Thursday, 27 May 2010 17:18

ABPA Conference Airs Aftermarket Parts Certification Issues Again

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The fallout in recent months from concerns raised about non-OEM bumper and structural parts raised by industry trainer Toby Chess was clearly on the minds of the parts manufacturers and distributors gathered in Indianapolis, Ind., this spring for the Automotive Body Parts Association’s 30th annual meeting.

At the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) this past November and January, Chess  demonstrated key differences between some non-OEM structural parts and the OEM parts they are being sold to replace. The demonstrations have led at least four insurers to pull back from asking shops to use certain non-OEM parts, and has led to new testing and certification efforts related to such parts. Chess’ latest presentation on such parts at CIC in April was halted at the last minute after he said he was threatened with a lawsuit by LKQ Corporation, parent company of Keystone Automotive.

In an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the ABPA board, Rob Wagman, of LKQ Corporation, told attendees if elected he would push ABPA to be more proactive on such issues.

“I reached out to the association in November after the first CIC demonstration, and quite frankly, I didn’t think ABPA did enough to get out in front of this thing,” Wagman told the 150 people attending the ABPA event. “I think on the board I would push to get the association out there, defending its membership and really getting in front of these guys who are coming after the industry. If we don’t act soon, I think we’re in a lot of trouble as an industry. If I was on the board, I’d want to make sure... that everyone knows we’re a quality industry that’s trying to help the [rest of the] industry and not bring it down.”

Wagman and another potential new ABPA board member were defeated in the election for three open board seats by current board members winning reelection.

Like Wagman, ABPA Treasurer Jim Smith, a consultant in the non-OEM parts industry who was reelected at the meeting to his position on the association’s board, told those at the ABPA meeting that the non-OEM parts industry is under attack like at no time since the State Farm parts lawsuit a decade ago.

Smith pointed to the Automotive Service Association’s meeting this spring with senior officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at which ASA reiterated its request that the agency regulate non-OEM crash parts.
“Of all the things that can happen to our industry, being regulated by the government has to be right there at the bottom,” Smith said. “It’s a shame that ASA would try to take our industry in that direction.”

Smith also said the non-OEM parts industry—even those that sometimes resent LKQ/Keystone for its dominant position in the market—owes the company thanks for its actions in preventing Chess’ planned demonstration at CIC about problems with non-OEM hood latches.

“I don’t care if you like LKQ or not, but what they did in quieting Toby Chess was absolutely necessary for our industry,” Smith said. “While you may want to kick them in the butt when they’re doing things in your market that make you scratch your head, you need to pat them on the back when they spend the money to do the things that make your business survive,” Smith said.

CAPA’s Gillis addresses distributors

Also speaking at the meeting, Jack Gillis of the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA) said he titled his remarks, “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda.” He said the current controversy over non-OEM structural parts could have been avoided if distributors had refused to accept anything but quality parts.

“Imagine the position you would be in right now if 10 or 15 years ago, you simply said to your vendors that you wanted only CAPA-certified parts,” Gillis said. He said complaints by manufacturers that getting a part certified by CAPA is too time-consuming and expensive are unfounded.

“What has it cost you that you haven’t insisted on CAPA certification?” Gillis asked distributors in his address. “What is the expense to this industry of the continuing attacks against the aftermarket parts industry?”

Gillis said CAPA began testing non-OEM bumpers over a year ago and presented to its board “data showing significant inconsistency between car company brand parts and aftermarket bumper parts.” He said “the majority of parts we reviewed did not compare favorably to the car company brand parts,” even some non-OEM parts that appeared visually to match the OEM.

“The bottom line is that none of us can look at these parts and make an informed decision about whether or not they will perform the same as car company brand parts,” he said.

Gillis said that as CAPA finalizes its new certification standard for non-OEM bumper parts, it is working with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to perform low- and high-speed crash tests on non-OEM bumper parts. The testing, he said, will include angle-barrier tests to determine whether such parts “impact on keeping the two frame rails together.”
Gillis said the involvement of the IIHS is an indication of insurer’s interest in the issue. “The bottom line is: If these bumpers do not protect occupants or (allow) more damage to vehicles, it’s insurers that are going to pick up the cost of either the personal injury associated with the problems, or the additional damage associated with poor-performing bumpers in low-speed collisions,” Gillis said.

Fighting OEM patent protection

Also speaking at the meeting was Eileen Sottile of the Quality Parts Coalition (QPC). She said that organization has amassed $713,000 to use in its effort to enact federal legislation (HR 3059) that would nullify design patent protections on automotive and other repair parts.

The coalition, made up primarily of insurers and non-OEM parts manufacturers and distributors, says automakers are increasingly seeking design patents on crash parts to prevent non-OEM versions of the parts from being produced and sold.
Dan Morrissey, a consultant in the non-OEM parts industry and co-chairman of the QPC, told distributors at the ABPA annual meeting that as of late April only 14 businesses had contributed to the fund. The QPC, he said, now is asking more distributors for a $50 donation for every shipping container they import into the United States.

“I hope everyone realizes this is a life or death issue for the aftermarket,” Morrissey said at the meeting, “If the OEMs are successful in patenting parts, it could be the end of our industry.”

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