Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2013   by Steve Pawlett

Modular Control Arms: Sales Boon, or Stocking Nightmare?


As OEs continue to work towards meeting increasingly tough CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for better fuel efficiency and lighter weight, modular chassis componentry is becoming standard equipment. Comparatively light unitized control arm assemblies, while only introduced relatively recently, have rapidly become mainstream, leaving jobbers with both a sales boon and a SKU headache.

All-in-one control arm assemblies are mainly constructed of lightweight aluminum, making them more susceptible to becoming banged-up than the components they replace, and they tend to wear out more quickly, making them a high-demand item. But at the same time, the proliferation of individualized types for different vehicles has led to rapid SKU growth in this category, creating a stocking nightmare for jobbers. With the import car market now capturing almost 40% of this market, aftermarket chassis component manufacturers have responded to fill an increasing number of individualized replacement units.

“The proliferation of vehicle nameplates and platforms has been occurring for several years, so many successful distributors and jobbers have become quite skilled at analyzing and adjusting their stocking strategies to reflect these changes,” says Adam Richardson, product manager, Moog Steering and Suspension, Federal-Mogul.

“One of the most significant trends is the rise of Korean nameplate applications that are now entering the aftermarket repair cycle. Our engineering and product management teams have [responded] by expanding our line of Moog Asia-Spec components. The good news for the aftermarket is that the owners of these vehicles – and millions of other foreign-nameplate applications – are now more likely than ever to rely on an aftermarket service provider rather than the dealer,” adds Richardson.

Toronto-based Mevotech, an aftermarket manufacturer of driveline, steering, and suspension parts, has seen rapid growth in this market. “Control arms are a big category for imports, and that is a big category for us. We have a leadership position on this trend away from the common ball joint and bushing replacement to complete control arms,” explains Scott Stone, Mevotech vice-president of sales and marketing.

“With the OE move to a unitized control arm, you can no longer service or replace the ball joint. It is now an integrated unit. The new lighter materials used in the design, such as aluminum, seem to be moving the unitized control arm trend to a consistent failure rate,” adds Stone.

As more OEs move to this design, the market continues to grow. Dave Ceverny, a technical trainer for Affinia, agrees with Stone. “[As] one of the leaders in being first to market, we see the import unitized control arm segment growing rapidly.”

“Traditionally, import vehicles were specialized and only supported by specialty parts suppliers like Worldpac, Altrom, Auto-Camping, etc. But jobbers have recognized this segment as a growth area for them. With imports now representing about 40% of the market, it’s simply too large a segment to ignore,” says Mark Thorpe, product group manager for TRW.

Not all that long ago, jobbers only carried a minimum number of control arms, since it really wasn’t viewed as a wear part and rarely required replacement unless the vehicle was involved in an accident.

With the growing demand for replacement control arms, it is essential for jobbers to stock premium product and at least a private label or entry-level product. But this means doubling up on inventory. It’s all about the jobber’s relationship with the repair shops that rely on components that are engineered specifically for each foreign-nameplate application, and which, in many cases, address known performance and/or durability issues associated with the original parts.

“We recommend that jobbers work with their shop accounts to develop a collaborative strategy that will help the shop increase its share of the growing foreign-nameplate category. Of course, the brand and technology that you as a jobber carry is a huge part of that strategy. To earn consumer trust, the shop must commit to providing world-class steering and suspension components from a trusted brand and manufacturer. And those parts must be offered with a solid warranty that will protect both the consumer and the shop owner,” adds Richardson.

“Keeping on top of the new models is difficult with the number of SKUs that are out there now. Also, on the newer stuff, it’s pretty tough to determine what the failure rates are going to be,” explains Wayne Hoskins of Pacific Parts in Vancouver, a Uni-Select shareholder. “You need a real good dartboard for that.”

“On chassis parts like sway bar links, just by the function and design of it, you know that is generally going to wear; but unlike in the past, we can’t say every tie rod end is going to fail, or say every ball joint is going to fail. The shift over to unitized control arms is so prevalent on everything now, that category is growing substantially in SKU count, but not necessarily in large stocking numbers that dominate it. It’s a difficult one to control. We are getting a lot of information through Uni-Select about vehicle car counts, and through the manufacturers as to what vehicles are out there, but it’s the old thing of knowing what parts on the vehicle are going to fail. It’s awfully expensive to try and predict those categories,” adds Hoskins.

“Each brand represents different things to different customers, and that’s where they want to go hunting. With our Mevotech Supreme brand, we have developed a feel for the business, particularly in the high-wear categories like the control arms and stabilizer links,” says Stone.

“The brand that is most important to the consumer is that of the service provider,” adds Moog’s Richardson. “Once the owner of a foreign-nameplate vehicle finds a shop that can provide the specialized, high-quality service they need for their vehicle, they become very loyal to that business. But that loyalty depends on trust – they’re trusting that the shop will only use the best-quality replacement components to help keep them safe on the road and provide a superior long-term value for their repair dollar.”

“The newer vehicles are more modular now so you see more replacement work going on, as opposed to repairs like the all-in-one strut assemblies or the control arm assemblies. There is a definite labour savings by replacing the complete assemblies, where before if you re-installed the old parts with the new, it could cause issues down the road,” notes Dale Devlin of Halton Automotive in Ontario.

For technicians, replacing a complete control arm assembly can increase productivity. Replacing the complete assembly, instead of taking the arm out and replacing the ball joint and bushings, means less time in the bay.

“If you have a load-bearing arm, the control arm bears the weight of the vehicle, and to replace it requires a lot of pieces to be removed from the vehicle,” says Thorpe. “So if the bushings are fine, the technician can just replace the ball joint rather than the entire arm.” But the decision is in the hands of the tech, who may find it more efficient to replace the entire assembly.

“Usually if a ball joint has failed, there may be fatigue in the control arm anyway, so it would be quicker and probably better for the vehicle owner to restore the vehicle back to an OE-level suspension system,” adds Stone.

“We have traditionally seen a greater demand for premium replacement components among the owners of foreign-nameplate applications, and expect this trend to continue. Statistics show that these consumers tend to hold onto their vehicles for longer periods, so when they have repairs performed, they want the shop to use the best parts for enhanced performance and longer life. Additionally, because so many foreign-nameplate vehicles are equipped with lighter-weight suspensions and low-profile tires and wheels, changes in steering response are much more apparent. This makes premium technology the best choice for avoiding an unwanted comeback,” says Richardson.

It all comes down to the jobber’s relationship with the repair shops, who rely on components that are engineered specifically for each foreign-nameplate application and which in many cases address known performance and/or durability issues associated with the original parts.

Jobbers need to work with their shop accounts to develop a collaborative strategy that will help the shops increase their share of the growing foreign-nameplate category.

Advises Richardson, “The brand and technology that you as a jobber carry is a huge part of that strategy. To earn consumer trust, the shop must commit to providing world-class steering and suspension components from a trusted brand and manufacturer. And those parts must be offered with a solid warranty that will protect both the consumer and the shop owner.”

A

s OEs continue to work towards meeting increasingly tough CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for better fuel efficiency and lighter weight, modular chassis componentry is becoming standard equipment. Comparatively light unitized control arm assemblies, while only introduced relatively recently, have rapidly become mainstream, leaving jobbers with both a sales boon and a SKU headache.

All-in-one control arm assemblies are mainly constructed of lightweight aluminum, making them more susceptible to becoming banged-up than the components they replace, and they tend to wear out more quickly, making them a high-demand item. But at the same time, the proliferation of individualized types for different vehicles has led to rapid SKU growth in this category, creating a stocking nightmare for jobbers. With the import car market now capturing almost 40% of this market, aftermarket chassis component manufacturers have responded to fill an increasing number of individualized replacement units.

“The proliferation of vehicle nameplates and platforms has been occurring for several years, so many successful distributors and jobbers have become quite skilled at analyzing and adjusting their stocking strategies to reflect these changes,” says Adam Richardson, product manager, Moog Steering and Suspension, Federal-Mogul.

“One of the most significant trends is the rise of Korean nameplate applications that are now entering the aftermarket repair cycle. Our engineering and product management teams have [responded] by expanding our line of Moog Asia-Spec components. The good news for the aftermarket is that the owners of these vehicles – and millions of other foreign-nameplate applications – are now more likely than ever to rely on an aftermarket service provider rather than the dealer,” adds Richardson.

Toronto-based Mevotech, an aftermarket manufacturer of driveline, steering, and suspension parts, has seen rapid growth in this market. “Control arms are a big category for imports, and that is a big category for us. We have a leadership position on this trend away from the common ball joint and bushing replacement to complete control arms,” explains Scott Stone, Mevotech vice-president of sales and marketing.

“With the OE move to a unitized control arm, you can no longer service or replace the ball joint. It is now an integrated unit. The new lighter materials used in the design, such as aluminum, seem to be moving the unitized control arm trend to a consistent failure rate,” adds Stone.

As more OEs move to this design, the market continues to grow. Dave Ceverny, a technical trainer for Affinia, agrees with Stone. “[As] one of the leaders in being first to market, we see the import unitized control arm segment growing rapidly.”

“Traditionally, import vehicles were specialized and only supported by specialty parts suppliers like Worldpac, Altrom, Auto-Camping, etc. But jobbers have recognized this segment as a growth area for them. With imports now representing about 40% of the market, it’s simply too large a segment to ignore,” says Mark Thorpe, product group manager for TRW.

Not all that long ago, jobbers only carried a minimum number of control arms, since it really wasn’t viewed as a wear part and rarely required replacement unless the vehicle was involved in an accident.

With the growing demand for replacement control arms, it is essential for jobbers to stock premium product and at least a private label or entry-level product. But this means doubling up on inventory. It’s all about the jobber’s relationship with the repair shops that rely on components that are engineered specifically for each foreign-nameplate application, and which, in many cases, address known performance and/or durability issues associated with the original parts.

“We recommend that jobbers work with their shop accounts to develop a collaborative strategy that will help the shop increase its share of the growing foreign-nameplate category. Of course, the brand and technology that you as a jobber carry is a huge part of that strategy. To earn consumer trust, the shop must commit to providing world-class steering and suspension components from a trusted brand and manufacturer. And those parts must be offered with a solid warranty that will protect both the consumer and the shop owner,” adds Richardson.

“Keeping on top of the new models is difficult with the number of SKUs that are out there now. Also, on the newer stuff, it’s pretty tough to determine what the failure rates are going to be,” explains Wayne Hoskins of Pacific Parts in Vancouver, a Uni-Select shareholder. “You need a real good dartboard for that.”

“On chassis parts like sway bar links, just by the function and design of it, you know that is generally going to wear; but unlike in the past, we can’t say every tie rod end is going to fail, or say every ball joint is going to fail. The shift over to unitized control arms is so prevalent on everything now, that category is growing substantially in SKU count, but not necessarily in large stocking numbers that dominate it. It’s a difficult one to control. We are getting a lot of information through Uni-Select about vehicle car counts, and through the manufacturers as to what vehicles are out there, but it’s the old thing of knowing what parts on the vehicle are going to fail. It’s awfully expensive to try and predict those categories,” adds Hoskins.

“Each brand represents different things to different customers, and that’s where they want to go hunting. With our Mevotech Supreme brand, we have developed a feel for the business, particularly in the high-wear categories like the control arms and stabilizer links,” says Stone.

“The brand that is most important to the consumer is that of the service provider,” adds Moog’s Richardson. “Once the owner of a foreign-nameplate vehicle finds a shop that can provide the specialized, high-quality service they need for their vehicle, they become very loyal to that business. But that loyalty depends on trust – they’re trusting that the shop will only use the best-quality replacement components to help keep them safe on the road and provide a superior long-term value for their repair dollar.”

“The newer vehicles are more modular now so you see more replacement work going on, as opposed to repairs like the all-in-one strut assemblies or the control arm assemblies. There is a definite labour savings by replacing the complete assemblies, where before if you re-installed the old parts with the new, it could cause issues down the road,” notes Dale Devlin of Halton Automotive in Ontario.

For technicians, replacing a complete control arm assembly can increase productivity. Replacing the complete assembly, instead of taking the arm out and replacing the ball joint and bushings, means less time in the bay.

“If you have a load-bearing arm, the control arm bears the weight of the vehicle, and to replace it requires a lot of pieces to be removed from the vehicle,” says Thorpe. “So if the bushings are fine, the technician can just replace the ball joint rather than the entire arm.” But the decision is in the hands of the tech, who may find it more efficient to replace the entire assembly.

“Usually if a ball joint has failed, there may be fatigue in the control arm anyway, so it would be quicker and probably better for the vehicle owner to restore the vehicle back to an OE-level suspension system,” adds Stone.

“We have traditionally seen a greater demand for premium replacement components among the owners of foreign-nameplate applications, and expect this trend to continue. Statistics show that these consumers tend to hold onto their vehicles for longer periods, so when they have repairs performed, they want the shop to use the best parts for enhanced performance and longer life. Additionally, because so many foreign-nameplate vehicles are equipped with lighter-weight suspensions and low-profile tires and wheels, changes in steering response are much more apparent. This makes premium technology the best choice for avoiding an unwanted comeback,” says Richardson.

It all comes down to the jobber’s relationship with the repair shops, who rely on components that are engineered specifically for each foreign-nameplate application and which in many cases address known performance and/or durability issues associated with the original parts.

Jobbers need to work with their shop accounts to develop a collaborative strategy that will help the shops increase their share of the growing foreign-nameplate category.

Advises Richardson, “The brand and technology that you as a jobber carry is a huge part of that strategy. To earn consumer trust, the shop must commit to providing world-class steering and suspension components from a trusted brand and manufacturer. And those parts must be offered with a solid warranty that will protect both the consumer and the shop owner.”


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