biggest boom in years for members who are 100-percent directed to the aftermarket,” said AAIA President Kathleen Schmatz. “Drivers are keeping their cars longer, and auto dealers are closing. We know from our research that people know keeping their vehicles well maintained allows them to keep their vehicles longer.
'Of course, those who supply Detroit and other car makers aren't in such wonderful shape,” she said.
The AAIA is shaping its programs to help its members take advantage of aftermarket opportunities and weather OE downturns, according to Ms. Schmatz. Two programs in particular should prove especially helpful, she said.
One of them is a new multi-part online training program for members of the Bethesda-based trade association's Car Care Professional Network, she said.
The program, which will cover everything from marketing to human resources—such as recruiting technicians laid off from auto dealerships—should be at least partly online on the AAIA's Web site by the end of January.
The other program is a follow-up to the AAIA's 2008 study on telematics, which is the science of sending, receiving and storing information via telecommunications de¬vices.
“We've formed a consortium of interested parties on telematics—tool and equipment manufacturers, information providers, electronics experts,” she said. “We will also invite other associations to join.”
The telematics consortium was created at the AAPEX trade show meeting last November in Las Vegas during Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week, Ms. Schmatz said, and its first meeting was held immediately after the AAPEX Town Hall meeting.
Eventually the consortium hopes to make connections with auto makers for information sharing, she said.
Last year, Ms. Schmatz predicted that $4-a-gallon gasoline would cause motorists to drive less. That prediction indeed came true in the summer of 2008.
Although gas prices now have fallen to less than half that figure, that doesn't necessarily mean motorists are piling the miles on their cars again, she said.
“Although gas is a buy right now, consumers may be gun shy and may not expect low prices to last,” she said.
The AAIA put added emphasis on its Be Car Care Aware program in 2008, and it plans to continue that emphasis in 2009 with more participation from repair shops and suppliers, she said.
The AAIA has about 18,000 repair shop members, almost exactly the same number as a year ago, according to Ms. Schmatz.
The current economic situation should be an incentive for repair shops to join the AAIA, she said, because of the mar¬keting tools and training the association offers.
The Barack Obama administration and the new Congress, meanwhile, present both opportunities and challenges to the AAIA and its members, according to Aaron Lowe, AAIA vice president of government affairs.
“One big priority for us and for the administration is health care reform,” Mr. Lowe said.
The association plans to work with the administration on ways to make health insurance less difficult to obtain for AAIA members and easier for all small businesses to provide, he said.
On the other hand, the AAIA plans to work against a new law that makes it easier for unions to organize industry shops, Mr. Lowe said.
“All they need is a signed card, and a secret ballot no longer will be required.
“It makes it a lot easier to intimidate workers to be part of the union, whether they want to be or not.”
However, the Obama administration and the new Congress are both pro-consumer, which should give the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act a fresh chance at congressional passage, he said.
The legislation, which would federally mandate that auto makers provide the same repair and diagnostic information to independent repair shops as they do to franchised dealers, was blocked for years because Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., a staunch opponent of the bill who has been a friend of the auto making industry for many years, was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Mr. Lowe, however, noted that the committee chairmanship has passed in the upcoming Congress to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
“We think Waxman will be a lot more supportive than his predecessor,” Mr. Lowe said. “He's strongly pro-consumer.”
When the Clean Air Act amendments containing onboard diagnostic emissions control requirements were being considered in Congress, Mr. Waxman made sure that provisions were included to make the diagnostic information available to independent repair shops, Mr. Lowe said.
Even if the Right to Repair Act makes no headway in the U.S. Congress, it is well-positioned for passage in several state legislatures, he added.
The New Jersey bill is still under consideration, and the Massachusetts version of the legislation should be reintroduced when the Massachusetts legislature reconvenes in January, he said.