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An Obituary for Paper Catalogs - Finally

Friday, October 26, 2018 - 06:00
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The major objectives of the aftermarket catalog exchange standard (ACES) were to eliminate the need for paper catalogs and to get updates and new applications distributed faster and at lower cost. Job well done – sort of.  ACES, and more specifically the vehicle reference data, has always worked well for the light duty parts aftermarket. But, calls for the addition of other classes of vehicles and equipment have only grown louder as retailers and distributors aim to digitize all, not some, of their application catalogs. Until the need to print any paper application guides has been eliminated, the work on ACES really isn’t done. Fortunately, all of that is about to change.

The Auto Care Association is the custodian and home of the automotive data standards in North America. Tremendous resources have been devoted over the years to researching, validating and publishing vehicle configuration data for the light duty and medium duty vehicle fleets of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Because these vehicles are mass produced in specific configurations, it was essential to have standardized reference data - a table of valid year, make, model and engine combinations. This allows part suppliers to publish data that indicates, “My part fits Vehicle 1234 with Engine 5678”, for example. I’m simplifying how ACES works a bit. But, the point is that without reference data, the coded method of describing a part’s application doesn’t work. And there is no reference data for Lawn and Garden equipment, Farm and Agriculture, Construction, Marine and many other segments of powered systems.

The Auto Care Association recently released ACES 4.0 and a major component of this release is updating the structure to allow for non-year, make and model information in reference to off-road equipment or non-automotive applications. The Association will dramatically extend the scope and coverage of the ACES vehicle reference tables through a partnership with Power Systems Research (www.powersys.com). By adding other classes of vehicles and equipment to the standard, it will be possible for the first time, for a parts supplier and their distribution partners to go completely digital and eliminate the need to print paper supplements for non-automotive applications. Makers of spark plugs and glow plugs, hydraulic hoses, bearings and seals, drive belts and a myriad of other maintenance and service parts will be able to benefit from the advantages of electronic data publication.

The old saying was that the paper catalog was out of date before the ink was dry. Publishing electronic data ensures that the latest information about new parts is at the point-of-sale contributing to increased sales. And, as the aging parts professionals retire from the workforce at record numbers, it becomes essential that the millennials who choose our industry are able to look-up and sell all product categories for all classes of vehicles and equipment. Business system providers will have a new opportunity to put all of the information at the fingertips of a new generation of parts professionals, ensuring that the aftermarket channel can compete effectively with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and their distributors. 

Nowhere is this need to compete fairly more important than in the heavy duty Class 7-8 truck market. Millions of these vehicles are on the roads and operated by fleets. In most cases, the vehicle was configured and built to the unique specifications of the fleet or operator. These heavy duty spec vehicles ensure that the only folks who know all of the parts that fit are the folks who built them in the first place. The difficulty of accessing OE parts information has been an artificial barrier to traditional aftermarket distribution in the HD space. Furthermore, the way parts are researched and identified for heavy trucks has not been supported by the ACES vehicle configuration database – until now.

At a recent meeting of the Auto Care Technology Standards Committee, recommended changes to ACES were accepted that will support the digital data requirements of makers of parts for heavy duty vehicles and their distribution partners. Soon, ACES will allow the maker of heavy duty air brake components to specify the air brake assembly, regardless of the vehicle make and model it was installed on. This decision is part of a concerted effort led by the HDDA:Heavy Duty community of the association to close the gap with their light duty automotive counterparts and adopt best practices for the distribution of electronic content. This is another example of an opportunity for makers of point-of-sale and business technology to innovate ways for a new generation of HD parts pros to service customers quickly and accurately.

The non-automotive and Heavy Duty developments in the world of ACES represent the greatest enhancements to the standard in many years. This best practice for the publication and distribution of parts information for all classes of vehicles and equipment is critical to the success of all aftermarket suppliers and distributors. And when the last page of paper catalog has been printed, we will fully have crossed into the digital aftermarket era.


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