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Quit Driving Forward Out the Back Window

Fancy forecasting methods have been based entirely on what happened in the past, not in the future, or maybe even in the current aftermarket

I stopped at 10, but this list below could go on. What is interesting is that every one of these statements was made, heard and widely reported, in the 1970s. 

  1. Aftermarket parts can lower a vehicle’s value

2. Aftermarket parts can void the vehicle’s warranty

3. OEM parts and repairs are better because they are “just for your vehicle”

4. Aftermarket parts are not made in the U.S.

5. Part inventories are going through the roof for WD’s and jobbers

6. Retailers are taking over the part’s business

7. The OEM’s won’t grant repair information access

8. Reman engines and transmissions will kill the machine shop and tranny business in the aftermarket

9. Technology will kill our business

10. Where can we find reliable, well trained techs?

Now we hear the exact same thing in the year 2023. The issue as I see it is not the EV (still taking victory laps here after correctly calling that one), or politics, or …  the real issue is how we address each issue.

Having been in and around the aftermarket 40+ years, it has been impressed on me that the more things seem to change, the more they seem to stay the same.

An example. Remember “Just in Time” inventories? It was going to save us billions. Two issues though. One, we began moving work overseas or over borders meaning that we put the entire market at risk of disruptions in the supply chain. And, there were far fewer parts.

I would also argue that the many forecasting methods left some things to be desired. I was big into statistics — before you could use a calculator for tests! I even taught college statistics for a bit while starting a new business. Had to eat. Didn’t take long to realize that all of the fancy forecasting methods were based entirely on what happened in the past, not in the future, or maybe even the current. A bit like driving looking only out the back window. Unless you are backing up, you’re in a world of hurt.

That’s also why I am of the opinion that AI will not save us billions in inventory. It cannot foresee supply disruptions. It cannot know the future. It cannot rationalize human emotions, reactions and behavior. Why you ask? With all the hoopla, you would think AI is some kind of miracle that will replace everyone and be the harbinger of the next great revolution. Makes great news.

AI is really creative. It appears to be a breakthrough in computer coding. It is enormously expensive and only a few companies can afford to develop AI. I applaud the ingenuity and work of some very creative people. 

Bottom line is that AI is the same as statistics. It only “knows” history. Unless maintained, it really does not know the current times. While it may be used for wrong purposes such as impacting political events and elections, it is, at its heart, one gigantic public library online. Driving out of the rear window again.

So, what if we combine JIT and AI? Not a bad idea. I’ll bet, if they haven’t already started, part manufacturers, WD’s, programs, etc., will be getting calls from the software makers to offer the greatest wiz-bang package EVER to revolutionize forecasting. The big media will carry the most amazing news. There will be podcasts, webinars and more touting the new science. Even the Sunday talk shows will pick it up. Whatever makes a buck, I guess.

All while driving forward looking out the back. Learning the past is so important. Saves a lot of time. Too bad our schools can’t seem to teach it any more. But it won’t save us from hitting the tree right in front of us.

The real answer is to make the U.S. the major supply source it was “way back.” That would shorten the distribution lines, resolve the issue of parts and manufacturing being a political football, and create more security for our companies to invest and grow. It’s time we once again become the source. 

The industry must huddle together. Don’t need a huge trade show. Just part manufacturers, retailers, warehouses, jobbers and shops working to once again help each other. We need an industry group, not those that protect their own turf, but a single group whose mission it is to sort out the parts game. Especially now that we’re crossing technologies and strategic lines.

There is one group we haven’t talked about yet. Our ultimate customer, the vehicle and service buyer. What do they want? They want a reliable vehicle that they can drive and receive proper service done well for a fair price. Notice I didn’t say a cheap price. In the eyes of the decision maker they think value. Yes, there are those who are truly just trying to get their vehicle to make it another month or two. We must offer them an option. But, since vehicles are at all time high ages and owner retention rates, there is a mass that realizes that, for a few more bucks, they can rely on their vehicle to keep on going. 

The vehicle owner’s greatest advocate should be the aftermarket. We should be taking the accolades for creating a service and product base that allows our customer to drive a vehicle longer, safely and reliably. Not trying to explain why their vehicle has to sit a week because their parts are on backorder. Again, this is  where a truly united aftermarket should be out there ringing the bells. Instead, whether out of fear or whatever, if mentioned at all, it’s a small tag on to a news report or the subject of a trade journal that only we see.

So, let’s make 2024 the year of the aftermarket. Using our brains, ingenuity and the proven accomplishments that already exist. Of touting our most amazing value to the nearly 400 million vehicles, and their owners, on the road. Of bringing the industry back together. I am signing on. 

Besides, it’s a far better use of your time then watching news and politics. I’m just sayin’. And, let’s do it together. Everyone at every step of the manufacturing and distribution chain. Drive looking out the front windshield.

At a young age, industry veteran Tom Langer started detailing cars for his family’s dealerships, which then led to work in the jobber and warehouse business, along with a machine shop and auto body shop. He held a variety of positions with an auto parts manufacturer for 10 years, and remained in the industry working with shops, warehouses and manufacturers in research and more. 

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