Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2009   by David Halpert

Emissions Parts Market

Jobbers Talk About Balancing Growth and Service in a World of Increasing Technology

Many jobbers in Ontario and Vancouver’s Fraser Valley area will likely remember when they passed mandatory vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance programs roughly a decade ago, and part sales for emissions systems exploded.

Mike Coates, manager of Lordco Auto Parts in Langley, B. C., speaks candidly about what it was like when the AirCare emissions program first got underway. “Our program has been in effect for quite some time. However, when the emissions program got up and running at the time, it was almost like night and day. Oxygen sensors and catalytic converters were a big sale item. They weren’t before; nobody ever thought of them as being bad or causing problems, but since they put that program in effect the sales went like crazy.”

Of course, while the increase in sales of emissions system components hasn’t been nearly as dramatic since these testing programs first went into effect, there is one big difference between then and now that has led to steady growth in this market, especially with catalytic converters.

Consumer demand for vehicles with improved fuel efficiency and better fuel economy has increased substantially. Many engines on cars coming out of OE today have exceeded industry standards in an effort to stay competitive with other automakers. (Keep in mind this does not include the number of hybrid electric models already on the road.)

Long gone are the days when people were mocked for driving a Prius and touted as “tree huggers” when these vehicles first came on the market a decade ago. As a result of this trend, the quality of aftermarket parts for emissions systems has increased in an effort to stay more competitive with their OEM counterparts.

“I think the aftermarket has changed a lot. They’re getting more competitive as far as reliable parts compared to the OEM,” says Evroy Lynch, general manager for Redfern Autoparts Inc. in Toronto. “I think the [aftermarket] technology has changed tremendously over the last several years because they realize they have to produce a quality product to compete with the OEM.”

“The biggest thing I have is, while in a lot of cases the aftermarket has to catch up [in terms of what they offer], there’s so many makes and models out there,” says Lyle Brooks, president of Phoenix Auto Parts in Regina, Sask. “There are cases where we have to send our customers back to the dealers because we just don’t have access to the parts they need. That’s my biggest beef.”

While some of the newer components, such as planar oxygen sensors, still command a decent market price, some older, simpler components have become virtually the penny-stock of the aftermarket.

Eduardo Gabarro, owner of West End Auto Supply in Toronto, pinpoints this as one of the challenges that come with stocking these items. “Some of these components are extremely hard to get to. Take PCV valves for instance. Nobody’s stocking them these days. We’re selling the parts for very little and not charging delivery. We’re trying to get them as cheap as possible to our customers. Customers talk to us and say, ‘Never in the 40 years I’ve been in business have I been charged for delivery.’ Meanwhile there’s 20 of us here jumping over each other to deliver a one-dollar part.”

However, Gabarro offers this bit of advice for jobbers who seem to be reaching beyond their grasp.

“One of the challenges has always been driving miles and miles to deliver to every area, when it makes more sense to have prompt delivery around your area and leave others alone. Instead of having a thousand customers buying a hundred dollars’ worth of parts, why don’t you instead try to get a hundred customers spending a thousand dollars?”

However, there are actually real opportunities out there, and recently manufacturers have been coming up with innovative ways for jobbers to make that sell to their technician customers easier and still make a suitable profit.


Ethanol Plant To Receive New Funding

The GreenField Ethanol Johnstown Plant, located in Johnstown, Ont., will receive investments of up to $117.5 million over seven years from the government of Canada in support of biofuels development.

“These investments, from both the ecoEnergy for Biofuels and the ecoABC programs, will help GreenField Ethanol in our committed vision to help broaden Canadians’ fuel choices through the use of innovative technologies and disciplined leadership,” said Bob Gallant, president and CEO of GreenField Ethanol in a statement. “Not only will they strengthen the Johnstown community by supporting our plant facility, by saving jobs, and by creating economic growth; they will also ensure an ongoing market for local area farmers.”

GreenField Ethanol’s Johnstown facility will be receiving up to $110.2 million over seven years through Natural Resources Canada’s ecoEnergy for Biofuels program. This program provides an operating incentive (based on production levels) to Canadian producers of renewable alternatives to gasoline and diesel.

GreenField will also be receiving $7.3 million in repayable funding through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s ecoAgriculture Biofuels Capital (ecoABC), a $200-million initiative to increase Canadian renewable fuels production capacity and help farmers participate in this emerging market opportunity. Local farmers are investing a total of $8 million in this project. This will provide them with a new source of revenue and also broaden the economic base of the community.


Compression Ignition Isn’t Just For Diesels

While GM struggles with its financial picture, it should not be overlooked that it continues to provide some real advances in certain technologies that promise to arrive much sooner than hydrogen power (which is still some way down the road).

One of these is the continuing development of homogenous charge compression ignition (HCCI). This technology is coming ever closer to production reality: speculators may even offer that it is being pushed even harder now to fulfill promises made to governments north and south of the 49th parallel.

An HCCI engine, when combined with other advanced technologies, provides up to 15% greater fuel economy than a comparable non-HCCI engine by radically altering the combustion process.

“HCCI delivers enhanced fuel savings without sacrificing the performance consumers have come to expect,” says Prof. Dr. Uwe Grebe, executive director of GM Powertrain Advanced Engineering. “It is a great example of how GM is developing advanced engine technology for consumers that squeezes more miles per gallon of gas and reduces emissions.”

In general terms, the heat and pressure within an HCCI engine’s cylinders are used to ignite the air/fuel mixture without the aid of a traditional spark-generated flame–roughly analogous to the combustion process of a diesel engine. Heat is a necessary enabler for the HCCI process, so traditional spark ignition is used when the engine is cold, to generate heat within the cylinders and instigate “auto-ignition” of the mixture.

More than a laboratory experiment, HCCI has been successfully demonstrated in prototype models in North America and Europe. Last spring, GM took the technology on the road, putting journalists and others in an HCCI-equipped Saturn Aura for real- world drives in Los Angeles, Washington, D. C., and New York. The vehicle featured the breakthrough of auto-ignition (HCCI) from idle to 100 km/h, which significantly advances the benefits of HCCI and the viability for production.

The increase in the HCCI operating range of the prototype vehicle is the result of a patented mixed-mode calibration that includes pre-reacting fuel and exhaust gas in the cylinder to bolster the pressure and heat needed for auto-ignition.

Advantages and Challenges

HCCI’s efficiency comes from reduced pumping losses, burning fuel faster at lower temperatures and reducing the heat energy lost during the combustion process. Consequently,
less carbon dioxide is released because the engine’s operation in HCCI mode is more efficient.

During HCCI mode, the engine approaches the efficiency of a diesel, but unlike a diesel, it requires only a conventional exhaust system. Diesel engines require more elaborate, and more expensive, exhaust “aftertreatment” to reduce emissions.

The success of HCCI development to date is tempered by challenges that must be overcome before it hits the primetime of production. Control of the combustion process over the wide range of operating conditions experienced in everyday driving is the greatest challenge, because unlike a conventional-ignition engine, HCCI’s combustion is not controlled by precisely timed spark events. Ensuring auto ignition at extreme temperatures and in the thinner air of high altitudes are the toughest tests for the technology.

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