Aging U.S. fleet and product diversification help Rare Parts reach double-digit growth
Stockton, Calif.—The average age of all light vehicles on the road in the U.S. has climbed to 11.5 years, according to IHS Automotive, a global provider of critical information and insight to the automotive industry.
“Vehicles are simply lasting longer and staying on the road longer than ever before,” Mark Seng, global aftermarket practice leader at IHS Automotive, said. “Consumers are hanging onto their vehicle longer than ever before.”
That’s a fact that Danny Burgess, president of Rare Parts, makers of chassis and suspension components for all makes and all models from 1920 through 2016, said has been a major contributing factor in the company’s double-digit growth in recent years.
“Our business grew 11.5 percent in 2015, due to the growing number of older vehicles for which parts are no longer available, and the addition of heavy-duty steering and suspension parts for the off-road market,” he said.
Burgess said that when his father, Lyle Burgess, founded Rare Parts in 1981, his vision was to have parts available for every make and model, no matter how obscure.
“Dad owned an alignment shop prior to opening Rare Parts. That is where he experienced the problems obsolescing parts caused,” he said.
Burgess said turning his father’s vision into reality has been the company’s mission ever since.
“Every day a car or truck gets older and a part goes obsolete. When it does we pick it up and manufacture it,” he said. “Today, we have more than 18,000 SKUs, with more being added every week.”
Marshall Giorgi, the company’s vice president, said Rare Parts has also been able to branch into new markets, while never forgetting its roots.
“The goal today is the same as it was in 1981,” he said. “Our philosophy is to stock every single steering and suspension part ever made for any make, model, or year vehicle back to 1920. If a part is obsolete, we’ll build it ourselves.”
Giorgi said if they hear customers complaining about poor-quality parts in the marketplace, they figure out what the problem is, and design and manufacture a high-quality Rare Parts Diamond Series part.
“Many of our designs are outside of the box, such as the dual load carrying ball joint system and Fab Series,” he said. “What we dream up tonight we can build and start testing tomorrow. Steering and suspension is all we do and we love a good challenge.”
“In addition to parts for the hot rod and restoration markets, we also make components for motorhomes, heavy-duty trucks, and off-road vehicles,” Burgess said.
Today, Rare Parts encompasses more than 46,000 square feet with some 12,000 square feet devoted exclusively to manufacturing.
“Walk into our shop and you’ll see where all the manufacturing magic happens,” Burgess said. “You’ll find CNC lathes, mills, presses, water-jet, injection molding, and heat-treating machines. Even if a customer only needs only one part, we can build it for them.”
The company’s manufacturing process includes the design, engineering, and testing of all parts. Giorgi said. “This is extremely important to us, because the safety of our customers is paramount in everything we do. Steering and suspension parts are not the parts to skimp on, either for materials or for testing.”
Burgess said logos are on all of its castings, every part is date-coded down to the component, and all of its heat-treated parts are impact-tested to verify hardness.
“Nothing goes on the shelf until it has gone through our testing lab and quality control,” he said. “From blueprint to fitment – quality is everything.”
Giorgi said people are trying to prolong the life of their vehicles, and some cars from the 1990s are already missing vital chassis and suspension parts.
Rare Parts products are available through most major warehouses, including NAPA, AutoZone, Advance Auto Parts, O’Reilly, and others, Burgess said. “We also sell our heavy-duty parts through specialty companies, including Alligator Performance and Currie Enterprises.”
Among Rare Parts’ best-selling products are heavy-duty tie rod ends for Chevy/GMC 2500/3500 and new Jeep JK heavy-duty ball joints, he said.
“A trend we see is large chain stores such as AutoZone pushing the hard-to-find parts more every year,” Burgess said. “It’s part of their ‘never say no’ concept that aims to fill the needs of every customer.
Giorgi said the company’s challenge is letting the market know that it has more to offer than many customers realize.
“We’re not just restoration, hot rod, and off-road,” he said. “Cars, trucks, motorhomes, and even agricultural and military vehicles are part of what we do every day.”
For the aftermarket industry and for independent repair shops, the aging fleet is encouraging news, HIS Automotive’s Mark Seng said.
“Newer cars don't need many repairs — and are likely to find their way into dealerships to be fixed when they do have problems,” Seng said. “Independent vehicle repair shops are capitalizing on the wave of older vehicles needing repairs.”
As a vehicle gets older, “independent shops get nearly all of that repair business, as opposed to the dealer channel,” Burgess said. “This is where Rare Parts shines. We’ve been supplying what the others no longer do for 35 years.”