government affairs blog

Who Are the Real Heroes When it Comes to Lobbying?

Posted by Aaron Lowe on February 22, 2013

No matter what you may hear in the news about how technology is replacing people, the fact is that in the end, the success of any industry is dependent not on the technology, but the people who work in it. People develop the strategy for how a product is to be produced and marketed and it is people that will need to effectively implement the strategy.


The same holds true for lobbying. The success or failure of a lobbying effort is often dependent on the people who participate—clearly the professional lobbyists, but maybe more important, the people from the industry that become involved in the issue on behalf of their companies and the industry. An industry that has a large number of people that are willing to passionately make their case to legislators will find success in achieving their goals.


I can definitely point to the willingness of an industry member to come out and meet with legislators or their staff as a key reason why we have won battles in state legislatures and in Congress. While lobbyists can meet all day long, it is the constituents that can really drive home a message with an elected official. No one really tells the story as well as someone who is living the story, someone who is actually a part of the industry that a lobbyist represents.


The importance of people in a lobbying battle comes to mind recently with our recent victory in Oklahoma. Through the efforts of some individuals from our industry, we were able to prevent consideration of a bill that would have had an extremely negative impact on the aftermarket parts industry. While I am always hesitant to mention a name since there are often many people involved in an effort, I feel that it is appropriate to mention one in particular: Jack Vollbrecht from Remy International.


This month, Vollbrecht spent days at the capitol in Oklahoma City explaining how the aftermarket and consumers would be hurt by a bill that required repair shops doing insurance-related repairs to provide a disclosure to car owners when a non-original equipment emissions or safety related part was being used in a repair. Adding insult to injury, the bill further would require the car owner to sign a consent form that they would accept the use the non-original equipment part as if the use of a non-OE part meant getting a second rate component for a repair. Pointing to the negative implications of this requirement on non-original equipment parts, Vollbrecht explained to legislators how these parts are often as good, or better, than the OE part they replaced, and in many cases, made by the same company. It wasn’t easy, but in the end with the help of other aftermarket companies, including LKQ, NAPA and O’Reilly, Vollbrecht convinced key legislators to back off support of the bill and it is currently looking like this bill will die in the legislature.


Winning on an issue can require some good strategy and sometimes spending a lot of money. However, victory often comes down to having the right people involved in the effort—people who have the facts, willingness to work hard and, most importantly, are passionate about the cause. This appears to be the case in Oklahoma.


Of course, this is only one story and throughout the years there have been many stories of individuals who have given up their time to help defeat or pass legislation in order to protect our industry. However, today, I would like to send some appreciation to Jack Vollbrecht and his company Remy for their willingness to take on this legislative effort on behalf of the aftermarket. We couldn’t do what we do so well without companies and individuals like them. I hope they will serve as an example of how the people in our industry are one of the most important ingredients in the success of our industry’s government affairs efforts.

Keywords: Grassroots, Lobbying

A Consumer Bought the Car, But Are They Really in the Driver’s Seat When it Comes to Telematics?

Posted by Aaron Lowe on February 15, 2013

The old saying goes that “you can’t stop progress,” but does that mean that you shouldn’t try to make sure it going down the right path? This question should be on everyone’s mind as we see the use of telematics become more prevalent on motor vehicles. What is telematics? The technology is evolving so quickly it is difficult to find a good definition anywhere. However, in general, telematics is the ability of a vehicle to wirelessly communicate and accept data from off-vehicle sources. From the point of view of the repair aftermarket, telematics permits a vehicle to transmit, to an off-site facility, information regarding diagnostic codes, GPS and vehicle mileage. This data could be used by a repair shop to determine what repairs are needed and then obtain the necessary tools, software, and parts even before the vehicle is in the shop. Telematics would permit a shop to know the actual mileage of a vehicle and then transmit a reminder to the car owner that it is time for a regular maintenance, and then help the motorist make an appointment online with the repair center. Telematics would permit a manufacturer to update software on a vehicle without the driver even knowing it is occurring.


This leads me to the point of this blog. While there is incredible number of benefits to car owners and the repair industry from telematics (many beyond our industry, including entertainment and vehicle safety), there are a lot of issues that need to be sorted out as well. First and foremost, who owns the information that is being transmitted by the vehicle, the car owner or the vehicle manufacturer who built the vehicle and developed the telematics technology that is on the car? Let’s say that I, as a car owner, do not want my diagnostic information going to the car manufacturer or their franchised dealer network. What if I want that information to go to Joe’s repair shop down the street that has been repairing my car for years? What if I want AAA or another emergency service to obtain alerts when my car is disabled and not the service that is under contract with a manufacturer? Or, what if I don’t want my information going anywhere but to my home computer? Shouldn’t this be my choice? Yes, the car company designed the system, but it is my vehicle and I paid for the development of that system when I purchased that car.


While telematics on vehicles is still a developing technology, now is the time to begin having these discussions before we move too far down the road. As our vehicles become more and more connected, the decisions as to who owns the data produced by our vehicles must be made. Further, from the aftermarket point of view, we must work to develop standards such that, if the car owner wants to send information to a non-car company location, the information can be read and utilized by the independent repair shop. This could require some standardization of the data transmission by the vehicle and some checks and balances such that any non-original equipment telematics solution does not create unintended issues with the motor vehicle’s operating system.


Implementation of a telematics system that utilizes open architecture will provide car owner with choices in vehicle repair and in other areas such as entertainment and safety. However, an open system also will require cooperation between the vehicle manufacturer and the independent aftermarket. Similar to the other new technology, providing choices to car owners in what they can do with their telematic systems is going to make those vehicles more appealing to the car owner, so it should be favorably received by the car companies. “Should be” is the question, discovering what they actually do is something AAIA is looking forward to discovering.

Keywords: Telematics

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Automotive Aftermarket Political Action Committee (AAPAC)… And We Hope You’re Not Afraid to Ask

Posted by Aaron Lowe on February 08, 2013

Although there is a slightly humorous connotation to this title, your AAIA government affairs department takes the AAPAC very seriously. The fact is that we cannot lobby effectively on your behalf without it. Simply put, our political action committee (PAC) funds are used to attend the fundraisers for your senators and representatives that help promote and protect the well-being of the automotive aftermarket. The PAC allows us to reach out to them in smaller settings and deliver the aftermarket perspective on a one-on-one basis. These scenarios play out regularly, all year long, and ensure that your concerns are given the full weight they deserve.


The funds also play an important role in helping legislators get elected that share AAIA’s position on issues of concern to our industry. Campaigns these days are expensive and there is constant pressure on candidates to raise money in order to get elected or re-elected. Funds from PACs are a critical element of a candidate’s fundraising efforts and, with sufficient funding, PACs have the ability to help candidates that are supportive of policies that positively impact their industry.


By the way, during the lead-up to the 2012 election, the press inundated us, on an almost daily basis, with articles, blogs, posts and broadcasts about “Super PACs.” The Super PACs are usually formed to bundle millions of dollars that are donated anonymously, and are used to unilaterally support a candidate or issue. Let’s be clear about this: there is no relationship between a Super PAC and a trade association PAC.


Now back to our own business -- you may have noticed an increase in PAC fundraising activity by the associations over the past few years. The truth is, AAIA is up against organizations that are operating with PACs that are anywhere from two to 10 times the size of ours. We have been pretty successful despite the fundraising prowess of our opponents, due to the efforts of members in letting elected officials know of their positions on issues important to their bottom line. However, it is an uphill battle and our industry’s political power would be considerably strengthened if its PAC was better funded.


To that end, AAIA has invested significantly in revamping the PAC section of our Government Affairs website, and we now offer members the ability to seek approval to be solicited for AAPAC contributions electronically through the new site. This option also makes this process easier for AAIA members to contribute to the PAC. The site even has a link to answers questions about compliance.


Watch for new announcements about our AAPAC efforts, and in the meantime, please take a look at the site and let us know if you have any questions or concerns. You can direct your inquiries to paul.fiore@aftermarket.org.

Keywords: AAPAC

The Aftermarket's Real Perception Problem

Posted by Aaron Lowe on February 01, 2013

The introduction of a bill (S. 1051) in the state of Oklahoma that would require motorists to receive a written disclosure regarding the use of an aftermarket emissions, safety or crash-related part should be a wake-up call that our industry has a real perception problem with elected officials. While the bill only specifies that the disclosure must happen if the repair is being paid for by an insurance company, it is clear that legislators have very little understanding of our industry or the quality or origin of aftermarket related parts.


Clearly, a disclosure requirement such as the one under consideration in Oklahoma will put a negative stigma in the consumer’s mind regarding the use of a part not manufactured by the car company. No matter what the repair shop does to explain the law, the consumer is going to wonder why a disclosure is required in the case of an aftermarket part and not the original equipment part.


Of course, a key reason for the perception regarding aftermarket parts is the marketing being done by the vehicle manufacturers that the only way to be sure that you have the best part on your car is to purchase from them. Yes, the marketing of their product to car owners is fair and to be expected. However, the fact that that the car companies and dealers are moving to secure their market through legislation signals that the competitive marketplace is not working for them, and that they are moving to the legislative theater where they hold more cards.


Whether the bill passes or not, the mere fact that a state is considering these disclosures at all should send warning flags up in our industry that we need to work together to defeat this attack on the reputation of aftermarket parts. Everyone in the industry must take responsibility to educate legislators and regulators that aftermarket parts are either as good or, in many cases, better than the original equipment part that it is replacing. In fact, the aftermarket often improves on a part since we have the fortunate opportunity to observe the part in use and can determine where there might be a problem with the OE design. Further, aftermarket parts are often built by the same company that the produced the OE part, only the label on the box is different.


The bottom line is that it is critical that everyone send letters and/or meet with legislators to defeat these bills before they have a chance to move any further.


I can guarantee you that if you don’t speak up in support of your company’s own product, and our industry overall, don’t expect legislators to see through the allegations by the car companies that only their parts are high quality. Yes, I know that parts producers in our industry compete against each other for the spending dollars of consumers. However, the threat of legislation and regulation in the aftermarket parts industry impacts all companies in our industry and demands that everyone go on the offensive together, letting legislators know that bills such as the one in Oklahoma are misguided and will only end up hurting their constituents in higher repair prices with no impact on parts quality.


Companies with facilities in the state of Oklahoma can quickly send a letter to their elected official on the aftermarket parts legislation by visiting our Legislative Action Center.

Keywords: Grassroots, Lobbying