Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2007   by Dennis Mellersh

Tune-Up and Emissions Component Sales

Emphasize Technology and Fit in

Tune-up and emissions control are categories in which the knowledgeable counterperson can have a strong sales influence. Catalytic converters, oxygen sensors, spark plugs, wire sets, and coil-on-plug sets are key segment components.

With catalytic converters, says Jim Fox, national sales manager, Maremont, “The most important factor that is going to be facing the industry is a new and different standard in California that is expected to be adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States and also in Canada.”

Fox says the standard requires higher precious metal content, which means a greater level of emissions reduction. “In addition, catalytic converters will be certified to specific vehicles. When adopted, the market will have to meet this standard. It is applied to OBD II vehicles from 1995 and up.”

Fox suggests that the counterperson can explain the reasons for the higher costs of these converters by pointing out their increased precious metal content, and by noting that they are specific to each vehicle. “There will less and less ability to use universal converters, as they will be applicable to fewer and fewer vehicles as the fleet ages,” Fox says.

Dennis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants says that with oxygen sensors, the big changes include an increase in complexity and cost of the sensors, as well as in the number of sensors installed on each vehicle. “Overall, there is really strong growth in this market, both in the number of units and in the revenue per unit. This will most likely continue.

“With ignition products, the trend is to install premium quality spark plugs as OE equipment in new vehicles. Although this drives down the frequency of replacement, most premium plugs are replaced with premium plugs, so the per unit revenue has gone up faster than the fall-off in units shipped.”

DesRosiers continues, “Wire sets are undergoing some change as well. More and more vehicles are going to the coil-on-plug design, which eliminates the need for high voltage wire. However, the complete elimination of high voltage wires is still many years away.” At Delphi Product & Service Solutions, senior brand and communications manager Carrie Wright discusses Delphi’s OE wire sets. “Our technology advancements include the use of OE cable configurations–Delcore, composite high temperature, or wire wound–for premium performance in every application. Delphi’s wire wound cable, for example, includes the use of polyester mesh tape for added reinforcement.”

If counterpeople become familiar with the technology, Wright says, it will help develop a higher level of confidence with the installer. “Failed wire sets can contribute to rough idle, misfire under load, and poor fuel economy. Specific to Delphi parts, our OE boots, terminals, and lead lengths simplify installation for installers.”

Wright says that Delphi will be launching a new line of oxygen sensors with planar technology. “On average, about 3% of all vehicles annually require a replacement oxygen sensor. With vehicles being equipped with at least two and sometimes as many as six sensors, there is opportunity here for increased business. More than 70% of the vehicles equipped with conical sensors on the road today can be upgraded to planar. Using planar technology results in one-third the normal energy consumption, easier installation, better connection integrity, and improved cold start emission levels.

“Industry surveys reveal that oxygen sensors, given their role in vehicle emissions systems, are among the top parts most likely to be sourced by technicians from car dealers. Technicians say they want replacement parts from OE brands they trust. Jobber counterpeople can help encourage technicians to buy from [the jobber] instead of the dealer by carrying OE brands.”

Chris Battershell, product manager, Champion spark plugs, Federal-Mogul Corp., says Champion offers a complete line of spark plugs that match original equipment fit, form, and function across all major makes and models. “In many cases, we also offer the technician the opportunity to upgrade to a premium technology for enhanced performance. For applications that were originally equipped with iridium-type spark plugs, we offer our new Champion Iridium plug as the OE replacement.

“Champion Iridium also is an excellent upgrade for many late-model applications that were originally equipped with copper, platinum, or double platinum plugs. The key benefits to this upsell are iridium’s stabilizing effect on ignition voltage and exceptional wear characteristics,” he says.

Battershell says there are two common misconceptions about spark plug technology. “The first is that a particular brand is the best choice for a specific engine nameplate. That might have been true a few decades ago, but Champion engineers develop plug technologies to match each engine’s unique performance requirements.

“The second misconception is that all iridium or platinum-type plugs utilize the same basic technologies. There are actually huge differences at the ‘business end’ of Champion plugs that help deliver improved performance in all operating conditions.” At the counter level, Battershell says that OE fit and form is the dominant factor in an installer’s choice of spark plug. “But it’s important to emphasize that one brand’s ‘OE replacement’ can be significantly different from another’s. Our primary engineering advantage is that we know the unique operating characteristics of each engine model and design and test each of our plug technologies to that standard.” On wire sets, Scott Belanger, product manager, PowerMAX spark plug wire, Federal-Mogul Corp., says that PowerMAX wire set technology offers maximum power and maximum protection in combination with true OE fit and form. Each wire set matches OE length, boot design, and basic core technology.

“PowerMAX coil-on-plug boots feature OE technology and include new springs. The market is rapidly shifting from spark plug wire sets to coil-on-plug boots; in 2003, more vehicles were manufactured with COP technology than with wire sets,” Belanger says.

“Our engineers have developed exclusive wire construction and coating technologies that then maximize the conductivity of these OE-specified core types for each application.

“Technicians demand OE fit and form, but they also need to understand that the performance and durability of replacement wire sets is absolutely critical. The counterperson can educate the customer about the wires’ conductivity–which can impact engine performance–and heat/abrasion resistance properties. When selling replacement coil-on-plug boots, recommend that the technician replace them as a complete set rather than one or two at a time, and also replace COP boots whenever they replace the spark plugs,” Belanger says.

Bill Shutt, product manager, North American emission control, Tenneco Inc., says new Walker catalytic converter products include expanded coverage of direct-fit replacement catalytic converters for all makes and models. “Immediate availability of direct-fit components is absolutely vital in the emissions category, where it’s too easy for the consumer to call another installer rather than wait for a special-order part,” he says.

“Catalytic converter replacement is one of the few areas of the exhaust category that’s experiencing consistent growth. The key to success in this market is having access to a full line of converters that provide OE-style fit and proven performance.

“Our new Walker Ultra converter (separate from our standard Walker converters) is an excellent choice for shops and customers facing a problematic application. These converters feature additional catalyst loading for increased cleaning efficiency.” Shutt cautions, however, that it’s illegal to replace a functional catalytic converter. The installation of a Walker or Walker Ultra converter is appropriate only when the original converter has failed.

“Walker has always offered an OBD II-compliant product line, and continu
es to do so with the right coverage (and technologies) for the vehicles most likely to need service in each market area. Our OBD II converter line features OE-style fit and performance.” In the coil-on-plug sets category, Jeff Conrad, marketing manager, underhood components, Visteon Corporation, notes, “Visteon offers a broad line of OE-quality coil-on-plug ignition coils for Ford, Mercury, Mazda, Jaguar, and Lincoln applications. These units are identical to those installed as original equipment on covered applications.”

Conrad says the company’s units “include a patented radio frequency interference (RFI) suppression method that results in zero energy loss. These plugs meet OE and government-mandated RFI suppression levels, and offer longer service life than some coils using a single-build magnet wire. Also, the RFI method blocks ignition interference in radios and other electronic devices such as the electronic control module, body control module, and various sensors, while maintaining 100% of the coil output. “Technicians understand the difference between true OE technology and OE fit and form,” Conrad advises. “Visteon coil-on-plug coils are an excellent example of this difference as they feature the same patented technologies that are installed as original equipment on covered applications.”

In discussing the emissions and tune-up product categories, Justin Sequeira, product manager, engine management, for Blue Streak-Hygrade Motor Products, says that the concept of “tune-up” encompasses very wide parameters of parts and systems compared with only a few years ago.

Sequeira says a key component of Blue Streak’s approach is Standard’s 21st Century Tune-Up Program. This is a total engine management approach to tune-up. It focuses on determining the condition of the engine management system and current software state of the power train control module on OBD II vehicles. The detailed nature of the program is evident in the fact that the instructor’s basic outline for presenting the 21st Century Tune-Up Program to technicians is 61 pages in length.

Blue Streak has a wide variety of educational support materials to help jobbers and their staff better understand vehicle emissions maintenance, including detailed guides for counterpeople on oxygen sensors and emission control systems.

While much of the technology powering and controlling combustion has changed, focusing on the technology employed as well as parts’ OE fit, form, and function continue to be strong selling keys for the professional counterperson.

And, while different brands have different features and advantages they like to emphasize, it is a fair comment that many technicians are unaware of the vastly increasing number of aftermarket products that meet or exceed OE requirements. Counterpeople would be wise to emphasize this point, and the fact that aftermarket products can provide technicians with the product quality they need at a price point that allows them improved profitability over dealer-purchased parts.

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