The changing face of the Aftermarket

A visit to Automechanika Frankfurt provided Neil Pattemore with a perfect physical manifestation of how the sector is changing

Published:  17 December, 2018

Arguably the world’s largest and most successful aftermarket show was recently held in Frankfurt – Automechanika.
    
If you didn’t go, you missed something very impressive, but there will be various reports about what was there and details of specific exhibitors and their latest product or service in this most noble magazine.
    
However, although I spent most of a week at this exhibition, what intrigued me was not just the enormous variety of exhibitors, with their corresponding products, services and new ideas, but the wider question of why it is so successful and why so many visitors – over 130,000 this year - attend this bi-annual show out of their busy schedules. Most importantly, well over two thirds of these are senior business managers or business owners with 96% stating that they were “very satisfied’”with their visit to the show. Doesn’t this start to tell you something very important?
    
It starts to show why exhibitions are so important, especially at this moment in the history of the aftermarket, and why it is increasingly important to attend this type of show. Let me explain.

Evolution
For over a century the aftermarket has continuously evolved and primarily provides consumers with competitive choices about the diagnosis, service and maintenance of the vehicles – generating healthy competition and impressive innovation along the way. If evidence was ever needed as to how important this is, then Automechanika shows this in abundance. Whole halls (several on three levels) exhibit specific sectors of the aftermarket and the Automechanika organisers help the visitor by keeping all similar products or services in a dedicated area or hall. Believe me, this really helps when planning what you want to see and how to find it, but equally reflects the needs of the visitors who plan their visits almost like a military operation. However, there were some important differences with this year’s show as there was an interesting dichotomy. For the first time, there was a significant retrospective view with older (classic) vehicles in a dedicated hall and at other stands around the show. This was to illustrate that growing skills gap in what is a lucrative and resurgent market, but was also clearly based on the B2B opportunities that servicing and maintaining these cars can create.
    
From the opposite perspective, there was much evidence of new technologies and the rapid revolution that is taking place towards the garage of the future. Perhaps these two elements summarise nicely the question of why so many senior people go to this show – it enables them to understand the threats and opportunities in relation to their businesses and equally, flowing from this, where and when investment in their businesses should take place. This leads into how their businesses can remain competitive, which can be a combination of exploiting new digital technologies to create higher workshop efficiencies, implementing improved tools and equipment or understanding how improved work methods using internet and cloud based solutions can reduce the costs.

Competition
On the other side of the equation is the wider competition issue of how to remain in the position to offer competitive choices to the consumer, as the ability to remain competitive could be under severe threat from changes to the vehicle design, access conditions and new competitors entering the market.
    
Automechanika represents the epitome of the aftermarket’s success, but is viewed by the vehicle manufacturers as a rich opportunity to encroach into the aftermarket sector and ‘take back’ what they consider should be rightfully theirs.
    
As I have written about before, this is part of the connected car and allows the vehicle manufacturer to control all remote access to the vehicle. You may consider that this is not your problem, as you repair vehicles when they come into your workshop, but what is happening now is that the start of this repair process starts with vehicle manufacturers’ applications embedded in the vehicle, monitoring what faults or service requirements are needed and then proposing via the in-vehicle display a location and price where the service or repair can be conducted – the driver just clicks  the icon and ‘voila’, the appointment is made at the nearest main dealer. You can’t compete if you can’t make a competitive offer as you don’t know what is needed and cannot contact the driver at the time the vehicle manufacturers are making their proposal.

Access
So, the aftermarket is evolving, but in a way that may not be obvious until it is too late. Independent service providers can manage their businesses to remain competitive with each other, but there is a distortion with which they cannot compete and with a competitor who wants to control the whole aftermarket value chain and its corresponding profit margins. Without being able to communicate with the vehicle, access its data and use the in-vehicle interface to communicate with the driver, all independent service providers (workshops, parts suppliers, data publishers – i.e. the complete aftermarket value chain) will be unable to offer competing offers, as they will not be able to pre-diagnose the vehicle and identify the parts or technical information required before the vehicle comes into the workshop.
    
This remote access can reduce workshop costs by 50% and the corresponding competitiveness of any service you may wish to provide.
    
This is not a ‘let market forces rule’ scenario, but is a real threat to the ability of the whole aftermarket to continue to offer consumers competitive choices and is an excellent example of the ‘primary market’ being able to dominate the ‘secondary market’ – a similar situation to the famous Microsoft Explorer case, where once you had made your choice of a PC, the only choice for an internet search engine was from Microsoft. To address the problem of monopolistic control in the aftermarket, we need the same support from the legislator as they enacted with Microsoft – ensure that there is the ability to implement a competitive choice and let the consumer choose.
    
Only if legislation supports this basic principle of undistorted competition, will the Aftermarket be able to continue to do what it does best – make innovative, competitive and appealing offers to vehicle owners as well as putting on a great show – in every sense of the word.
xenconsultancy.com

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