The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the pillars that give strength to the automotive aftermarket, both in good times and bad.
Traditionally, AAPEX represents the lynchpin for the automotive aftermarket industry, where professionals from across North America and around the world gather to network and share ideas; see the latest industry insight and trends, conduct business and sample the latest products, as well as recognize the outstanding contributions made by so many in this rich and vibrant business.
While the COVID-19 pandemic meant that a physical AAPEX expo didn’t take place at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas this year, the magic of this event was still very much alive and well, albeit in a virtual format. Each year AAPEX features a keynote address and 2020 was no exception.
Presented by Bill Hanvey, President of the Auto Care Association and Paul T. McCarthy, President of the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (the two entities which host AAPEX each year), the 2020 virtual keynote address held a good number of nuggets for attendees to take away.
Hanvey and McCarthy noted that despite the disruptions and challenges COVID-19 has brought with it during 2020, the automotive aftermarket has on the whole, faired reasonably well. Although business took a sharp downward turn during March, data has pointed to an essentially V-shaped recovery since.
The pandemic brought into sharp focus that the aftermarket represents an essential industry. “We are essential to the pizza delivery person, we are essential to the men and women who work in the grocery stores, we are essential to the 900,000 law enforcement officers who climb into their patrol cars each and every day to keep us safe and we are essential to the first responders who put our safety above their own,” said Hanvey. “All these men and women rely on us for safe, reliable transportation. We are essential to the essential workers.”
Part of ensuring that the aftermarket was able to deliver those vital vehicle maintenance and repair services during the pandemic was keeping the supply chains open and flowing, as well as contributing to the need for emergency protection equipment and medical supplies.
McCarthy noted that this unprecedented time called for “unprecedented collaboration,” and that the need to work together, forge closer and stronger ties was essential to ensure the automotive aftermarket remains a vibrant and vital industry going forward.
Hanvey noted that while COVID-19 saw the number of miles driven decline significantly and the automotive service business decline with it, the aftermarket, after having fallen 8.8%, is expected to grow 11.7% in 2021, reaching a market size of $341 billion by 2023.
Yet while there is cause for optimism as the number of miles driven is expected to increase and people hold onto their cars longer, the issues of civil unrest and job loss have put a renewed emphasis on the importance of the people who work in the aftermarket, with a need to ensure diversity and inclusion are a key part of business practices moving forward.
McCarthy also noted the number of skilled technical positions available in the aftermarket sector—some 135,000—and that it was imperative to attract talented individuals and provide them with an understanding that the industry provides both a rewarding career and livelihood for those people and their families.
Right to Repair
Besides COVID-19, a major potential challenge for the aftermarket industry is Right to Repair. Hanvey touched on legislation in the state of Massachusetts around ensuring a fair and level playing field when it comes to consumers choosing their preferred provider for auto care needs.
Both Hanvey and McCarthy acknowledged the support that many companies within the aftermarket sector have provided in fighting for the Right to Repair; spreading awareness through education, sponsorship, media, motorsports and other avenues. “This is also becoming an international campaign,” said McCarthy, “and we are thrilled that our good friends at AIA are joining us and igniting Right to Repair in Canada. The fight continues and we need your help.”
In the U.S., the Alliance Takes to the Hill 2021, has seen the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance and its Auto Value and Bumper to Bumper networks taking to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. next year to ensure that the vehicle data stays where it belongs—in the hands of the automotive service technician.
This is a pressing issue of our times and as Hanvey and McCarthy reiterated, the more awareness and the more momentum behind Right to Repair, the better the chance for a fair and level playing field when it comes to access to vehicle repair data.
A Round Table discussion as part of the keynote address brought executives from across the automotive aftermarket for a discussion about some of the key topics impacting the industry.
This included Duncan Gillis, CEO, BBB Industries; Sue Godschalk, President, Federated Auto Parts; Tom Greco, President & CEO of Advance Auto Parts; Greg Johnson, CEO of O’Reilly Auto Parts and Eric Sills, CEO, Standard Motor Products.
The panelists concurred that the outlook for the aftermarket on the parts manufacturing/distribution/retailing side is largely optimistic, while some trends as a result of COVID-19, such as more people working from home and spending more time working on their cars has driven a significant demand for auto parts and related services.
Another big trend has been the ramping up of online e-tailing and omnichannel distribution.
Sue Godschalk said that the trend toward personal vehicle maintenance and use will likely continue for some time due to concerns about the pandemic, as will the desire to purchase products and services online through digital channels. She also noted that while there is a focus among many distributors and retailers to look at multiple sourcing strategies to minimize supply vulnerability as well as automation to boost efficiency, a key concern is the safety of workers via COVID-19 protocols and other initiatives. “I believe these will be permanent and ongoing,” she said.
Eric Sills noted that while the pandemic has seen some changes into the way business is conducted and also consumer behaviour, he did not forecast any long-term “hard left turns,” to the industry as a result of COVID-19.
Duncan Gillis said that while the pandemic saw a rethink for many organizations in terms of budgets and resources dedicated to travel plans, physical interaction is still hugely important and actual conferences, although perhaps in a slightly different format, will very much be part and parcel of the industry moving forward.
Greg Johnson and Tom Greco were both optimistic about the continued growth in online parts ordering, especially as more consumers look to their cars for transportation needs as opposed to mass transit options, which likely will take a considerable time to recover, even if there is a vaccine for COVID-19.
Overall, both the panelists and keynote hosts concluded that the need to focus on the customer, as well as be prepared and adaptive to changes in the market, as well as the need for strong collaboration and communication across the industry was critical moving forward.
In summing up, Paul T. McCarthy said, “what I really take away from all this, is that this is a relationship industry, a people industry and we really are, an essential industry.”