Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2003   by Auto Service World

Thinking Globally Is a Nice Start, but . . .

Participation by Canadians at Equip Auto in Paris shows it is worth the effort.

If the experience of Canadian exhibitors at Equip Auto ’03 is anything to go by, there is simply no substitute for being there.

Certainly exhibiting internationally is a venture that requires some serious soul searching and market estimation, and ultimately there is always some degree of risk. It is not an overnight success proposition.

Ron Morton, president of Dominion Sure Seal, has been partaking in the Equip Auto event for some 20 years. He says there is too little understanding of both the challenges of entering markets overseas, as well as the resources available from government agencies to assist them.

“I used to be the chair of the International Committee of the [Automotive Industries Association of Canada]. The same five guys came to every meeting. I offered many times to do a seminar and bring all these little companies who don’t go because they are scared to go. They can get [Program for Export Market Development monies] from the government. They don’t do it. They’re afraid.”

Morton says that more participation by government levels would help. “Where is our Canada stand? None.” It should be said that the Canadian Embassy did have a presence at the show, if only on foot.

But Morton says that while the apprehension that some executives may feel could be well founded in some ways, simply focusing on the U.S. market ignores the tremendous potential elsewhere. He also says that it takes commitment.

“It has taken me 20 years, and I sell 25 countries in Europe. It took me a long time and a lot of money,” says Morton. Today he has offices and a warehouse on the continent, and he even purchased a company in Italy. “If you want to sell on this continent, that is what you have to do. It is no harder than it is for a European company to go to North America. You have to have people here who speak the language.”

He says that the economics of participating in shows internationally is no less and no more difficult to justify in hard numbers than domestic or North American trade shows like the National Autobody Congress and Exposition, being held in Orlando, Fla. this year, moving to a permanent home in Las Vegas starting next. The impact of your physical presence needs to be considered and, says Morton, when you have been exhibiting in a show for several years, you also need to estimate the impact of your absence.

“If you’re going all the time, the year you don’t show up, they think you’re out of business.” It is a case of taking the good with the bad.

At the completely opposite end of the spectrum is Sherwood Dash, which supplies interior trim kits to the original equipment service sector as well as the independent aftermarket. Based in Brampton, Ont., this year the company marked first appearance at Equip Auto.

“We want basically to discover the potential business we have in France and perhaps in other neighbouring countries. And we want to identify the OEM manufacturers and to get to those contacts,” says Victor Ayala, director of export market development for the company.

While three days into the show he didn’t feel completely satisfied with his progress on this front, during the interview for this story, an accessories exhibitor from Turkey engaged him in a discussion about being able to add the company’s products to his offering, and another contact I had met earlier seemed to be prepared to consider helping get them in front of some OE-certified tuning companies in Germany. This all took place in the course of an hour or less.

“These are the ways to discover if you will have a good impact on the market,” says Ayala. “You can see the reaction of the people to the product. However this is just the beginning. This is only a way to explore the market, to make a first impression.”

He says that the most difficult issue is finding the right partner or partners to work with in the European markets.

“You start looking around and you see where you have potential, whether in the Middle East, Asia, or Europe. We do research before we come to the show, but you get more direct feedback from the market by being here. You know 100% that it is fresh and it is firsthand information, rather than looking at just the numbers, newspapers, or studies.”

Getting that firsthand impression is as important as making one. For industrial centres like Ontario, overcoming preconceived ideas is the first battle.

“We have our in-market sales people, but while I am here we may touch base with several companies interested in a variety of investments,” says Troy Machan, investment sales consultant with the Ontario Ministry of Enterprise, Opportunity and Innovation. “Or if they are looking at something larger in the future, like manufacturing, that is why we are here to let them know that Ontario is the second-largest auto producing jurisdiction in the world [behind Michigan], and we let them know why.”

Troy says that as much as Canadians may be aware of the longstanding history of automobile and component manufacturing in Canada, and Ontario specifically, this has not been understood well in Europe.

“As soon as you start to compare it to Michigan–which most people think is where all the cars in North America come from–it is a bit of a wake-up call to people.

“It doesn’t surprise me that much. As a Canadian I realize that we often don’t toot our own horn about this sort of thing. We are successful in this industry quietly, so why not let people know?”

The fact that there are no Canadian brands is a key reason. People in Europe, used to seeing brands in national terms, have a hard time seeing a Chevy Silverado as a Canadian vehicle.

While capital investment of any kind is welcomed, there is always an eye to attracting major OE manufacturers.

“I even work with the large OEMs to see what I can find out about their plans. Obviously there is a question about whether or not French auto brands will be selling in North America in the next 10 years. Collecting intelligence is important as well, because when they decide to move into the North American market, that is going to matter.”

He says that any talk of the likes of Citroen, Peugeot, or Renault entering, or re-entering, the North American market is strictly on the distant horizon. But it is likely to happen eventually.

“The North American market is so attractive, especially when you look at the profit margins in North America on some of the luxury vehicles and some of the larger vehicles. You can’t ignore that forever and still be a successful international automaker.”

It is interesting to note that Ontario had taken the initiative to advertise in one of the trade publications being distributed at the show. The ad featured Frank Stronach, founder of Magna International, surely one of the most successful, if not the most successful, original equipment component suppliers in Canada.

It was interesting to note that the ad had him encouraging other companies to invest, even those who could potentially become his competitors.

“You’d be surprised how much support we get from people,” says the Ontario Ministry’s Machan. “They are still really cooperative with us, even if it means that others may be manufacturing in the same area. They realize that they have the knowledge and basis there to have a competitive advantage for some time. And the larger the overall market gets, the bigger everybody’s piece of the pie gets.”

There is a now-old saying that companies should “Think Globally, Act Locally,” but companies looking to expand should remember that this is from the customer’s perspective, where local may mean halfway around the world.

Equip Auto Names Grand Prix Winners

Equip Auto, one of the largest international automotive component shows in the world, has named the winners in its International Grand Prix for Technical Innovation.

The event, which has attracted some 2,000 exhibitors from 60 countries, including Canada, is held every second year in Paris. It is generally regarded as the second-largest international show, behind German Auto-mechanika. It is an integrated show, providing a venue to display all aspects of components, eq
uipment, and supplies from the aftermarket and original equipment categories, at both the manufacturing and service parts levels.

The Grand Prix Awards for Technical Innovation were drawn from more than 250 entries, with a panel of 73 journalists from around the world voting on the merits of products in Garage Equipment, Bodyshop, Aftermarket, and Vehicle Equipment (Original Equipment). From these original entries, two dozen nominees were selected, and the winners chosen from these.

“Apart from the number, the actual quality is extremely high,” said Martial Barat, president of the European Technical Journalists Association. “Every year there are new innovations, ingenuity, etc. This year all aspects of technology and practicality have been combined.”

Delphi took top honours in the Garage Equipment category for its DS800E (Europe), a wireless repair computer tablet that has essentially monopolized the product awards over the past couple of years at various shows. The Silver award in the category was won by SKF, for its IRIS integrated shop management and diagnostic software system.

Bodyshop sector Gold and Silver awards went to Weimann Technologies for the Espace Spot Repair system, that allows metal and paint repairs to be executed without moving the car, and Car-O-Liner for its EC Design 3D shop layout software.

From the Original Equipment category, Gold went to TRW for a seatbelt retractor that takes up the slack in a seatbelt prior to airbags or the pyrotechnic retractors being activated in a crash. This system can be added to existing systems, but the full spectrum of applications–it is suggested it could be used as a drowsiness warning system also–have yet to be explored. This is also the case for the Silver winner, Hella’s Lane Departure Warning system. This area of technology is receiving attention from a number of suppliers and uses vehicle systems such as integrated stability control systems and complex algorithms in addition to the “machine vision” sensor that reads road markings. As such, it is not an area of technology apt to be readied as a retrofit.

The Aftermarket award went to Valeo for its Universal Alternator, an innovative system that uses a standard 90 amp unit with a set of two dozen mounting brackets that enables it to cover some 140 applications, though even Valeo admits that there could be more. This approach is not for everyone, but it does provide an option for low-volume applications, as well as roadside assistance situations, which is a focus of the program. The Silver award in the category went to Bosch for its universal oxygen sensor, which covers 90% of the market with just seven part numbers. Obviously, considering the winners, the subject of part number reduction, and therefore inventory reduction, is top of mind for the aftermarket.

There were also a number of special awards offered, one going to Steco for a battery installation system that retains computer power during battery changing, as well as to LuK Automotive Systems for its automated transmission clutch; another went to Brembo for a visual check system for brake rotor thickness.

Presidents’ Awards went to Citroen for its diesel particulate filter, Valeo for its Silencio wiper blade, and Nexa Autocolor and Glasurit for advancements in waterborne paint technologies.

Safety and the environment were front and centre at many of the product introductions, but not in isolation from the realities of business. You can protect the environment and still be profitable was the message in many sectors, a point that should not go unnoticed.

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