The powertrain aftermarket: Growing and global - Transmission Digest

The powertrain aftermarket: Growing and global

For the past few decades, the powertrain aftermarket, much like OEMs, has come to acknowledge that the marketplace for both supply sources and product sales has expanded past borders to become truly global. Various segments of our industry will have different mixes of global component supply and global sales networks.

Nothing exemplified the global dependency of our business models more than the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath of supply chain shortages. At one post-pandemic point, there was a serious lack of kits for one popular transmission. Reports were that it was but one or two Asia-manufactured component parts that were required to finish those kits. Furthermore, once the components were produced and shipped, they languished aboard cargo ships that were backed up at America’s west coast ports.

Even more disruptive to the economy in general and the automotive aftermarket in particular was a shortage of computer chips, primarily from Asia, that caused wide-ranging issues from a shortage of computer printers to the inability of OEM service parts operations to deliver replacement processors to the dealership networks. Thankfully, most of those problems are in the rearview mirror, at least until the next disruption.

In the early days of the automatic transmission aftermarket, the marketplace was overwhelmingly domestic and, in a lot of cases, regional within our borders. Kit packagers were unique in that the supply chain for all those small seals and springs had always been global.

 While a completely domestic supply chain may, at first glance, seem optimal, the choices tend to be limited. As an example, a particular hard part might be available from the OEM or the supplier to the OEM or it could be found with a few phone calls at a salvage yard. The complaints were that the OEM component was expensive, the salvaged alternative wasn’t as reliable.

Enter the so-called ‘aftermarket new’ components and their global network of design and manufacture. Typically, a supplier would tear down a working transmission and identify a needed component both by measurements and by the alloy or chemistry used. Once one of these “reverse engineered” parts had been designed and specified, it often was economical to have that part fabricated overseas. In some cases, the basic fabrication took place at a global supplier factory while finishing processes took place within the facilities of the domestic parts supplier company. Our aftermarket segment was creating products that were both reliable and economical.

Today’s transmission repair parts assortment includes a huge and ever-growing number of components that are manufactured both domestically and across every continent save Antarctica. The parts, kits, equipment and tools that are manufactured or processed here in the U.S. also find demanding purchasers throughout the world. The global interdependence of our industry started many years ago, a characteristic that continues today and is only expected to grow in the future.

Domestic suppliers both buy from and sell into markets around the world. A listing of those involved in one or more aspects of international trade will be published in the digital June Powertrain Bulletin email newsletter. Sign up for Transmission Digest newsletters here.

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