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‘Pirate’ parts gaining respectability

Vehicle manufacturers have always exhorted their end-user customers to specify so-called ‘genuine’ service parts, when maintenance or repair operations call for components to be replaced, even though such parts might well have been produced by one of their Tier 1 or Tier 2 suppliers. They are nevertheless branded and packaged with the OEM’s name and … Continued

Vehicle manufacturers have always exhorted their end-user customers to specify so-called ‘genuine’ service parts, when maintenance or repair operations call for components to be replaced, even though such parts might well have been produced by one of their Tier 1 or Tier 2 suppliers. They are nevertheless branded and packaged with the OEM’s name and are physically identical to original (new vehicle) components.

In franchised dealers’ workshops, use of genuine parts is obligatory. But in truck, bus and van fleets which undertake their own service work, there is an obvious incentive – particularly when vehicles are out of their standard or contractually-extended warranty period – to look for alternative aftermarket supplies which are less costly and more rapidly available, typically from a nearby outlet.

In franchised dealers’ workshops, use of genuine parts is obligatory. But in truck, bus and van fleets there is an obvious incentive to look for alternative aftermarket supplies

In North America, the issue has recently been brought into focus more sharply. The 2009-2011 commercial vehicle industry downturn saw OEMs cutting back their total orders for components. Last year’s partial market revival has resulted in an unbalanced prioritisation of component demand, in favour of new vehicle manufacture, leading to shortages of genuine aftermarket parts.

Those availability problems have brought a surge in demand for ‘non-approved’ parts, according to a number of fleet managers attending the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week (HDAW) conference in Las Vegas. One speaker, from a waste management company operating 300 truck workshops in 35 states, said it was now buying 60% of its service parts from non OE-approved sources, compared with only 10% before the downturn. He added that those ‘free market’ suppliers had been shown to react more quickly to component availability issues.

Specification quality questions always arise in any debate about approved versus invariably cheaper non-approved – sometimes dubbed ‘pirate’ – parts. For decades, when new vehicle sales were often barely profitable, non-approved parts sourcing by end-users has been decried by every OEM, in its anxiety to maintain a money-making aftermarket in service parts, in company with its dealers’ workshop viability. Doubts have accordingly been cast on the reliability and durability of such components.

But experience in the US, as aired at the HDAW conference, suggests that many parts from alternative suppliers can match the quality of their OE equivalents. To support that contention, several attendees cited results from the US government backed Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) programme introduced in 2011, which rates transportation companies and, by association, their maintenance providers – and necessarily their aftermarket parts suppliers – under the CSA’s three constituent headings.

Availability problems have brought a surge in demand for ‘non-approved’ parts, according to a number of fleet managers attending the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week (HDAW) conference in Las Vegas

It is clear from the observations made by fleet owners and aftermarket suppliers in Las Vegas that monetary savings, accrued through a gradual switching to less costly and more readily accessed non OE-approved aftermarket parts, have been accompanied by few if any negative effects on vehicle reliability, as shown in breakdown frequencies and workshop downtime records.

The whole issue of approved versus non-approved parts remains commercially sensitive, because Tier 1 and Tier 2 OE suppliers, though they would never admit it (for fear of alienating their OEM customers), are ever on the lookout to market their ‘new vehicle standard’ components to end-users, where potential margins are significantly greater than those they are able to negotiate for OE business.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Alan Bunting has a background in engineering, and has been writing on commercial vehicle and powertrain related topics since the 1960s. He has been an Automotive World contributor since 1996.

The AutomotiveWorld.com Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact editorial@automotiveworld.com

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