From EVs in the Aftermarket to Advocacy in Washington: A conversation with AASA’s Paul McCarthy

Friday, December 02, 2022

AAPEX Live 2022 Coverage

Just before the ribbon was cut and the upper lobby of the The Venetian Convention and Expo Center was packed full of AAPEX attendees catching up over cocktails, Paul McCarthy, president and CEO, Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association, sat down to talk about aftermarket trends, the changing industry landscape and the role everyone plays in automotive aftermarket advocacy.

AAPEX Live: Hi Paul, thanks for taking the time. AAPEX 2022 is getting rolling, registration lines are filling up outside. What are you most excited about as we look at going into it?

McCarthy: Most exciting is the market and how amazing the aftermarket has been. Our industry has just gone from strength to strength to strength. We are so resilient.You see it at the show with the buyers back in force, exhibition space is filled up, and there’s a great buzz.

Another thing is that we had this era when we were all trying to travel less, but having a place where everyone [can be] together and you can get all your business done makes AAPEX even more valuable than it was before all this disruption with the pandemic.

Something else I’m looking forward to is that, as manufacturers, we love influencing the folks who actually make the purchase decisions. Having Auto Value and Bumper to Bumper attendees is so exciting for us. We can show them fantastic aftermarket products.

AAPEX Live: Technology’s impact on the aftermarket is shaping up to be a huge topic this year. What big opportunities do you see technology opening up in the aftermarket and what advice would you give to people who want to learn more about them?

McCarthy: Seeing and experiencing new technology makes it more approachable. If you go to AAPEX even five years ago, people were apprehensive of new technology. There was a bit of fear there: What does this mean for the aftermarket? The view, at that time, was that this was a threat. I think that viewpoint has shifted and now it’s about opportunity, but there are still people who are nervous. The way to overcome that is to see the product; see all of our members who have fantastic solutions that are sitting in their booth. That is so important.

To experience it, that’s why we have Joe’s Garage. I’m a car geek, and so I just love that area with the lifts on the show floor; I was looking at one of the ADAS calibration systems down there and it gave me a whole different comfort level. It’s becoming more important for shops to learn and be prepared for these new opportunities that are coming via technology because, make no mistake–we are now a technology industry.

Of course there’s a lot of talk about EVs, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the revolution happening now: ADAS. We released a big study for our members this past spring that estimated more than a billion dollars in replacement part sales for ADAS by 2030. That’s between collision, mechanical, and replacement. This is a real growth sector. We have the solutions, we have the technology, we have the calibration.

AAPEX Live: Switching gears a bit, by the time this publishes, Election Day will have come and gone. From your view, what’s on the line in Washington for the automotive aftermarket regardless of which way the control of the House and Senate go?

McCarthy: There are two elements for us. The first is Right to Repair. Our position on Right to Repair is protecting consumer choice and protecting market competition and free markets. That’s bipartisan. We’ve seen that in our sponsors and our support. It’s a bipartisan issue. It certainly looks like we’re on track for some form of divided government, and that government still needs to show they can get something done. Our bipartisan bill is well positioned to be one of those things they can point to as something they actually did for the voters from both parties. We think this next Congress may be our best chance to get Right to Repair legislation passed.

The second element is that Washington has certainly had a bigger impact on the aftermarket in the past five to 10 years than it ever has. Historically, our view was that we are an entrepreneurial industry, and the further away the government was, the better. That’s not a reality anymore. Washington has a lot of impact, whether it’s trade, whether it’s regulation–it matters more than ever that we’re fighting hard for our members to do the right things that allows our businesses to be competitive, to prosper, and to keep America on the road.

AAPEX Live: In that same vein, how can anyone in the aftermarket participate in that advocacy?

McCarthy: We’re asking all of our member companies to appoint an ambassador within the company because we’ve had a few members do activation campaigns to activate all their employees, make them aware of it and do the outreach. That means activating millions of jobs–people with livelihoods are at risk and what they give to consumers is at risk. That’s going to be a big push as we look to the new Congress because the new Congress will be a lot of new people.

Then there are other issues that need to create a business environment we can succeed in. We ask members to speak out on the issues that matter most to them. Reach out to us as their association and let us know what matters to them. We keep our members well informed. The more we know, the better we can advocate and the better we can see the results that folks need. Let your voice be heard.

Guess what? Every legislator we talk to cares about the people who are the job creators. That’s who we are. We are the job creators who keep our nation and our economy on the road. It is amazing the power that we have. The aftermarket, as a whole, is an enormous sector that gives us a very powerful voice. We need to understand and activate that voice to get the outcomes we need, because if we prosper there are more than 250 million vehicle owners who prosper too. So it matters.