Aftermarket magazine’s anniversary

Published:  14 September, 2017

It’s 25 years since Aftermarket was first published. Here we look back at the history of the magazine, and the sector

The automotive sector has changed a great deal since Aftermarket started in 1992. Most of the vehicles that would have been coming through the doors of the average garage 25 years ago are long gone, and some of the companies that made those cars have also gone too.

In 1992, the Rover Metro was still very much in production. Due to the legislative environment of the time, most of the Metros being seen in the aftermarket would have still been under the Austin marque. Rover finally went under in 2005, and the Metro has gone from being one of the most common cars on the road to being a rarer sight than a Morris Minor. Other cars and brands have come and gone during the period All these changes had an impact on the aftermarket as specialists in particular brands would need to re-focus their businesses to reflect the new reality.

Most of the other mainstream manufacturers of the time are still with us. Many of the vehicle names from brands like Nissan and VW still around too, like the Micra, Golf and Polo. The actual cars are quite different though.

Diesel decades
Over the years the magazine covered the changing face of the car parc, and the shift in the innards too. In 1992, diesel cars were still relatively unusual in the UK, but within a decade they had become as popular as petrol engine vehicles. Aftermarket tracked the rise of diesel, and helped readers get to grips with the technology. Many technical articles over the years were dedicated to explaining how to understand and fix problems in diesel engine vehicles. Over the last few years the magazine has been tracking its travails too following Dieselgate. Today we cover the ever-increasing complexity of diesel engine vehicles as much as we look at what might ultimately replace them.

Part of the process
Then there’s the advance of vehicle electronics. This was a growing area in the early 1990s, and it’s a growing area now. The progress from single ECUs on the more advanced vehicles to the situation today where even the most basic cars are fully equipped with a host of systems has been dizzying. The magazine has been on hand to provide advice and expert opinion from a range of sources.

The make up of parts has changed too, mostly for the better.  Until 1999, asbestos was commonly used as friction material in clutches, automatic transmission and brake linings, and gaskets. The use of asbestos in these parts was banned from 1999. There was an exception for pre-1973 vehicles, which allowed these vehicles to continue to be fitted with brake shoes containing asbestos right up until 2004.

Of course, probably the biggest change came through the 2002 Block Exemption Regulation (BER) that allowed independents to work on new cars without invalidating the warranty. This came into force in October 2003. Aftermarket was fully behind the campaign to get this change made for the benefit of consumers and the industry alike. Once in law, the magazine continued to back efforts by the industry to make sure businesses and motorists were able to exercise their rights freely. The Right to Repair campaign and similar activities received strong support from the magazine through the 00s and beyond as a result.

These are just a few of the broad trends. Every year would have seen a thousand stories told about the sector. Aftermarket was the messenger bringing them to the readers.

The founder of the feast
Aftermarket was founded by Bob Sockl in 1992. Let’s examine how it all began...

Sometimes a decision can be made by someone else that affects you in an extraordinary way. Losing your job can be a springboard to do something wonderful with your life. Of course it doesn't feel like that at the time, but why let that get in the way of a good story? After all, Aftermarket magazine owes its existence to a redundancy. Bob had worked his way up the media ladder over the years. By the early 1990s  he was in a senior role at publishing company Morgan Grampian. As publishing director on a number of titles covering the automotive sector, he had what appeared to be a good seat at the metaphorical table. Big job, big company, and hopefully big money. Sounds great doesn't it? Sadly nothing lasts forever, and with the UK economy tanking as the 1990s began, no one was immune from the threat of redundancy.

Some readers may shudder when they remember the recession Britain experienced at the start of that decade. Many people found themselves suddenly out of work in what was a bleak and at times particularly nasty economic period. Sadly publishing directors were no exception: "I got made redundant from Morgan Grampian where I had been in charge of Transport Week and Auto Trade."

New title
Bob, not being the sort to take things lying down, dusted himself off and examined his options: "I looked at the situation, and knowing the people I knew from my time at Morgan Grampian I thought I could put together a team, and start a new title.

"We quickly put together an aftermarket-knowledgeable team, and we created a replacement for the old Auto Trade magazine, where I had been publishing director. We created the new magazine. When it was first launched in 1992, it was called Garage and Bodyshop Products (GBP). That name lasted about 18 months, and then we decided to change it to Aftermarket. While the name did shift, the concept was solid: "The magazine was very quickly established in the market with the highest audited circulation of all the sector publications, over 30,000 copies a month."

Great relationships
While a few things changed, many of the elements that made Aftermarket a success were there from the beginning: "We had a lot of support from top aftermarket suppliers, people like Luk/Schaeffler, people like Ferodo and Mintex on the braking side, We had a great relationship with NGK which still goes on between the company and the magazine.

The team behind the title was vital to the success of Aftermarket over the years: "We had a very good team that worked well together. We were respected for the knowledge we had of the market we were serving. Over the years, there was an average of 11 people on the title. On the editorial side there was generally four permanent staff, and some contributors as there are now.
Sales wise we had three people, then accounts and yours truly who stuck his nose into every division there was.

"We were able to act as a sounding board for what people wanted to do, as the market changed we changed with it. I think the strength of any publication is its knowledge of the industry it is serving. This can be used as a source of information for new companies coming in. They can look at what's available in the market already, they can listen to conversations and this enables them to come up with a strategy.

"Publishers are very often the holders of bulk information. You don't have to find a consultant – you can find someone who's been in the industry for some considerable time at a magazine and ask them. The publishing business is a broad spectrum information source, and you can get a lot of information from publications covering any sector.”

While the title adapted with the times, it did not fundamentally change according to Bob:"Part of the strength of the brand was it didn't change in any great way. It was designed to be the number one information source in the industry. That's what we set out to create and that's what it became. We knew what we were talking about.” While the Aftermarket ethos remained stable, publishing changed dramatically as the 1990s became the 2000s and the internet rose to prominence:

"I think the one thing that is worth commenting on is the general change in business-to-business publishing, because we were very much a magazine with a website. Meanwhile, people were beginning to spend more and more of their marketing budget online which meant that the magazines in the marketplace weren't picking up the revenues they had been, so they had a change of direction. That meant we were working online too, hence the launch of, now"

There was more to Aftermarket than just a magazine though: "We also had the great benefit of course of also having a wide knowledge of the exhibitions business.

We were working with the SMMT as sales and marketing consultant for the Automotive Trade Show. It was rather like Automechanika, although without the German spelling."

Ultimately, the time came in 2015 when Bob retired and the magazine was sold to DFA Media. Looking back on what he created and the many years overseeing his magazine, Bob observed: "We were around for a great number of years. It became an established title. We clearly had a pretty successful formula which was consistent and we were good at what we did. We achieved our ambition, which was to become the number one book in the marketplace."

Aftermarket is very proud to work with a number of expert contributors who have shared their wisdom with the readership over the years.

One such contributor is business guru Neil Pattemore: "25 years ago, I was running a European diagnostics business that was one of the advertisers who supported the first edition of Aftermarket, in what was then a bound product card format magazine”.

“Over the intervening years, the magazine has grown to be one of the most respected sector publications and more recently, as an aftermarket business expert with a deep involvement in aftermarket related legislation, I have become a regular contributor. My direct involvement was to help readers understand and address the changing aftermarket sector as vehicle technology became ever more complicated, allied to increasing demands that not only focused on repairing vehicles, but also in how to run their businesses in an increasingly competitive and legislatively influenced environment. This was further supported by the creation of 'Top Technician' that recognises the best technicians in the country. "In the next 25 years, these challenges are likely to become even more important and therefore Aftermarket remains an important source of news, product information and business support – so maybe nothing has changed!"

A new chapter
In 2015 Aftermarket was bought by business-to-business publishers DFA Media, and a new chapter in the history of the magazine was opened. Commenting on the decision to buy the title, publishing director Ian Atkinson said: “It was an opportunity too good to pass up on. We were aware of the reputation the magazine and the owners who launched Aftermarket had built up over the previous 25 years. “We relished the opportunity to take on this mantle and work in such an important and thriving sector of British industry.”

According to Ian, the company is very pleased to be able to include Aftermarket in its stable of publications: “As well as having areas of crossover with our other titles, for example compressed air within our magazine Hydraulics and Pneumatics,  it is also fantastic to branch out into new areas.”

Watch this space
On plans for the magazine going forward, Ian observed: “I’m tempted to say ‘watch this space!’  Firstly, it will to continue to be the leading source of information for the automotive aftermarket sector but also to develop new, faster and better ways of regularly communicating with our readers. Also, going forward we see Aftermarket as a vehicle to help garages with hands on practical help in a greater way through workshops for example. Some form of ‘live’ version of Aftermarket is an obvious goal
as well.”

Related Articles

  • SO FAR... so good 

    You may have read about some of the challenges that the aftermarket has faced over the last year or two as part of the vehicle Type Approval revisions – with their inherent ‘rights of access to repair and maintenance information’ and the associated fight to maintain access to the vehicle data via the ever-so-not-so-humble 16 pin OBD connector.

    The draft vehicle Type Approval document has been agreed by the European Commission and the Council (Member States), but has now to be approved by the European Parliament before becoming the final version which in turn, will become new legislation. However, as many of the key aftermarket amendments were tabled by the Parliament, it seems unlikely that these will be changed, but there is always an uncertainty until the final plenary vote is done.
    So once agreed, that will be that, as they say. Unfortunately not, as the devil is in the detail.

    Legal reference
    Firstly, there is the additional problem of existing Block Exemption and Euro 5 Regulations which do not provide the critical legal reference to enable access to in-vehicle data beyond just emissions. The standardisation requirements are included, but not the data and information for the wider diagnostic, repair and maintenance data. This means that vehicle manufacturers can claim that access to the vehicle and the corresponding ‘wider data’ does not have to be provided. This is currently being challenged by the Aftermarket Associations in Brussels, but no solution has yet been agreed for those contentious claims and there will be many vehicles on the roads with restricted access before a workable solution can be agreed and implemented.

    As vehicle manufacturers are likely to be in contradiction with these existing Type Approval requirements, it is also likely that they will have to provide access, but this may well be through the use of electronic certificates. As each vehicle manufacturer has their own certificate strategy (process, access criteria, data available etc.), this is still a significant problem and in some cases could mean multiple certificates are needed to work on the different vehicle systems on specific models. It is also important that certificates can be used without the necessity of having to use the vehicle manufacturer’s dedicated diagnostic tool and an online connection to their server to generate the required certificate when using the 16 pin connector.

    However, the new vehicle Type Approval legislation should now provide the legal reference for the physical connector and critically, also contain a reference to the data needed for diagnostics, OBD, repair and maintenance, but beyond these important requirements there are still other elements which have yet to be discussed or agreed.

    Logical cascade     
    These other issues revolve around the secure access for independent operators, together with the exact data that will be made available once access has been granted. This may sound strange, but the 16 pin OBD port is increasingly seen as a high security risk access point into the in-vehicle networks. Consequently, some form of controlled access is highly likely to be implemented, even for such seemingly mundane tasks as checking safety system trouble codes when conducting an MOT test. This is also likely to be a ‘certificate based’ system and this introduces a whole range of new challenges!

    To understand these various issues more clearly, there is a logical cascade which starts with the legal requirement for a connector to be fitted to a vehicle. This is covered as part of vehicle Type Approval legislation, and this legislation also includes the need for the connector to be standardised from both the aspect of the physical shape and connector pin layout, but also what data or information is needed for emission systems, as well as the communication protocols that must be used. All these legislative elements have been in place for more than two decades, but the wider use of the 16 pin connector for diagnostic, repair and maintenance requirements had until the current revision of the vehicle Type Approval legislation, not been legally referenced. Now that this has (hopefully) been addressed, the next key discussions will be about who can access the vehicle via this connector, how this can be authenticated and once access is provided, what data, information and functions will be supported.

    As mentioned earlier, this is likely to require electronic certificates, but to avoid the ‘wild west’ of different processes, access conditions and data availability, a standardised process should be considered by the legislator which also uses a single and independent point of access for certificates from all vehicle manufacturers. It should also be possible to access in-vehicle data without a certificate when the vehicle is in the workshop, although software updates may require certificates. When the vehicle is being driven, ‘read-only’ data should still be available and a certificate should only be needed if some form of ‘functional’ testing is required, but this should be considered as the exception. As there is an increasing use of ‘plug-in’ devices being used to allow remote communication with the vehicle when it is being driven for services such as insurance, or remote monitoring for prognostics and predictive maintenance, arguably, the importance of the OBD connector is increasing for these telematics services – even if the data it can provide is restricted in relation to what is available via the vehicle manufacturers’ embedded
    telematics systems.

    Further requirements
    Once data is accessed, the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in May this year, will impose further requirements for the use and handling of personal data.  A fundamental issue will be that much of the data contained in the vehicle can also be considered personal data and is subject to data protection legislation. Critically, the customer must give their consent to the use of this data by a positive action or statement – it cannot be assumed.    

    As you can see, it may be ‘so far, so good’, but the simple task of continuing to plug into the 16 pin connector and diagnosing or repairing the vehicle is going to be far from simple, with many hurdles and challenges yet to be addressed, but the aftermarket associations, both in the UK and with their pan-European partners, are continuing to fight for the ability to do so.

  • Recruitment: What to do about it?  

    This year’s crop of year 11s will be winding up towards their GCSEs over the next couple of months. From there some will opt for the academic route and head onto A-Levels and beyond, while others will be looking to apprenticeships. It must then be time garages to start looking for some new staff to train up?

    Well, probably not – we have already lost out on the 2018 school leavers. No, really. If we wanted to attract them we should have been talking to them and their parents during 2014, or perhaps even earlier, perhaps when they were still at primary school in 2012. Because we didn’t do that, they are going to choose another industry. There’s a host of reasons why, but what do we do about it?

    Things are going to get better?
    “The automotive sector does face a long-standing skills shortage, which is likely to worsen with the developments in new technology,” says Steve Nash, chief executive at the Institute of the Motor Industry.  “New government statistics have shown a
    15% drop in automotive apprenticeship starts, however we haven’t fared too badly compared to the overall 61%.”

    Considering what the industry as a whole has to offer, you’d think young people would be flooding in: “The motor industry has over 250 different job roles that can offer young people a life-long career,” says Steve, “whether that’s in a technician role or management, designer or marketing. Businesses in the motor industry are a shining example of what can be provided through quality training and apprenticeships. We’ve had plenty of practise in providing these training programmes that have allowed us to grow to be one of the largest sectors operating in the UK. Businesses in the automotive industry are certainly well-rehearsed when it comes to adapting to any new changes that are introduced, whether that’s the Levy or Standards that have recently been implemented.”     

    Young people are not going to come our way if they don’t know that however: “The government has removed nearly all careers advice available in schools around the UK,” Steve points out, “and this is having a huge impact on young people. The IMI surveyed parents and young people to find that over 80% of parents said they would choose the university route over an apprenticeship for their children, so it’s clear that transforming apprenticeships alone isn’t enough to breakdown the stigmas associated with vocational learning.

    “Government are continuously reviewing the apprenticeship model, and automotive businesses like Rolls-Royce remain at the heart of these changes. It’s important we’re doing our upmost to transform apprenticeships, and the IMI are confident that the dedication shown by businesses will help attract more young people.”

    So what about technician licensing? It’s already on its way to being reality in one corner of our industry: “The IMI is currently lobbying for a Licence to Practise for vehicle technicians working on electric and hybrid vehicles. Without regulation and a minimum training standard, there are significant safety risks for technicians who may not have any form of training before coming into contact with high-voltage vehicles.

    “The motor industry deserves recognition for their individual training and skills when it comes to working on such advanced technology. The licensing scheme would provide that credibility, as well as offering other benefits to the individual technician who are trained and qualified to work on low-emission vehicles. Benefits include the fact that businesses would be keen to recruit them in order to allow the business to service and maintain these vehicles, and as we’ve seen lately that the appetite for electric and hybrid vehicles shows no sign of slowing down considering their has been as increase of 35%
    this year. Businesses must make the investment in training their staff in order to provide them with the skillset that’ll allow them to service customers who own high-voltage vehicles.”

    Grow your own
    Is licensing the magic potion that will fix all our problems? Industry consultant Andy Savva isn’t so sure: "I'm all for some kind of licensing, but it has to have meat on the bones, not be just some kind of tick-box exercise. Even if we went down that route, I don't think it would have any significance at all on recruitment. This has been an issue for a few years now.

    "We have quite a few problems as an industry. Firstly, the push towards university-based futures from 10-15 years ago took almost all of the young talent away. At the same time there was a lack of decent apprenticeships so there were even less young people contemplating a career in automotive, specifically in the garage repair sector. Coupled to that is the lack of upward mobility for those dynamic young people who want to progress and not just stay on the tools or the front desk. Thirdly we pay very low as an industry compared with other sectors.”  

    Do we need to think bigger?

    “If we don’t raise the status of our industry collectively, then how are we going to recruit the next generation of people regardless what side of the fence you’re sitting," observes Andy.  “In Germany you can't own or manage a garage unless you have completed a three-year degree in Automotive Engineering, which combines business modules too. People in these roles are held in
    the same esteem as solicitors and accountants.”

    Outside of the lack of careers advice, those working in our educational institutions tend to have a very narrow view of the industry that does not help says Andy: "When I speak at schools and colleges, and I get given a group of youngsters, the teacher usually says something like 'these are the kids that are not going to go to university we thought the motor trade may suit them.’ It's not like that now, it's men in white coats. There is probably more computer power in a car now than in most general offices, but people don't look at it like that.

    “The outside world seems to think that if you are not academically minded, and there is nothing wrong with that, then the motor industry is fine for you. They are given the impression that it is low skilled career, but it is far from that.”
    Once someone is in the sector, they are not always handled well either: "At the moment, collectively we have disregarded proper recruitment strategy. How many garage owners understand where recruitment starts from? How do we recruit? Most of them will do the same thing. They will put an ad in the paper or go through a recruitment agency. Now I have nothing against recruiters and there are a handful around the country that offer a wider set of services. I’ve seen at first hand how they are trying to engage with young people at an early stage through a variety of ways up and down the country and I applaud them for this.

    “On remuneration, most garage owners will then pay the same as everyone else because it is the going rate, or even cap technician salaries regardless of skill, age and knowledge. This attitude limits the pool of people who can attract and usually means a whirlwind of the same people going around for a few hundred quid extra or a couple of hours off during the week.”
    Andy adds: “We need to be going into schools at an early age, as a collective automotive sector. It's about growing your own and taking on apprentices and nurturing talent and having a proper personal development plan for each individual and providing proper clean facilities with the correct tooling to enable these youngsters to blossom.”

    All or nothing
    Glen Shepherd, co-founder at automotive recruitment specialists Glen Callum Associates also thinks technician licensing might help with recruitment, but agrees it would not be the end of the story: “Technician licencing may fulfil the wants of the younger generation by allowing them a career option of a ‘professionally skilled job, recognised nationally with continued professional development and training’, however I believe the key to ensuring awareness of the offering to entry level generations would be wholly determined by the promotion of the licencing scheme.   

    “Having attended many recruitment seminars on ‘attracting the millennial and Gen Y generations’ the consensus of opinion is that younger people are on the whole attracted to careers that offer personal development, training, transparency of duties and ‘an employer that holds and demonstrates good values and ethics.’  Licencing, if promoted correctly via schools, colleges and through successful marketing could aid recruitment from emerging generations into the aftermarket.”

    How does this help the skill shortage and awareness of those generations already rooted within the workforce though? “The image of the aftermarket doesn’t mirror the actual modernisation that the sector has undertaken. So, how do we address image and increase awareness of the aftermarket offering?  My view is to inject new blood into the industry, not necessarily at entry level, but by reaching out to talent within comparable industries that carry similarities such as the industrial and engineering sectors. Introducing the outside world into what the sector has to offer and thereby expanding and utilising skills from other sectors.   

    “Companies are trying to employ from a reducing talent pool of traditionally skilled staff, thus pushing up current salaries and increasing demand. By opening out to new skill sets, albeit within periphery sectors, allows increased awareness of the aftermarket, the introduction of new ideals and ideas and a wider pool of skilled staff from which to engage.  

    “We can do this by educating companies within the aftermarket who have historically only recruited within the sector to help broaden their expectations and to promote the benefits of working within the industry. Do we need ‘technician licencing’ to be able to do this?  I think not, however all a positive initiatives promoting recognition of the professionalism within the sector is surely helpful.”

    Don’t stop what you’re doing
    How the industry is viewed is a key issue clearly: “The perception of the motor industry by those outside it creates an image problem that exacerbates many of the issues facing independent garages today and the skills shortage is just one of these” says Terry Gibson, head of member services at the Independent Garage Association (IGA). “However, whilst attracting young people into the industry will solve the problem in the longer term, there is also a need to upskill those already in the industry. This is not limited to hybrid and other new technologies, we face an equal problem in replacing retiring MOT testers where there is an equally pressing need.”

    The IGA is working towards helping widen the net: “The IGA is working with the Armed Forces to consider how best to address the particular need for MOT testers by helping to retrain skilled and experienced military vehicle fitters to aid in their transition to civilian life and this will work alongside an initiative with a major recruitment company.”

    While careers advice in schools has been found wanting as we have seen, Terry believes the industry itself is going in the right direction promoting the importance of training and development, so at least existing staff in the sector continue to upskill: “The messages spread by trade bodies and by the specialist trade press focuses heavily on training and development and this article is a good example of that. The opening of the RMI’s Academies of Automotive Skills shows that the industry is promoting training and development for existing technicians.

    On licensing, Terry observes: “While blanket licensing might, over  time raise the perception of the technician role,  we do not believe it would be a major influencing factor in deciding on an automotive career for young people today – although in the absence of such licensing anywhere in our industry makes it difficult to predict its effects.”

    Terry adds: “We must continue to stress the high-tech nature of modern motor vehicles and ensure that the industry is presented in the best light to those outside. To that end the IGA is working with television producers to ensure that the portrayal of the garage trade in popular drama is realistic and representative.”

  • Temporary is contemporary  

    The shortfall of skills in the UK automotive industry is not new, but with the industry poised for continued growth coupled with the fact vehicles are becoming increasingly computerised and more electric cars are entering the market, the situation has become more pressing.

    No longer is the career path of a vehicle technician a matter of looking over the shoulder of a patient mentor. Progressing in the motor industry today demands digital skills — a diagnostician who can solve puzzles without physical clues, like an engine knocking or an oil leak.

    This is all putting tremendous strain on an industry which is already struggling to find the talent it needs and, while in 2016 pockets of the country were feeling the pinch, in 2017 garages across the whole of the UK were left feeling the pressure as the skills crisis deepened.  Significantly, the impending Brexit is likely to deepen the shortage as, according to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), at least 10% of all people employed within the UK automotive industry are from elsewhere in the EU.

    Highly skilled
    Consequently, garage owners and dealerships are increasingly seeking to recruit the most highly skilled technicians, and there is a growing pool of proficient candidates ready to fill workforce shortages on a temporary basis.
    As the economy thrives on supply and demand, and we are functioning within an industry where the demand is high, but the current workforce supply is straining under the weight of it. For the temporary contractor, there are plenty of opportunities for work. However, the pendulum swings both ways. For the aftermarket business owner, who is looking to increase productivity and ensure they do not suffer any financial losses due to empty ramps through staff shortages, relying on temporary contractors can provide an extremely efficient, quick win solution.

    From reducing the administration requirements, to having less payroll responsibilities, hiring contractors consumes less of a business owner’s time than hiring full-time employees does, and there is growing evidence to support this. With two of his permanent workforce due to attend training days last September, Krunel Patel, managing director of Cambridge Coachworks, a member of the AutoFirst Network, realised that he could face a potential loss of £2,000 per day without cover. “Initially, the thought of taking a temporary worker on was impractical. While I realised the financial loss I would make, and also the fact that my customers would go elsewhere, the prospect of vetting candidates to work on such a short time scale was daunting. However the whole process from requesting support from Autotech Recruit to the arrival on site of the technicians was seamless. Both technicians were not only a pleasure to have as part of the team, but worked extremely hard
    and helped immensely during a busy period.”

    Forward planning
    When should owners be tapping into this growing pool of highly-skilled contractors? Quite often it will be a reactive call, and temporary technicians are frequently being called upon with just a few days notice to cover shortfalls. However, for garage owners who want to run at optimum capacity with the flexibility to meet periods of high demand, forward planning is essential to cover any anticipated workforce shortages.

    While all businesses experience economic highs and lows, demand will generally follow a similar pattern each year. For instance, March and September are traditionally both busy months for MOTs and last year there was a 10% increase on MOTs due to the 2014 car sales boom, which, through consecutive annual sales, is forecast to be repeated this year. Relying on temporary technicians to plug the gap requires deliberation to ensure the right person fits the bill. Therefore it is essential that recruiting temporary technicians is built into an annual business strategy.

    For temporary technicians, to ensure the work flows in, it is vital that they continue to invest in training and up-skill to be proficient in all areas of vehicle maintenance. While this requires an investment in both time and money, inevitably it leads to greater flexibility when taking on new work opportunities, allowing them to hit the ground running. Significantly, when faced with reports that the number of jobs in the automotive aftermarket sector expected to rise by almost 17% to 400,000 roles by 2022, there is plenty of scope for work. Couple this with the fact that many of the present workforce do not necessarily hold the required skills to carry out the work, temporary workers can help bridge this gap.

    It is vital that training becomes an integral part for all automotive workers in 2018 to ensure the industry has a flexible, highly skilled and productive workforce. Garages need to stay one step ahead of the game and ensure that any shortfalls in manpower are identified early enough so they can take on highly skilled contractors to safeguard efficiency, and maintain the
    bottom line.

  • Part ONE: Employers in the firing line  

    Before July 2013 individuals were free to bring Employment Tribunal claims. However, in July 2013 the government introduced Employment Tribunal fees for anyone wanting to make a claim or appeal a judgment.

    The fee to lodge a claim was £160 or £250 (dependent upon the nature of the claim) and the fee to pursue the matter to a final hearing was a further £230 or £950 (again dependent upon the nature of the claim). If employees won their claim, the tribunal judge could order the employer to pay any fees incurred.

    According to Chloe Themistocleous, an associate at Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP, after the introduction of tribunal fees the number of claims being brought fell by 80%, but the ratio of claims being successful did not change and so the introduction of fees did little to deter spurious claims. “Clearly,” says Chloe, “some individuals were deterred from making claims due to the cost. Whilst a remission system was in place to help the poorest people, by reducing or waiving the fees, those who missed out on a remission had no choice but to pay the fees or not make a claim; many simply did not want to take the risk.”

    Supreme Court decision
    It appears that while claim numbers were dropping, unrest in trade unions was growing and so Unison decided to challenge the government’s implementation of the fee regime, claiming not only that it was unlawful but that it indirectly discriminated against women.

    Chloe says this was not by any means an easy task as both the High Court and Court of Appeal rejected the claim. “However, at the end of July 2017, the Supreme Court quashed the tribunal fee regime giving judgment that it was both unlawful and indirectly discriminatory.” Effectively the Supreme Court decided that the government acted outside its powers when it introduced fees at current levels, because the fees effectively prevent access to justice.

    What does this mean?
    The ruling means a number of things. Chloe explains: “As a result of the judgment no further fees can be charged by the Employment Tribunal until a replacement scheme is introduced.” This means new claims can now be brought for free again and no hearing fees will be charged claims already lodged.

    She adds that as for those who have already paid tribunal fees, the Ministry of Justice has undertaken to reimburse fees already paid.

    Of course, without the deterrent effect of fees, employers now face an increased risk of employment-related claims from current and former staff. Worryingly, Chloe says it is also possible that some individuals might now try to claim they should be permitted to bring out-of-time claims in respect of past alleged breaches of their rights, “arguing that the now found to be high and unlawful
    fees prevented them from bringing a claim.”

    When a replacement system will be debated and passed by parliament is unknown - it could be months or even longer. The Supreme Court ruling gives parliament a lot of ‘food for thought’, but so far, it is unclear
    what shape a replacement scheme would take.

    As Chloe sees it, while there is a window of opportunity to submit a claim without paying a fee, it is likely that employees will take it. “Claim numbers are expected to rise, but whether they will rise to the levels they were at prior to the introduction of tribunal fees is unknown. If they do, it is unlikely that the current tribunal system, with a reduced number of hearing centres, judges and clerks, could cope.”

    With time, if a new fees regime is introduced and once the media attention has died down, the number of claims will level, but, in the meantime, employers must watch and wait.


  • Facing a new Brexit world  

    Facing a new Brexit world in the automotive aftermarket was the overarching theme of the IAAF Conference 2017, held just before Christmas.

    There is nothing particularly festive, or easy, about reversing out of the world’s largest free-trade area without mirrors, so keeping a clear head is vital.

    IAAF CEO Wendy Williamson’s opening remarks were as clear headed as you could wish for. They had a Yuletide feel, themed around the 12 days of Christmas. Among the issues covered were Brexit, emissions, the proposed MOT changes, automotive technology, consumer lifestyle changes.. On tech, Wendy observed: “Automotive technology is moving at a rapid pace, and this is yet another challenge we have to face.” Talking about lifestyle changes, she said: “Consumer expectations are changing, ownership patterns are changing, and there are new entrants to the sector like Google and Apple, along with changes to the distribution structure.

    "With reference to impact of Brexit, Wendy said: “What a journey we have ahead of us. I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be easy, but now we know how difficult the process will be.” On emissions, Wendy commented: “Yes, older vehicles emit NOx, and yes some manufacturers were less than honest, but we were encouraged to buy them. Cars with newer Euro 6 engines are much cleaner, and yet diesels are demonised in the press. Meanwhile ships, planes, wood-burning stoves are all far worse for the environment. We need a concerted effort to confront this.”

    “The UK’s infrastructure cannot support a  major move away from the internal combustion engine,” she added.

    On industry as a whole, Wendy highlighted the resilience of the aftermarket: “We must continue to invest in equipment and training to stay ahead.  All we ask for is a level playing field and the ability to continue to access information. There is a role for our industry in the future, and that future is bright despite the challenges we face.”

    Following the introduction to the morning session by F1 legend Johnny Herbert, the first presentation of the day provided an opportunity to re-examine the impact the aftermarket has on the overall economy. Dr Julia Saini, vice president consulting at Frost & Sullivan looked at the importance of the UK aftermarket to the UK economy and the impact of Brexit on the sector.
    On the economy, citing the SMMT figures launched earlier this year at Automechanika Birmingham, Dr Saini said: “2016 was another year of growth, up 2.4% to 21.6bn, delivering £12.5bn to the economy and an extra 1,400 jobs.”

    On Brexit, she commented: “The impact of the decision could be manifold. Consumer impact could be higher prices for parts and decreased spending on car maintenance. Introduction of WTO trade rules and tariffs of between 2% and 4.5% on imported components would have an impact.

    “The current lack of clarity between the UK and EU is another area of concern to us. The aftermarket is suffering from a considerable trade imbalance – it imports twice as much as it exports.” It was not all bad news however: “Although we are running a trade imbalance, the UK is delivering a wide variety of parts and components into Europe and other markets like Asia.
    If UK companies could compete on price there are opportunities for the sector in emerging markets.”

    "Moving onto e-retailing trends, Dr Saini commented: “It is likely even more consumers will buy parts online.”

    On the evolution in personal mobility, Dr Saini said: “The way we are using cars is changing. Car sharing and e-hailing could remove up to 460,000 cars from UK roads by 2025.  Businesses should capitalise on this and target car sharing and e-hailing operators as potential new customers for the aftermarket. Also, working with fleet companies enables businesses to service more vehicles, and also offer some fleet operators who in-source servicing significant savings. It is worth looking into which companies have in-sourced capacity that cannot meet the demand and make an offer.”

    In conclusion, looking ahead at the need for the renewal of the workforce and the entry of new talent to the sector, Dr Saini added: “The industry  must work with schools and government to attract more young people to the industry.”

    Next up was Quentin Le Hetet, general manager at GIPA, who was examining the impact of global influences on the UK aftermarket.

    Looking at global sales trends, Quentin compared the 137.9% growth in car registrations in China between 2011 and 2017 with the situation in Europe. “Every year, 25m new cars are registered in China. That’s almost the equivalent of the entire UK car parc, every year.”

    In the same period, the whole of Europe saw a 3.7% increase. “The car market we are in is not going to greatly increase in future.”
    On Britain, Quentin said: “UK registrations are dropping. This is the only G5 country seeing a decrease. This means the UK car parc is not going to grow as fast as it used to. It’s not a threat, but it means the average age of cars is going to increase from 7.6 years upwards.

    “The attraction of the franchised sector is going to decrease, and this is good news for the aftermarket.”

    Quentin’s next topic was the wave of ownership changes still washing across the parts supply sector. Looking at the major factor chains in Britain, he commented: “It is interesting to note that three of them are owned by North American parents, and that two of those have been bought out in the last year. They are part of a consolidation trend that is going on at a European level.”
    Looking for a reason behind the Atlantic crossing taking place, Quentin mused: “In North America, a lot is done by the driver, where in Europe it is done by professionals. This is why there is a lot of interest – more margin. Britain is a gateway to Europe as well, as English is spoken.”

    Quentin then covered the growth of garage schemes and soft franchises. While Britain is still some way behind the continent in this area, Quentin thought they offered some advantages: “I think the benefit of the schemes is that they make the garage more professional.”

    Labour rates were up next, and Quentin pointed out that while franchised dealers, Autocentres and fast-fits had all seen labour rates rise since 2012, independent rates had actually dropped. “Many independents gauge their labour rate by seeing what their local competition is charging, and then charging £2 less per hour. This shows the kind of support businesses need.”
    This is a challenge for the wider industry too: “How can we sustain
    the sector and provide support and training to help the sector stay in business?”

    Online service providers
    The challenges didn’t stop in the next session, as Alistair Preston, co-founder at contextualised the rise of online service providers and showed how garages can increase their customer base by taking the leap.

    “The UK consumer is a big car of aggregators, and we have the insurance sector to thank for that. There is an ongoing willingness
    by UK consumers to embrace these platforms.”

    Commenting on the success of their offering, Alistair observed: “If the garage is paying us money, then their workshops are full of
    our customers.”

    Alistair went on to point out how garages are making the most of the site, along with industry partners like  parts suppliers. In some cases they are working with garages to promote specialists in certain areas: “This evolution of independent garages getting smarter and more organised is only going to increase.”

    The IAAF’s Mike Smallbone followed, and he provided information on Right2Choose, and highlighted how the campaign will be kicking up a gear in 2018. “The issue is who has the right to service and repair the vehicle in the warranty period, and is also about who has the right to receive data. Right2Choose is all about choice,” Mike added. “If the consumer wants to go to the dealer, then they will. We want to make sure they know they have the choice.”
    Clearly we will be hearing more about this. Watch this space.

    After lunch, a change of lane as Olaf Henning, corporate executive vice president at Mahle, showed how F1 technology is being used to drive parts developments in the aftermarket.

    “What is important is how we use motorsport as a laboratory,” said Olaf. He cited the steel piston the company developed in 2008, that was used in a Le Mans car in 2009 and by 2015 was in series production. “This was in less than a decade. It does not always go this way but shows what can happen.”

    Looking at the drivetrain, Olaf cited Mahle’s dual strategy on the issue of EVs and the internal combustion engine: “Do we need EVs that can drive 500kms? I don’t think so. I think we will see drivetrains being more diverse rather than either-or.”

    Future technology
    Staying with technology, IMI chief executive Steve Nash was up next. Commenting on the proposed phasing out of conventional petrol and diesel systems by 2040 at home and abroad, Steve tended towards cautious scepticism. On the potential impact  on garages, he said: “There will undoubtedly be a change in the market. I do believe there will be more call for people to specialise. If you are a small garage then there will be an advantage to be part of a larger network.”

    On the government’s attitude to the EV challenge, Steve said: “They are looking at infrastructure, but the one thing they are not looking at is skills.”

    Looking at possible threats ahead Steve said: “There is very little money in selling new cars. The margins are razor thin. All the money is in used cars and aftersales. It is a very important part of the business.”

    He then went on to examine how different ownership models for vehicles could put manufacturers firmly in the driving seat: “The future sales model would give them a lot of power over the aftermarket if they kept ownership of the vehicles.”

    The last speaker of the day prior to summing up by IAAF president Lawrence Bleasdale was Figiefa technical director and long-term Aftermarket contributor Neil Pattemore. He looked at the latest technical threats emerging from the UK and Europe. Access to the OBD port, the wider issue of access to technical information, the machinations of Type Approval and many other issues were covered.

    “It has been one of the most challenging and most difficult of the seven years I have been in Brussels” said Neil, who went on to discuss the gains the organisation has made on behalf of the sector during the year, and where the sector was winning back some ground.”

    With that closing statement from Lawrence Bleasdale, the conference ended on a positive note.

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