Alex Keenan ︱TBB
From left to right: Mike Harris, president, FleetPride Parts & Service; Tina Hubbard – president & CEO, HDA Truck Pride; Brad Fulkerson – president & CEO, Aurora Parts & Accessories.

Industry to see eCommerce, Right to Repair changes in ‘24, aftermarket leaders say at HDAD

April 18, 2024
Equipping fleets with the proper parts and data was a repeated theme at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue in Grapevine, Texas.

GRAPEVINE, Texas—Expect big changes to aftermarket part distribution and Right to Repair legislation, expert panelists at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue 2024 expressed.

On the parts ordering front, executives from distributors and fleet maintenance managers all emphasized that aftermarket distributors can no longer rely on brick-and-mortar shops to get parts into fleet hands. Instead, they will turn to digital catalogs, which will alter the typical role of parts counter personnel.

“We’re seeing more digital orders come into our branches,” said FleetPride President Mike Harris during the HDAD’s session entitled ‘Insights from Distributor CEOs.’ “Inside the workings of the branch and our distribution centers, we’re packaging and shipping a lot more products than we traditionally have. And so those roles within the branch will shift over time, maybe not [leading to] less people, but the roles themselves may have to adapt to accommodate for the increase in digital force.”

This necessity is partly fed by the generational shift taking place on shop floors and fleet counters, where younger workers increasingly expect to be able to find the components they need online.

Within the next 10 to 15 years, it will be critical for vendors to digitize all relevant parts data that will help customers find the right parts, according to Brad Fulkerson, president & CEO, Aurora Parts & Accessories, who joined Harris on the panel.

“And if you don’t do that, it’s going to be the equivalent of having 100 people that don’t tell the customer about your part,” he warned.

This means that parts distributors must have strong, easily accessible product data and images on their site, all so that fleet customers can locate what they need without struggling through the pages of a grainy parts catalog. Otherwise, “[fleets are] gonna buy a competitive part, regardless of whatever brand loyalty they might have had,” Fulkerson emphasized.

Fulkerson and Harris’ insights were confirmed during the final HDAD session, a fleet panel featuring Doug Arns, director of maintenance at Freymiller; Justin Olsen, Eastern regional maintenance manager, TCW; and Terry Wall, sr. manager, Maintenance Technical Support – National Accounts, at Ryder System, Inc.

“One of the things that drives where a part comes from around my shop is the ability of the parts person to take the VIN number, look it up, and then go to access it from one of two or three places around town,” Arns noted. “If an aftermarket part pops up and they’re able to see that in the web search, then that’s what we buy. But more often than not, they’re giving that VIN number to the counter guy at a dealer…That’s probably a good 50-60% of all the parts that we purchase.”

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At the very least, this lays a clear path forward for aftermarket distributors, showing that if they want to work with fleets, their products need to be as accessible as possible. This availability, or lack thereof, came up throughout HDAD, despite improvements in parts supply since the pandemic.

“I believe the one thing that we’re still having issues with is hardware items like harnesses, fuel tanks, body parts, things like that,” Olsen explained. “I know in the past we had to rebuild some parts, it was to that point. We’re still rebuilding some of them.”

This is especially true with electronic components, which Olsen noted don’t last as long and aren’t available in the aftermarket. Arns chimed in to note that sluggish supply chains contribute to this as well.

“As an order item, [a harness] takes two, three weeks to arrive; those [delivery times] have still not eased up, and a lot of those items are still very difficult to access,” the Freymiller maintenance director said. “And some of them are still on allocation, you’ll call a dealer and they’ll say, ‘Hey, we only get one this week, we had to pick who we give it to.’”

Vehicle data and Right to Repair legislation

As well as ensuring that fleets have the parts that they need to succeed, HDAD also focused on how to ensure they have the necessary repair data as well, specifically by calling on attendees to support the federal Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair Act (REPAIR Act), H.R. 906, which is currently in Congress.

“We need to get this through the House of Representatives by July 1, at the very, very latest,” stated Ann Wilson, sr. VP, government affairs, MEMA, The Vehicle Suppliers Association during an afternoon session. “If we can’t... then we’re going to be looking at a bill that we’re going to have to consider next year, not this year.”

To do so, Wilson asked that the assembled distributors and suppliers participate in MEMA’s grassroots platform supporting the legislation, as well as take part in outreach regarding the law, hold district meetings, and provide feedback on the current bill through MEMA’s Tech Council.

Aftermarket distributors noted their interest in the legislation as well and the impact it could have on their, and fleets’, business.

“If Right to Repair doesn’t pass, that means a fleet can’t fix their own vehicles,” said Tina Hubbard, president and CEO of HDA Truck Pride. “You can’t decide where you want to take it; you’re forced to go to a dealer. So, do you want to tow your tractor trailer to the next closest town to have a dealership to work on it? Or do you want the independent service shop that’s right there in your base to be able to fix that vehicle?”

To take action locally, Hubbard explained how distributors and suppliers can help their representatives, whether senators or congresspeople, understand the importance of the industry and the REPAIR Act by inviting them to their facilities to explain their work and how many people they employ.

“We believe it’s really important to the industry that we maintain the access that’s there today for our customers, and also our own businesses and distributors, with service,” FleetPride’s Harris affirmed. “[It’s important] as technology evolves and things become more wireless and telematics expand, that we have similar access in the future that we do today to ensure affordability and accessibility for the customer.”