Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2006   by Andrew Ross

Global Automotive Village Assembles at Automechanika

It is curious, if perhaps not entirely surprising, that North America dominates the agenda of some of the world’s largest auto parts suppliers, even at a huge European show such as Automechanika.

This year, Automechanika attracted more than 165,000 visitors from 130 countries (40% from outside Germany), and 4,658 exhibitors from 72 countries, up on all fronts from the last time the event was held two years ago.

One of the most notable is, of course, Delphi, which has struggled both with profitability in its North American operations, and in communicating to its European customer base what Chapter 11 status actually means.

This was first apparent at last year’s Equip Auto event in Paris, France, which came on the eve of the filing. The spectre of bankruptcy is understood differently in Europe; it means closing up shop. It was up to Frank Ordonez, president of Delphi Product & Service Solutions, to provide guidance to the firm’s international customer base, and to allow as how, despite its North American troubles, the European operations were strong.

The theme was pretty much the same in Frankfurt, with Ordonez working that message into a presentation on a variety of new product releases, and the company’s new whiz-bang online resources for its European customers including diagnostic help and e-training.

The new products are spread across its six core product portfolio areas: chassis, air conditioning, engine management, diesel, diagnostics, and consumer electronics.

“The care that has gone into selecting and developing our range of products and services demonstrates our commitment to investing in our core technology areas, ensuring that we continue to supply the independent aftermarket with one of the very best offerings available,” says Ordonez.

Over the way at the Federal-Mogul booth, the theme was also very much in the global strategy mode, with of course the expected “local focus” caveat. At least part of this remake involves a transition from sales agents to direct sales forces in a number of international markets.

In Canada, of course, there has been a direct sales force, but one of the interesting things about international shows such as Automechanika is that you can get insight into the full breadth and variety of international markets.

Still, the dominance of the North American situation is clear in that some Federal-Mogul personnel are happy to be emerging from Chapter 11 with all 22 “power brands.” Regardless of how its prospects may have looked in the past, it cannot be denied that Federal-Mogul has many of the most recognized brands in auto parts: Champion spark plugs, Moog steering and chassis parts, Wagner and Ferodo brake parts, Fel-Pro gaskets, and a number of brands half a step below these in stature that continue to have good reputations in specific industries and markets.

At various points along the journey, it was not always clear among the rank and file of the company what the portfolio would look like.

“The company has 22 leading brands in the aftermarket. That makes us a leader,” says company chairman Jose Maria Alapont. “We are very well balanced”–with business split 56% OE and 44% aftermarket globally–“and 50% of our business is in North America. The aftermarket is a very important strategy in our company.” Alapont says that taking OE technology to the aftermarket is important, but it is not enough to just bring it; it has to be delivered at a competitive cost. That is as much a part of the firm’s strategy as the bells and whistles in the products themselves.

Part of the new strategy is a clear demarcation of product categories, comprising Steering Solutions, Sealing Solutions, Braking Solutions, Service Solutions, and Engine Solutions.

The fact is, of course, that the idea of thinking globally but acting locally is nothing new either to the aftermarket or to industry in general.

Nowhere is this clearer than the kind of technologies that attract attention in Europe. Imagine for a moment how well a diesel glow plug might fare in new product awards at the upcoming AAPEX show in Las Vegas. Yet that technology is precisely what has earned many lauds for the Beru company. Its PSG (pressure-sensing glow plug) was honoured at Equip Auto last October and again at Automechanika.

On the market side, diesel actually dominates. Delphi was bullish on diesel at the show, with Ordonez chiming this market strongly.

“This is also an exciting time to be in the diesel business, and Delphi is committed to delivering the highest quality in diesel service to European diesel owners with new high technology products and diagnostics,” he says.

“At the present time, every second new car registered in western Europe is a vehicle equipped with ultra-modern diesel-injection technology, and this trend shows no sign of slowing,” says Robert Hanser, president of the Automotive Aftermarket Division of the Bosch Group.

Accordingly, it was the focus of many activities, from Bosch’s announcement of what we would term a banner program for shops to specialize in diesel components, to talk of retrofitting diesels with particulate filters to make the previous generation of compression ignition engines more acceptable.

While not enacted, a number of jurisdictions in the EU, led by the German authorities, are considering mandating particulate filter retrofits and rating vehicles in terms of their particulate emissions. Based on this, certain vehicles might be banned on days when particulate content in the air is particularly high.

On the more immediate timetable, however, it was of no small note that the current health of the original equipment sector was of concern, and not just in North America.

It was coincidental that on the same day that Ford announced its restructuring plans to return it to profitability, European automakers collectively registered their third consecutive month of declining sales, a situation of great concern to many on both sides of the Atlantic.

In a statement, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, which tracks the figures, reported, “With the same number of working days across Europe, this decrease–reduced in August–seems to be influenced by general uncertainty about economic conditions (e.g. rising fuel prices, growing interest rates in some countries). However, with the cumulative result for the first eight months of the year [+0.4%], Europe is still on a positive trend.”

The association is also putting a brave face on things, talking about the slowing in the decline in sales as if it were an uptick.

And that may just be reason enough to believe that things aren’t that different across the pond, regardless of the language being spoken.

And the winner is . . .

One of the highlights of the biennial event is the Innovation Awards, presented in eight categories.

* The Parts product category was won by the Pressure Sensing Glowplug (PSG) by Beru. This innovation makes not only a contribution to fuel-consumption reduction but also helps cut emissions.

* In the Systems category, the jury singled out the Wurth Vario Safe + Easy Primer and the Power Line Communication from Valeo.

* In the Tuning segment, wheel manufacturer BBS came out on top with its Air Inside Technology. Air spaces in the rim increase the volume of air in the wheel, increasing vibration damping properties, lowering noise levels, and resulting in a weight reduction of almost 22 kg per set of wheels.

* Accessories honours went to Audi for its audio instruction manual and to Hella for the Ford Focus Upgrade Headlamp with Dyna Beam cornering light. The audio instruction manual impressed the jury with its user-friendliness. Hella’s new development of a cornering light makes nighttime driving easier because corners are automatically illuminated.

* In the Repair/Diagnostics segment, Beissbarth’s Touchless wheel alignment system was singled out in the equipment section. Volkswagen’s implementation of standardized diagnostic data (to ASAM-UDS for its VAS 5005X system) gained lauds.

* The Repair/Services award went to AuDaCon’s AIS Online system, which enables workshops to access technical information and repair data via the Internet.

* Body Repair/Maintenance awards went to GL for its laser-welding seam cutter and to Sata for its fast prep and paint shaker system.

* In the Service Station/Car Wash category, the simple but effective McProper Plus hand spray system from Birchmeier was noted. On the high-tech side, WashTec was recognized for its 3D vehicle measuring system that scans the vehicle and determines the most effective car wash program for each vehicle.