The Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA) has finally opened its membership rolls to independent repair shops.
Well… sort of.
It won’t be full membership, exactly, but a new program gets service providers through the door with non-voting associate status for $179 a year.
The Automotive Service Association Program (ASAP) give shops access to technical and management training events, presence on a national shop-finder web site, financial services for their customers, and technical expertise on a range of topics including vehicle reprogramming.
It will be the first time that shops will have direct access to AIA programs as associates. And while it’s not first-class membership, it is a step toward unifying the entire industry under a single association banner – something that some of us have advocated for decades.
So why now?
According to AIA executives, it’s all about the extraordinary times we’re living through, when the ground rules about vehicle propulsion, maintenance, use, and ownership are all being rewritten.
“We are seeing the arrival of a fundamental change in the vehicle maintenance and repair environment, where electronics, telematics, and vehicle data are rapidly forming the heart of the diagnosis process,” says Andrew Shepherd, AIA’s senior director of industry programs. “Aftermarket service providers are going to need a connection to new training and new equipment, but more importantly a connection to a community where challenges can be faced and solutions can be developed.”
He says the ASAP can be that community for forward-looking shops, while at the same time serving a higher cause.
AIA has had to step up its lobbying efforts in recent years on behalf of automotive businesses that are not directly aligned with carmakers. At political meetings, legislative negotiations, Senate committees, and bi-lateral discussions, the association needs to be seen as representing the whole industry, not just manufacturers and distributors of parts.
Having a direct link to the largest sector of the repair and service community – the independent businesses across the country that actually do the hard work of maintaining vehicles – gives AIA even more credibility. And greater influence translates to greater clout for the entire aftermarket.
AIA’s target number of ASAP shops is not particularly ambitious. According to Shepherd, signing up 300 members by the end of the year would be a good start, and he expects service provider interest to plateau somewhere between 1000 and 1500 shops within a few years.
Personally, I think $179 a year is a reasonable investment if for no other reason than to gain access to industry movers and shakers. Rubbing shoulders with senior executives at the manufacturing and warehouse-distributor level is a tremendous business advantage. I’ve seen first-hand how shop owners have been able to capture the attention of supply chain leaders at an AIA luncheon or networking break. Within a few minutes they can often negotiate a resolution to an ongoing business concern.
For shop owners with an agenda – either for the industry or their shop – AIA’s new associate program could be an invaluable resource.
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