Last month, this magazine presented its annual Top 10 Issue. As part of that issue, I pen an article that details the top 10 topics that most impact distribution. Of course, these topics don’t just impact distribution because, as we’d all agree, auto parts distribution certainly doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Those things that challenge the industry as a whole end up effecting distribution in one way or another, and to varying degrees.
The way we come up with these 10 items is based mostly on discussion and argument. We have brainstorming sessions in which we throw ideas up on a big board. We then discuss, challenge and finalize the list. Then, to order them, we once again discuss, challenge and argue some more before settling on a final line up. Usually, the most contentious arguments center around which item gets named the number-one influence. This year there was, as there always is, differing opinions. In the end, “telematics” emerged as the influence that most impacts the aftermarket, and by extension, auto parts distribution.
Why telematics? What about the dealer? Isn’t that the real enemy of the aftermarket? I’ll put it this way: Don’t be afraid of the dealer. Be afraid of telematics. The dealer is a mere benefactor of all the goodies that telematics can send their way.
Of course, telematics does a lot of cool things: If you lock your keys in your car, you can call GM’s OnStar system, for example, and it will unlock your vehicle through the telematics system. If you get into an accident and you air bag deploys, telematics will relay a message to the OEM, which can then summon help. Lost? Your vehicle knows exactly where you are using GPS and can communicate that information to the OEM, which has operators who can give you precise directions through an in-car, two-way communications device.
But telematics can also do other things like communicate to the driver when he needs an oil change. It can alert the driver if the MIL comes on. It can let the driver know when his 30,000 mile service is due — all through friendly and gentle voice or text reminders, right to the driver. Perhaps someday, it will even be able to alert the EPA if a vehicle’s emissions are higher than allowable.
Where do you think these reminders will direct the driver for service? The independent repair facility? Guess again. A chain service dealer? Maybe. A local dealership? You bet. This neat arrangement effectively cuts the aftermarket out of the entire service and repair equation.
How should the market react to this? First, the aftermarket needs to understand telematics and all its nuances. We need to be absolutely clear about all the challenges and opportunities it presents. We may discover that it’s not the big bad wolf many think it is. Or maybe it really is. We just don’t yet know. Perhaps there is a way that the aftermarket can live and thrive with telematics in some symbiotic way. Perhaps. But there’s no way to know if we don’t study it.
The solution to this, as is the solution to so many of the aftermarket’s problems, is education. The market must study telematics, its effects, potential challenges and opportunities. It must study other industries to see if it can learn from their failures and successes. The aftermarket must look beyond itself, beyond the usual way of doing things. It’s a new age in the automotive service market and it will require new and dynamic ways of thinking. If your company makes any resolutions at all in 2008, please make it a top priority to include as much employee education as possible. The future of an entire industry is counting on it.