Walkabout: The Australian adventure

Frank Massey reflects on what he learned during an extended tour of the Australian automotive aftermarket late last year

By Frank Massey | Published:  30 January, 2019

Having just spent three weeks touring New South Wales, while delivering two training events, firstly in Sydney then Canberra I thought it would be interesting to compare how our two different, but also similar markets operate.

The visit began several months ago with an invitation from a good friend Bob Whyms, Australia’s prominent Porsche specialist in Sydney. The offer comes as part of a training group called Australian Aftermarket Service Dealer Network (AASDN). This is a group of totally independent service and repair independents across the whole of Australia.

 It was formed from disillusioned members from the Bosch Aftermarket Service Dealership Network, or BASDN. Around 70% agreed to form AASDN with the view of promoting mutual support and training across the whole of the continent. Members pay a subscription to a fund that provides venues and trainers across the continent. My understanding is they number about four per season.

Mutual respect
It is important to understand the incredible geographical constraints yet obvious bond they share for their independence and mutual respect. If I may reflect on our very own Autoinform event in Harrogate in November, where I am sure all attendees would recognise the same sentiments from the AASDN group.

I was also privileged to visit several businesses in both Sydney and en-route to Canberra. The BWA Porsche specialist host and first training venue, based in the western suburbs, provides genuine expertise in depth from Bob and now also his son Craig. This ranges from servicing to performance upgrades.

BWA provide a parts service across Australia importing directly from Germany. They also provide a comprehensive machine shop service, which supports their engine remanufacture and performance business. Bob and I had fun reflecting on Bosch D Jetronic and other early evolutions of fuel injection, grumpy old men and all that!

I was then treated to a visit to a highly respected Mercedes tuning expert close to the airport. Then finally, a very talented young technician specialising in DPF cleaning. The focus on training included ignition diagnostic technique, common rail and direct gasoline injection.

It was both a pleasure and privilege to share the enthusiasm from the entire audience, their knowledge and interaction was mutually appreciated.

In a far too brief visit to Dubbo, my good friend Paul gave me an insight into the more remote reaches of the trade. I was equally impressed with the dedication and superb workshop facilities. I also experienced several near-misses from kangaroos!

Special mention
I should give special mention to  my incredible visit to the Bathurst 1000 race. It is an institution among fans and an incredible two-mile hill town circuit, constructed from urban roads. AASDN host a VIP lounge for their members.  Imagine that at Silverstone! It only takes commitment and support with a little cash.

One week down, heavy rain and in the good company of Alan, a diesel shop owner, we travelled down the coast, whale watching in Huskisson Bay. Then onto Canberra, via AASDN committee member Alan. Despite having just lost his home and all his possessions from a bush fire, Alan remarkably still provided accommodation in his temporary rental home.
Our hosts in Canberra, Derek and Ros, operate a large high-end diesel specialist shop. The second training event was a mirror image of Sydney, supported by a second incredible array of AASDN members. Incredible not just for their knowledge and confidence but their interaction over the three days.

The evenings from both events was spent socialising in steak houses chatting over mutual challenges. From my experience the vehicle market share was quite diverse, lots of Asian cars, and a remarkable number of VWs. It was a surprise to learn that that both Ford and Holden have ceased production in Australia due to a lack of competitive pricing. I was told of a delegate who attended the Canberra event who heard of my visit two days before the Friday start, purchased a flight, closed his workshop and travelled from Perth to attend. It is a 3,000km journey. To put that into some local UK context, I once had a conversation with a parts distributor in Kent several years ago, when a training event had to be relocated from Canterbury college to Ashford, 17.5 miles away. He cancelled the whole event without asking the delegates. The reason? He said, “they won’t travel that far.”
I see little differences between our two cultures. I find the same dedication and passion. Sadly for the UK, they seem to have more of it.




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    The report found that the average age of cars in the EU is 11 years, an age that puts a major chunk of the transcontinental car parc firmly in independent garage territory, is certainly good news for garages.
        
    The picture looks bright in fact. The report cites a finding from Frost & Sullivan’s ‘Global automotive aftermarket outlook 2018’ that showed global automotive aftermarket demand was set to rise by 4.4% in 2018, a view shared by many sector analysts according to Clearwater’s report. Another forecast that the report pointed towards, ‘The changing aftermarket game’ from McKinsey, predicted that the market will have a worldwide worth of €1,200bn by 2030. On that basis, underlying global growth on a year-by-year basis would be 3%.
        
    Speaking to Aftermarket about the report, Tobias Schätzmüller, Partner and International Head of Automotive at Clearwater International said: “There are a lot of challenges out there for the aftermarket, as well as  opportunities. First of all, the liberalisation of the independent aftermarket. I think this gave it a boost. Also, technology-wise, there are new entrants. Some pose a threat but also offer many opportunities. Then, of course, there is the powertrain discussion, connected vehicle, and autonomous driving, which will all change the picture.”
        
    One of the aspects the report covered was the ongoing trend of mergers and acquisitions taking place in the sector. The report cited the ongoing purchase activities of LKQ Corporation and Euro Car Parts as an example. It also pointed out the purchase of The Parts Alliance by Uni-Select two years ago, as well as the acquisition of Borg Automotive by Denmark’s Schouw.
        
    Tobias thinks the smaller suppliers will continue to gravitate towards larger companies:  “We see from the M&A analysis that there are still a lot of small and medium-sized businesses around, in small units but with a relatively limited range of products. They are now trying to redefine themselves in terms of international reach, as well as in terms of covering additional markets, and product ranges. For some of them, they recognise it is not possible to gain scale on their own, so they are joining forces with others.”
        
    Expansion is the keyword: “There have been a host of cross-border transactions. In the report we have published a list of many of the deals that have been completed in recent years. Every month there are new deals going through. We are advising players to grow and refine their strategies, and they are bringing access to new product categories. We also advise those players to invest in technology, into automatic warehousing etc. That is the challenge, but for some of the players it is an opportunity to develop greater professional capability, and grow through investment.”
        
    Tobias then pointed out the key trends where businesses need to pay strongest attention: “On the environmental side, it is certainly the change in the drivetrain, with electric vehicles coming in. Nobody knows in the future when, or even if, this dramatic shift will happen but I think everyone still believes we are in a mixed period of combustion engines, hybrids, and electric vehicles. However, if you look 10 or 20 years into the future, the prevalence of electric vehicles will be much stronger. This will of course change the complexities of the engine, and the powertrain. This means less components and less moving parts which is a threat to the spare parts market, although the components in an electric vehicle might have a higher average value per unit. However, this would probably not compensate for the very complex engine that is now in use in combustion engines. There will be a reduction of complexity and, assuming that with the numbers driving there may be less accidents, which will also have an impact on the spare parts business.
      
    “On the exterior side, there will be pressure from OEMs because they now see an opportunity. While increasing liberalisation has seen the independent aftermarket gaining market share, with all the e-solutions in the car, it is possible for an OEM to be the first to provide pre-emptive maintenance. If the car has to go to the garage, they are the first to know that and can make use of this information. They are all desperately looking for alternative profit streams beyond the process of selling hardware, i.e selling a car, which is also a driving factor.”
        
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    On the potential impact of Brexit on the aftermarket, Tobias said it was too early to be drawn on likely outcomes: “Parts supply either comes from the OEMs or tier one suppliers, or it is sourced in Asia. I don't know, looking at the UK market, whether they would have problems sourcing parts from abroad. It depends on what the regulations will be, but Brexit will probably have an impact.”
        
    On whether concern over Britain’s exit from the bloc is warranted, Tobias speculated: “I trust that they will find an economical and reasonable solution. Brexit concerns the UK most, but given the highly integrated automotive value chain, it will also affect the continent.”
        
    Looking ahead, Tobias concluded: “There will be continued consolidation in the market. In the independent aftermarket there is a lot of activity, with many M&A transactions coming up. We are actively tracking this. Companies will seek to be more international, aiming to cover more markets, and will get a broader cross-section of products. On the technological side, advancements in connectivity will mean more preventive maintenance, and overall professionalism within the market will increase. Transparency will also continue to increase thanks to the impact of the online world, and that will have an impact on price.”

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