Aftermarket should not be an afterthought

  • 10-Oct-2008 03:28 EDT

"There’s a disconnect sometimes between what the consumers are really looking for and what the OEMs want to give," said DUB Publishing President and Co-Founder Myles Kovacs at the SAE World Congress. "[DUB is] collaborating with the OEMs to help shorten the curve."

“Designers and engineers can actually build more waste into a product in one afternoon than an army of manufacturing engineers can take out in an entire life cycle of that vehicle,” said John Waraniak, Vice President of Vehicle Technology at SEMA, driving home the point that OEMs need to collaborate with the aftermarket upfront to achieve what he calls “lean customization.”

During the “Designing for the Customer” session at the SAE 2008 World Congress in April, several examples were presented by OEM executives of how they considered accessorization early in the development process, one being the Mazda CX-9 roof rack.

In contrast to a previous roof rack Mazda did for the Mazda6 station wagon, which was a late addition to the program and involved a lot of time and disassembly work to install, the CX-9’s rack was considered at the vehicle program approval stage. “At that point, we began earnest work with Mazda Japan—the platform team—to provide proper roof-structure provisions for my engineering team here to develop a North American accessory roof rack with a SEMA member,” said Jack Stavana, Group Manager of Accessory Operations at Mazda North America.

That supplier is JAC Products, and the provisions included six precisely located attachment points in the roof with “doors.” The end result is a high-quality roof rack with much quicker installation.

“In this case, because of the growth of our accessory business at Mazda, Japan frankly was more willing to listen to us and get more provisions built into the cars upstream,” said Stavana, noting that the CX-9 averages about $800/vehicle for accessories.

Mobile electronics is a significant piece of the accessorization pie, said Waraniak, particularly with the popularity of PDAs, navigation, and entertainment options. But there are some challenges in this area as well.

“The aftermarket can do the electronics a lot easier than we [OEMs] can; there’s a lot of federal rules, a lot of things you can’t do in a car, so we have to be very careful because we can spoil it for everybody if we try to be too aggressive with in-car electronics,” said Ralph Gilles, Vice President of Design and Specialty Vehicles at Chrysler.

And though performance is thoroughly ingrained in the customization landscape, the topic of “green customization” inevitably rose to the surface. Waraniak noted that at this year’s SEMA show there will be a “green zone” for environmentally friendly aftermarket technologies. “SEMA is not the Hells Angels of the auto industry,” he said. “There’s a lot of green aspects…. [But] once emissions are pretty much under control [with advanced-technology vehicles such as] hybrids and extended-range electrics, you’re going to see a whole rebirth of performance again.”

On the topic of standards, panelists agreed that it will be a challenge to establish more stringent guidelines for the aftermarket.

“You’ve got to imagine a company the scale of [some of] these aftermarket companies—there’s just no way you can put these products through the same type of testing that an OE can,” said Michael J. Chetcuti, CEO of Quality Metalcraft. “They’re coming out to market [with products] within weeks after the concept and for a fraction of the engineering dollars. As far as the performance specs, that’s pretty easy to hit; but the safety and long-term durability are pretty difficult.”

A General Motors executive concurred. “If we sell a vehicle with aftermarket parts like Brembo brakes, for example, we expect those parts to meet OEM requirements, OEM validation,” said Ken Morris, Executive Director of Vehicle Integration at GM. “When you talk about strictly aftermarket, I think it will be a challenge not only on component-level validation but vehicle-level validation, vehicle dynamics, all of those things. How many of the companies that are currently in business have the wherewithal to manage that kind of validation?”

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