Perspectives aplenty on access to information

Panelists on Tuesday, Jan. 22, presented distributor, manufacturer and end-user points of view on the access-to-information issue during the 2008 Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week session, “Access to Product and Service Information, an Industry Perspective.”

“Is this a real issue?” asked Dave Scheer, president of Inland Truck Parts Co. and session moderator. “Some would argue that it’s not a major issue and that the information is available if you just know where to look. We at Inland face this issue every day. We know where to look. We’re very resourceful.”

Scheer cited several examples his company has encountered where repairs could not be completed without contacting an OEM truck dealer because the necessary wiring schematics or other technical data was not available to them. “One of the myths that exists out there is that this only affects those who work on trucks,” Scheer said. “But that’s not true. If you’re supplying a part to a customer who works on a truck, he needs this sort of information also.”

He added that while the issue is most frequently attributed to accessing electronic engine information, it is extending to other truck components.

Avery Vise, editorial director of CCJ magazine, a sister publication to Truck Parts & Service, added a historical perspective. While electronically controlled engines have been around for nearly two decades, the proliferation of advanced technology and the growing abundance of information it generates has created an ” ‘If you build it, they will come’ phenomenon.”

While service and repair information once was relegated to the shop floor, its impact on other areas of a fleet’s business, as well as the bottom line, means more of it is being sought constantly.

The supplier perspective was provided by Todd Kindem, ArvinMeritor’s commercial vehicle aftermarket director of sales and marketing, who said suppliers have to maintain a balancing act between providing “what actual repair information is required, versus what could possibly be sharing of intellectual property.” Revealing too much could hurt manufacturers through reverse engineering of their products, Kindem said.

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Kindem acknowledged manufacturers have a responsibility to support their products in the aftermarket with a nonchannel bias. He said ArvinMeritor makes technical data and assistance available to the entire industry through printed publications and its website. Companies with which ArvinMeritor has a business relationship have access to additional resources.

“In many cases, manufacturers withhold information and try and keep it only with people they have business relationships with,” Kindem said. “This is not necessarily unusual in our marketplace, and it’s really only negative when it’s used against a channel or a competitive outcome.”

Kindem cited the increase of labor hours through the years as evidence of opportunities for all aftermarket channels to grow their respective businesses. “A fleet has the right to choose where it get its vehicles serviced,” he said.

Michelle Calbi, vice president of procurement and shop operations for Swift Transportation and a former Freightliner executive, provided a manufacturer’s perspective, outlining the extensive resources manufacturers invest in product research and development. “From a product and service development standpoint, the original equipment manufacturers and suppliers pay the price,” Calbi said. “And what do they pay the price for? It’s creation of original ideas. So why should they be forced to give those away for free?

“And they have to get a return on investment,” she added. “Will fit and independents don’t feel as though they have to contribute to that huge investment.” The ROI is necessary, Calbi said, in order to continue to bring new products to market and to keep pace with emissions compliance.

“So what about future market value? If customers demand greater technology, reliability and dependability, the OE manufacturers must be able to afford these demands without the proliferation of competitive independents,” Calbi said. “Think about the money that the OE has had to spend the past couple of years to meet the EPA ’07 standards and the 2010 coming on. It is a huge investment, and every dollar that the independents steal from them, the fleets have to pay in upcharges to put that technology in their trucks.”

Pete Pasdach, co-owner and president of Midway Truck Parts, said access to information is “first and foremost