Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2009   by David Halpert

A Clear View: Wiper And Lighting Opportunities

For many consumers and jobbers, wipers and lighting often rank fairly low on the priority list. However, their importance in accident prevention cannot be denied.

Because the volume of sales of these products does not approach that of leading lines such as brake or chassis components, and they are easily accessible in retail stores, it can be challenging for jobbers to compete in these categories. And since space is often at a premium for jobbers, their inventory for wipers and headlights may be limited to only a handful of manufacturers.

Still, recent product innovations and new technological developments are changing the way wipers and headlamps are being sold into the marketplace, and may provide a more active role for jobbers to play due to the greater automotive experience of their staff compared to most retailers. But it all starts with having the right inventory, and the right approach. Here are a few things to consider when replenishing your inventory for spring.

Wiping the Market Clean

It’s hard to believe the first windshield wipers, invented almost a century ago, were operated manually from inside the car. And it was only forty years ago that a variable-speed wiper blade system was patented.

Not only are they standard on every car produced, but many are being retrofitted with new beam (bracketless) technology blades for better visibility and longevity; and their importance to safety has made the jobber’s expert knowledge of wiper blade technology that much more crucial.

“With modern windshields becoming more curved due to emphasis on aerodynamics for the sake of fuel efficiency, the most significant feature that bracketless technology offers is its even distribution of pressure along the entire length of the blade. The Icon combines dual rubber technology, an exclusive weather shield connector system, and an integrated aerodynamic wind spoiler,” says Tom Vasis, group product manager for Bosch Canada.

Up until a few years ago, beam blades only came equipped on luxury European vehicles (Audi, BWM, Mercedes-Benz, etc.). However, now they are also appearing on vehicles manufactured in North America.

“At last year’s Detroit Auto Show, over 50% of vehicles came equipped with beam blades on them. This is up from 21% in 2006. Integral rear blades are equipped on 32% of all new models,” says Randy Chukpa, marketing manager of Gates Canada Ltd.

Beam blades will retail for more than conventional blades, and while the unit cost is small when compared to other products sold in the aftermarket (e. g., tires, brake pads) the average price per unit will increase.

One important change to be aware of is the fact that the vast majority of beam blade applications have a unique wiper arm connection point. According to Trico, the jobber will have to carry additional part numbers dedicated to these specialty blades, on top of the 10 part numbers that are needed to retrofit older vehicles to this improved technology.

Jobbers need to be sure to start carrying these specialty beam blades and rear integral blades, or risk losing out on these sales. While it may seem rather rudimentary, they also need to ask their customers, “When was the last time you replaced your wipers?” It is recommended that wipers be checked every six months and replaced at least once a year. Unfortunately most consumers, on average, replace their blades every two and half years.

However, beam blades on average last longer than conventional wiper blades. For instance, while Bosch recommends its Icon blades should be replaced every six months for preventive maintenance, they last on average 20% longer and can be extended to an interval as long as 12 months.

With integral rear blades, jobbers can now capture additional sales that previously only the original equipment manufacturer could. “Most integral rear blades are uniquely shaped to the design of the wiper arm and/or have a unique connection style. Previously to Trico launching integral rear blades in its Exact Fit blade program, the only other source for these blades was the OE dealership,” says Chupka.

How HIDs are Entering the Market

For the past thirty years, halogen bulbs have been the standard lighting system for automotive headlamps, but the recent popularity of high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights has threatened halogen’s dominance in the marketplace. They produce 60 to 70% more light than halogens, but also consume less energy.

While these products are normally referred to as xenon headlights, it is in fact the xenon gas within the lamp that produces the light. Because HID lights rely on an electrical arc to yield light rather than a filament, it not only requires less energy but also has a comparable beam pattern to halogens.

Osram Sylvania estimates that in 2008, 37% of vehicles were offered with HID lighting systems as an option or part of a trim package, and almost 10% of vehicles sold in North America were equipped with HID headlights.

Their main hindrance in reaching more consumers is twofold. The average price range for HID systems is somewhere in the ballpark of $500 to $800, with those numbers expected to drop as more and more units enter the market. Also, if an HID headlamp is damaged, either from a collision or some other external factor, the entire unit has to be replaced, not just the bulb. This can amount to hundreds of extra dollars spent on repair costs, as opposed to a $20 replacement bulb change with halogen headlamps.

“HID systems also consume only 35W per bulb versus 55- 65W per bulb with the halogen. So it’s lower consumption, which means lower energy requirements, which translates in the end to lower gas consumption,” says Alfredo de la Vega, marketing manager for Hella Inc. “Halogen bulbs normally last between 500-1,000 hours, while HID could last an average of 2,500 hours, as much as four times that of halogen.”

Regardless, HID headlights are likely to become more prevalent in coming years, especially if manufacturers can reduce their expense. Aftermarket players should be aware of the opportunities surrounding this new technology. While the frequency of potential jobs may decrease, the per-unit revenues will likely escalate.

Facts & Other Tidbits

Light-emitting diode (LED) technology for headlights is on the horizon. This may become a more cost-effective upgrade alternative to halogen luminosity and longevity. However, industry representatives hold that mass production of LED headlamps is at least four to six years away.

What makes wipers especially difficult for jobbers to sell is the high rate of units sold at the retail level by stores like Canadian Tire.

For DIYers who take it upon themselves to replace their own wipers, the Automotive Industries Association of Canada’s Outlook Study conducted by DesRosiers Consultants found that 61.5% of those surveyed purchased their units at Canadian Tire alone.

However, for the DIFM market, 31.5% of wiper replacements were purchased from independent repair shops while 30.5% were purchased from new car dealers.

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