Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2001   by Dennis Mellersh

COVER STORY: A New Twist on Filter Sales


Although aftermarket analysts are predicting steady but unspectacular growth in the overall automotive filters market, there is one segment being described as positioned for excellent growth: cabin air filters.

Cabin air filters were introduced on European cars some years ago and are now appearing on North American built cars as new vehicle models are introduced and as older models are redesigned.

An analysis from Frost & Sullivan notes, “The installation of cabin air filters will offer important opportunities for aftermarket sales. These products are becoming the standard on an increasing number of vehicles.” The report goes on to say that to make the most of this burgeoning market segment, filter manufacturers will have to ensure that consumers replace these filters as often as recommended by OEMs.

Basically, cabin air filters, or interior ventilation filters, do for the passenger compartment what air filters do for the engine; remove particulates from the air. Cabin air filters are designed to remove very small particles, down to one micron in size. To give you an idea of how small that is, a human hair is about 70 microns thick. These filters remove dust, pollen, mold spores and other particles.

Certain driving conditions, such as city driving, driving on dusty roads and driving in industrial areas, will cause the ventilation filter to clog up sooner than normal driving conditions. ATP-Inc. recommends that the ventilation filter be changed every 12 months or 19,000 km, and that failure to replace the filter will result in reduced airflow into the passenger compartment.

Cabin air filters are becoming an important health and comfort market product, because despite our best efforts, pollution and other airborne particles are an ongoing problem. Mann + Hummel reports, “The air in urban areas and in the vicinity of roads is highly polluted with dust, pollen and diesel soot. Studies conducted on a very busy inner-city street have revealed that the concentration of particles and noxious gases in the air along the road is three to six times higher, and in extreme situations, five to 10 times higher than air at the side of the road. The contaminated air enters the vehicle via the ventilation system.”

How do automotive parts manufacturers describe this market? In a word, exciting. Essentially, it is one of few new filter categories to develop in years.

“The market for cabin air filters is definitely increasing,” says Peggy Campbelton, director of marketing for the Fram brand at Honeywell Canada, Stratford Ont. “We currently have about 20 numbers to offer. Overall we feel that this is an up-and-coming market that is poised for exceptional growth,” Campbelton says.

“There are a lot of new vehicles being built that have these filters, but to a large extent, consumers don’t know anything about cabin air filters, so we see a real need to educate the consumer on this product category. Right now we are developing material that will help the trade in this consumer education project. Some of our support material, for example, will explain what cabin filters do, how they work, and what their benefits are to the consumer,” Campbelton says.

In terms of coverage, suppliers note that this is not a one-size-fits-all type of market. There are really no universal cabin air filter units. Nor is it an easy DIY market. These filters can be quite hard to get at, so it is likely that the major market will be at the installer level. In terms of parts numbers to carry, jobbers are advised to assess the vehicle mix in their area and then talk to their suppliers about numbers coverage.

Gord Collins, senior product manager, undercar and powertrain, GM Service Parts Operations in Oshawa, Ont., reports “Like the remarkable growth found in the European vehicle market, cabin air filter sales in (North America) are expected to increase dramatically over the next decade. ACDelco is prepared for this market surge with extensive market coverage of its high-efficiency cabin air filter.

“Changing the filter regularly will provide a healthy and clean passenger environment, enhance passenger comfort and may reduce wear on the vehicle’s heating-ventilation-air-conditioning system,” he adds

Jerry Stevens of G.K. Industries says that right now the market is in its infancy, but that the potential is 1.2 million vehicles. Stevens says that an awareness problem is a possible barrier to fast growth. “The problem is that most people with cabin-air-filter-equipped vehicles do not know that they have one. So, the market could be negligible until we do some education with consumers.”

Stevens suggests that jobbers talk to their installer customers about following a reminder-type approach to cabin air filter replacement, the type of approach that has been successful with oil filters and air filters.

“Cabin air filters are an excellent opportunity for installers of all types, and especially oil change and lube specialists or when an installer is doing an oil change,” says John Hart, vice-president sales and marketing, ArvinMeritor Light Vehicle Aftermarket, Canada. He sees the spring, summer and fall periods as very good for replacement of these products.

“Right now as part of our support program with this product category, we are talking about the market potential of cabin air filters on every sales call at the installer level. We are also stressing the need to create customer awareness about cabin air filters. What we need to do is to get customers to think of replacing these filters the same as they do with their furnace filters in their homes, which they change regularly, or replacing the batteries in their smoke detectors.”

Bruce Richardson, director of marketing, ATP-Inc., Morton Grove, Ill., says, “Cabin air filters are a growing market with a huge growth rate predicted of 31% annually. They are being included in more and more new vehicles. However, it is not really a retrofit market, as they have to be designed in.” He adds that cabin air filters are particularly beneficial for people with allergies, because these units do an effective job of removing allergens from the air. Failure to change the filter regularly will reduce this benefit, of course.

“We recommend replacement at least once per year, but it varies by vehicle manufacturer. As with home furnace filters, if you don’t replace them when they are clogged, you are going to have problems with other ventilation parts.” Richardson agrees there is an awareness problem, but there are resources available. “We have a lot of educational material available, including wall charts for consumers and installers. We carefully researched this market segment and decided that this market matched our strengths. One of the things we do to make installation easier is to supply the attaching hardware. Also, each part number is supplied with instructions.”

Dennis DesRosiers, president, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, Richmond Hill, Ont., sees excellent potential for this product category. “Cabin air filters are going to be one of the fastest growing market segments.

“The world is trying to become more green and is looking for green options; nevertheless the outside air seems to be getting worse all the time,” says DesRosiers.. “I would definitely have one of these in my next vehicle. I had a similar type filter installed on my furnace and have noticed a big difference in the quality of the air inside the house. In the market for vehicle accessorization products, there are a number of segments, including comfort, and that is where cabin air filters fit in. This is a trend that will catch on big-time.”

Jurgen Englmaier, aftermarket manager for North America for Mann + Hummel, Portage, Mich., sees cabin filters as very much an expanding market. “Cabin air filters are very beneficial, especially for people with allergies. The growth market for these products started in Europe in the early 1990s. However, in Europe it took us a number of years to educate the public and the trade about them.

“About three years ago, we started to pro
mote cabin air filters in North America and we are continuing our educational efforts. Virtually all of the new models of cars being built in Europe for sale in North America are now being equipped with cabin air filters.”

Looking ahead, the future of the cabin air filter market will depend on education. “There is still a real education job to be done both with the trade and the end customer. Some people are still unaware of cabin air filters,” says Englmaier.

Building awareness is never easy, but there are demonstrable personal benefits to cabin air filter maintenance–if you’ve ever looked at a dirty cabin air filter it’s hard to ignore the benefit. What remains is to consistently take that message to the installer and the consumer and unlock the true potential of the market.

Information on cabin air filters, oil filters, air filters and fuel filters was obtained through interviews and/or reports from the following: the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, Frost & Sullivan, Mann + Hummel, ATP-Inc., ACDelco, G.K. Industries, ArvinMeritor, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, Dana Canada, Honeywell Canada, and TEC Automotive Industries. We thank all these companies for their contributions.

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