Aftermarket, suppliers gain meaningful seat at the ‘Washington D.C. table’
Las Vegas—Government affects all industries, as reported by a McKinsey study two years ago, which calculated that 30 percent of all business profits were determined by government legislation and regulation.
“Frankly, historically the aftermarket has been pretty insulated,” said Paul McCarthy, AASA executive vice president, during a recent media briefing, where he highlighted Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) advocacy efforts and accomplishments in 2018. “We’re not heavily regulated like the OE business, but government advocacy has probably never mattered more for aftermarket suppliers than now, given these times of great trade uncertainty and in this generational fight for consumer freedom of choice.”
He noted that suppliers represent the largest manufacturing sector in the U.S., and that suppliers, directly or indirectly, account for 2.9 percent of employment in the U.S.
“One thing we’ve learned this past year is that suppliers matter. I’m not sure that until this year the folks in Washington understood the importance of suppliers and the importance of the aftermarket. They do now,” McCarthy said.
He cited the various meetings that AASA has had in 2018, including those with Vice President Mike Pence, multiple meetings with Secretary Wilbur Ross (a former AASA member), U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and dozens of Senators and Representatives.
“Suppliers and our industry have gained a meaningful seat at the table,” McCarthy continued. “Our voice in Washington has never been more powerful. And there has perhaps never been a greater need for that voice to be heard to defend the aftermarket.”
He said AASA has recognized the complexity of trade issues and tariffs, which have been harmful for many in the industry and beneficial for some. It has also shaken up the competitive balance in some product sectors.
“What is certainly true is that it has led to greater uncertainty, and uncertainty is hard for everyone in the business world. Our message has been consistent. Actions should be aimed at strengthening U.S. competitiveness and, by doing so, strengthen jobs and our economy.
“Our industry has always been a hotbed of entrepreneurialism. We’re in favor of the free market and fair trade. We all want to do the right thing for our industry, for jobs, for our country and for consumers. Let’s be honest — tariffs ultimately become a tax on U.S. consumers.”
McCarthy highlighted a victory for vehicle suppliers and the aftermarket, as the Librarian of Congress expanded exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allow greater access to vehicle software by independent repair providers for diagnostic and repair services.
“We had requested these exemptions in the DMCA to protect consumer choice in automotive service and replacement components,” he said, “while understanding that copyright and intellectual property must be respected. Suppliers were a credible voice in saying this, given the R&D and innovation that comes from us. We are pleased that the U.S. Copyright Office heard the voice of aftermarket suppliers on this critical issue.”
However, he pointed out it is not a full solution to the obstacles the aftermarket faces, and new ones will arise as technology advances. The industry needs to continue to move forward and fully protect the principle that “the vehicle owner has the right to choose when, where and with what components vehicle maintenance, service and repairs are made.”