Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – A relationship that barely existed a few short years ago has blossomed into an intense love affair.

In case anyone had any doubts, this week’s Management Briefing Seminars here should dispel any uncertainty about the growing ties between auto makers and the Specialty Equipment Market Assn.

Prior to 2000, other than operations such as the Chrysler LLC’s Mopar division, auto makers all but ignored SEMA and its aftermarket parts supplier members.

“They didn’t care about it,” says John Waraniak, SEMA vice president-vehicle technology. “Auto makers looked at SEMA as being concerned with pink wiper blades, spark plugs and motor racing.”

Waraniak, a one-time Johnson Controls Inc and General Motors Corp. executive, says it was former Ford Motor Co. CEO Jacques Nasser who broke the ice when he instructed his engineers to start sharing computer-aided-design data with SEMA members.

The goal was to provide enough information to allow aftermarket suppliers to better design accessories for Ford vehicles, so Ford could better use the accessories to draw in the young tuner crowd.

The program turned event, originally called Technology Transfer, now is dubbed the Technical Briefing Seminars. By 2002, other auto makers had followed Ford’s lead. Since then, North American accessory sales have increased $10 billion, to a total of $36 billion last year. Some forecasts put the market at $44.8 billion by the end of the decade.

In the last couple years, the relationship between auto makers and SEMA has become even cozier, says Beau Boeckmann, vice president for Galpin Automotive Group and president and chief designer of Galpin Auto Sports. Boeckmann has been a longtime participant at SEMA, and his auto sports garage serves as the home base for MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” show.

Five years ago, Boeckmann, in his first speech at the SEMA convention in Las Vegas, urged manufacturers and the aftermarket industry to begin collaborating.

“I’ve seen significant changes the last couple of years,” he says. “There is a willingness to work together. The new openness is fantastic.

“In the past, customers preferred to buy manufacturer-branded accessories. But those weren’t always available, or they were outdated. Now, the manufacturers are working with aftermarket suppliers and either co-branding parts or are beginning to catch up (on their own).”

GM is working more closely with aftermarket suppliers, confirms Nancy Philippart, executive director-GM accessories business channel.

She says the auto maker uses a licensing program to bring aftermarket suppliers into the vehicle-design process, which allows GM to test the safety and quality of all the accessories it offers customers.

“When you add accessories, you can dramatically change the pulse of the vehicle,” Philippart says. “GM always is concerned about the safety and warranty of its products. Yet, we want the ability to provide customers the things they want.”

However, GM avoids some products due to safety concerns, she admits. “Some things are better left to outside companies.”

One challenge for GM is helping its dealers understand their liability when they install non-GM authorized products.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. takes a slightly more open approach, says Mike O’Brien, corporate manager-product planning. The auto maker provides support and technical data to any aftermarket supplier that wants to manufacture accessories for its vehicles.

cbanks@wardsauto.com