Strategic Planning for the Specialty-Equipment Automotive Company of the Future

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Our industry is facing an evolution that will have a profound impact on every company at every level of the specialty-equipment market. Car and truck sales are down; OEMs are closing North American plants; and the specialty-equipment market is feeling its share of the impact. On the other hand, alternate fuels, the era of personalization, green technologies and other changes offer new opportunities for those willing to pursue them. It’s not business as usual. SEMA-member companies have serious decisions to make.

Recently, SEMA commissioned a groundbreaking series of forecasting reports to assist members as we look to the future. These reports, being undertaken by the acclaimed Center for Automotive Research (CAR), will give business owners and executives forward-looking information on critical topics, such as vehicle technology; the strategies and directions the OEMs will take; government regulatory trends; and consumer trends. The reports are forecasting tools that look at what is on the drawing board today and will likely have an impact on our industry three, five or even seven years from now.

The first report, titled “The Specialty-Equipment Automotive Company of the Future: Guideposts for Strategic Planning,” looks at a number of trends regarding both the automakers and the specialty-equipment industry. For instance, some auto manufacturers anticipate using aftermarket companies as sources for consumer electronics only, while others are considering far more broad-based applications, including chassis and appearance products. In those cases, both the OEs and the aftermarket would have to target specific car and truck categories.

The first report also examines the automakers’ willingness and desire to promote their in-house performance brands, leverage specialty-equipment brands or utilize some mix of in-house and partner-branded performance components. The report indicates that SEMA programs, such as Measuring Sessions and Technology Transfer, might be expanded to facilitate collaboration between automakers and specialty-equipment suppliers earlier in the design and development of new-vehicle offerings.

The CAR report identifies car dealerships as prime territory for specialty-equipment companies and the opportunity to expand our markets. Dealerships may increasingly serve as direct specialty-equipment outlets for consumers, utilizing a combination of in-house and independent installation to serve customer needs.

In mid-January, SEMA hosted a webinar based on the first CAR report. It was presented by the co-authors of the document, Brett Smith, CAR assistant director of the manufacturing, engineering and technology group, and Richard Wallace, CAR senior project manager. Smith and Wallace discussed the findings in the report, including the potential for OEM-aftermarket collaboration and new customization opportunities that will arise as more models are produced from fewer platforms. As with other SEMA webinars, the CAR discussion is now archived on the SEMA website (visit www.sema.org/webinar) and is available to employees of member companies who wish to gain additional insights from the report and its authors.

This is a critical time for the businesses that comprise our industry, and I believe that the type of information found in the CAR report can make a difference as we move forward. There is no doubt that the industry is changing. Our task is to ensure that we adapt and thrive as the changes occur.