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by | Jul 28, 2022

For more than three decades now, the Auto Care Association, the leading trade association for the automotive aftermarket, has released a massive trove of data called the Auto Care Factbook. It’s intended to provide a sweeping overview of what’s happening across the industry, featuring trends in consumer repair behavior, sales and replacement rates for different parts and vehicles, analyses on how larger economic factors will affect the market, predictions for vehicle technologies, and much more.

This year’s 181-page document Factbook came out this summer, and because Dorman’s an ACA member, we got a copy and dove into it. Even though it’s called the 2023 version, the numbers generally show changes from 2020 to 2021. Here’s what we found interesting.

1. EV owners love dealerships (or appear to, for now)

New registrations of alternative powertrain vehicles saw a significant spike in 2021, nearly doubling from about 770,000 to 1,433,000. That number includes battery electric vehicles (EVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), hybrids (HEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles.

That’s probably not a big surprise, given that electrification seems to be all anyone wants to talk about these days. What’s particularly interesting for repair professionals is that EV owners are currently much more likely to take their vehicle back to a dealership than owners of vehicles with internal combustion engines. Even though EVs and hybrids still make up a relatively small portion of the total vehicle population, they already comprise 35 and 37 percent of the total market for do-it-for-me service, respectively. ICEs account for 22.4 percent.

There could be a number of reasons for that. It could be that the profile of someone who owns an EV already lines up with someone who would naturally take their vehicle back to a new car dealer, e.g., relatively wealthy. It could be that there are simply fewer aftermarket service centers prepared to repair these vehicles. It could also be that the dominant player in the market – Tesla, which alone accounted for 75% of all EVs sold in the past six years – is not the easiest to service in the aftermarket.

2. Young people are not impressed by aftermarket shops (or appear to not be, for now)

The rap on young people today is that they’re not willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, but the Factbook cites data from the J.D. Power Aftermarket Service Index (ASI) Study that paints a very different picture.

“Today’s Gen Z and Gen Y aftermarket customers are much less likely to visit a new-vehicle dealership for service than older customers, but are also more likely to do work themselves or through a friend/family member,” it reads. “This means that firms trying to attract younger customers have to worry less about competition from new-vehicle dealers, and more about coaxing customers to do less DIY service and more with professionals.”

This is a subject we’d like to look into more, because the report also details elsewhere that more than 90% of DIYers are over the age of 30, which would include Generation Y, a.k.a. Millennials, but Gen Z accounts for anyone born after 1996, so those “kids” would still be under 30. We asked Mike Chung, Director of Market Intelligence at the Auto Care Association, about this, and he pointed out that this could simply be due to young people driving older vehicles (i.e. hand-me-downs) with less disposable income for DIFM service in general.

Nevertheless, the report also notes findings that younger generations report less satisfaction with the aftermarket repair experience.

“The study finds that younger customers are less satisfied than older ones particularly in areas having to do with their service advisor, including both performance and courtesy,” it reads. “In order to attract and retain the next generation of service customers, providers must make a special effort to form a personal and trusting connection between advisors and these younger customers.”

3. Convenience is king for service centers

One thing independent shops can do to attract more customers is simply make everything they do more convenient. The data makes this clear – people are more likely to choose your shop if it has a convenient location and is open convenient hours, and more likely to delay maintenance if they can’t find a convenient time or place to take their vehicle.

Specifically, the most common reason people say they choose a do-it-for-me outlet is good prior experience, with 43 percent of people citing this as their main reason. After that, “convenient location” came in at 13%, and is even slightly higher for independent shops in particular, at 14%.

Similarly, when it comes to delayed maintenance, the primary reason people said they pushed off needed repairs is because it costs too much, at 37 percent, but the second most common reason was “couldn’t find a convenient time,” at 22 percent. Overall, the number of people who postponed service increased in 2021, to 21.3 percent from 18.3 percent of vehicle owners, which very much could have been caused by COVID reducing people’s need to drive into work as frequently.

4. Technician wages hit a dubious milestone

You’ve probably heard a lot about there being a lack of qualified technicians in the job market, and your own shop may have challenges filling roles. The data in the Factbook shows that while tech employment grew by 3.6 percent in 2021, open roles increased by 5 percent, widening that talent gap.

One of the reasons floated for explaining that gap is that younger people aren’t as interested in fixing their vehicles, which doesn’t quite jive with the J.D. Power findings above. If you talk to enough service technicians, you start to get the feeling that it’s more about the appeal of the career in general, which often boils down to wages.

In 2021, technician wages did hit a new high, albeit one that still seems woefully low, at an average of $20 an hour. This is the first time the average wage has crossed the Andrew Jackson threshold.

Author’s note: my 16-year-old brother-in-law is scooping ice cream at the Jersey shore this summer and also making $20 an hour. Prior to this job, he had literally never used a broom, yet he’s garnering the same hourly pay as someone in charge of making sure your car or truck is operating safely. I realize this isn’t comparing apples to apples, but, still, that’s kind of crazy.

Of course, those numbers do vary by geography. Of those states with the most techs, California techs earn the most at $26 an hour on average, for an annual salary of $54,200, followed by Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida. Overall, techs see the highest average wages in Washington, D.C., at $29 an hour, or $60,000, followed by Alaska, California, Washington State, and Massachusetts.

5. Expect to see more weird metals and polymers in vehicles

In addition to providing data on what happened recently, the Factbook does also offer some perspectives on the future. One interesting section is on vehicle composition. As any experienced tech can attest, it notes a shift in recent years toward building vehicles with thinner-gauge steel, aluminum instead of cast iron in powertrains, and polymers replacing natural materials, like wood and leather, inside vehicles.

In the future, they expect engineers to continue getting more creative with alternative materials that are cheaper, lighter, and higher-performing. The significant change they predict is a higher percentage of what they call “premium metals,” e.g., aluminum, magnesium, copper, brass, lead, zinc, powder metal and more. These currently make up about 17 percent of a vehicle’s mass, and they predict it could grow to 24 percent in the next decade, with nearly all of that percentage growth coming from a reduction in steel, going from 56 percent today to 48 percent in 2033. Plastic, meanwhile, will become more common, increasing from about 8 percent of a vehicle’s total mass to more than 10 percent.

Nevertheless, they also point out that vehicles are still expected to keep getting heavier due to the transition to electrification and the extremely heavy batteries that come with that. Using data from S&P Global Mobility, they expect vehicles to climb from an average weight of 4,050 pounds today to over 4,150 in 10 years.

All these changes could have implications on service down the road, whether it’s plastic components becoming brittle and breaking more frequently, or heavier vehicles wearing steering and suspension components faster. As shops know, and as the report suggests, service providers will largely be on their own to solve any such problems.

“Engineers at the OEM level are challenged to establish the right business case for construction of new vehicles, sometimes with an eye on the long-term implications of their decisions,” it reads. “However, in other cases the importance of aftermarket support may be less prioritized.”

If you’d like to check out the complete Factbook yourself, visit the Auto Care Association’s website to learn more. If your company is a member, you can get it for free. If not, one purchase grants access to everyone in your repair shop or organization.

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