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A government affairs-focused blog published weekly that covers a variety of issues and topics. Comments? Email us.

 


 

It’s Spring – Do You Know Where Your Congressman Is?

March 22, 2013

While schools around the country are in the midst of spring break, Congress will be taking its version of spring break, leaving the nation’s capital for a two-week recess. No doubt, the press will call this a vacation and the usual accusations that Congress is taking too much time off will be moving through the air waves, newspapers and of course social media. Clearly, Congress does appear to take a lot of time off. The House takes a minimum of one week off every month to spend in their districts. Legislators also leave Washington for a week during major holidays like Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day and July 4th -- and let’s not forget the month-long break in August.

Is it a vacation? Many legislators will spend at least some of the next two weeks on vacations with their families. Others will go on “fact finding” trips that are intended to help them do their job better. Some of these trips often are to war zones like Afghanistan where they can obtain first-hand knowledge of how the war is progressing. You also will find some legislators in the district, meeting with constituents, holding town hall events or meeting with local officials on issues close to home. Many, if not all, legislators, also will focus on their re-election campaign, whether it’s planning the next campaign or raising money. Legislators, especially Congressmen, are under such incredible pressure to raise money that they are almost always in campaign mode.

There is definitely a debate in Washington and around the country as to whether legislators should be spending more or less time in the Capitol attempting to resolve some the nation’s major budget issues rather than back home. However, I think the real debate is not how much time they are spending in Washington, but really how are they spending that time. I’m not going to delve into that debate.

The reality is that legislators are home and, like it or not, this fact does present some opportunities for people employed in the aftermarket to get some “face time” with their elected official. Elected officials are often more accessible and are less hassled when they are home, out of the constant time crunch they face in the Capitol. There is no need for an agenda in these face- to-face meetings, just a chance to let them know that you either live or work in their district and that you cared enough to let them know it. If you are holding a Car Care Event as part of April’s National Car Care Month, invite them to attend. They may not come, but at least they will be aware of it.

Getting face time with your legislator can have a big pay-off should something come up in Congress and you need their vote. Also, legislators can help constituents navigate tricky federal regulatory issues that might arise and that might have a negative impact on your company. It’s not to say that they would get you out of trouble if you don’t pay your taxes, but they can provide assistance and can get the attention of federal agencies when you need it. Another great way to get involved is to attend one of their in-district fundraisers where you will definitely get spend some quality time with your Congressman.

So you can complain about all of the time Congress spends on vacation, or you can use it to your advantage. That is your choice. Oh, and before I forget, please let us know that you have been contacted with your legislator. That information can be invaluable to us if we need to contact your elected official regarding an issue impacting the industry.

Thanks and I hope everyone has a great National Car Care Month!

--Aaron Lowe, vice president, government affairs

 


 

Why Cuts to Transportation Funding Matter to Your Business

March 18, 2013

One of the best-kept secrets in Washington, D.C. is the dire state of funding for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. It is a secret, because it seems that so few people outside of the beltway surrounding the city, I-495, know just how bad the situation has gotten. 

While many people are aware that the current funding source, the gas tax, is inadequate to handle the long-term infrastructure improvement needs of the nation, the budget sequester and the general uncertainty for funding any program at the federal level, threaten to make matters worse. And when you can’t fix roads or bridges, or get goods across border checkpoints, or into ports, you can’t do business.

The amount of money the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has to do its job means a great deal to the health of the economy. The movement of goods, services and people is largely dependent upon the funding of transportation programs and infrastructure.

A slash to funding for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) means it becomes tougher to complete roadway projects. That in turn extends the congestion that keeps your customers from receiving products and pushes commuters out of their cars and onto alternatives. A cut to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) could keep the commercial vehicle drivers that transport or deliver your products off of the road. 

The problem of no funding for transportation and infrastructure doesn’t stop at the doors of the DOT. It translates into real downstream effects for businesses that could result in the slowing of the automotive aftermarket supply chain.

The transportation funding problem in the United States didn’t always exist. To paraphrase a member of Congress speaking at a recent breakfast that I attended, it used to be that funding for roads and bridges was the easiest part of the federal budget. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF), the pot of money where gas tax revenue is collected, was flush for many years. But the combination of inflation, growing spending and the political inability to raise the gas tax meant that by 2008 the HTF was facing insolvency. An infusion of cash back into the account along with some creative accounting kept the HTF afloat until Congress was finally able to pass the next federal transportation bill, “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21) late last year.

Getting MAP-21 passed was a bloody battle of partisan politics and special interest groups who all knew they were fighting to keep the same sized wedge of what was going to be a much smaller pie. Traditionally, transportation bills cover five to seven fiscal years at a time. MAP-21 covers two – FYs 2013 and 2014. Many programs were eliminated, nearly everything was consolidated and great reforms were put into place to force more efficient use of the little funding that was available. While much of that is good progress, cuts to an already strained program only compounded the problem.

 With the sequester going into effect on March 1, the DOT was forced to identify another $1.9 billion in reductions. The majority of the funding reductions will come from emergency Hurricane Sandy aid to the northeastern United States, but every DOT agency is expected to take a shave off of the top. 

 Even more uncertain is the future of transportation funding in the federal budgets for next fiscal year. The Senate has a proposal to fund MAP-21 at its full authorized amount, but with no reserve funds to help if it runs dry. The House of Representatives’ current proposal is very grim, with no funding outside of annual revenues. That could translate to an all-out stop of transportation and infrastructure construction and improvement programs, which could put the brakes on the domestic economy. The budget process has a ways to go until anything is decided, but the final result will be critical to the future of domestic growth.

The absence of a solution to the transportation funding deficit is something that should concern us all in every aspect of life and business. The automotive aftermarket could feel the ramifications of drastic funding cuts throughout the entire supply chain. 

I think that if every business weighed the impact of a weak transportation and infrastructure program, it would be clear that the nation’s ability to move goods, services and people depends on the health of our roads, bridges, ports and borders. The need to develop a sound long term funding scheme for the nation’s infrastructure should no longer be an “inside the beltway” issue, but a priority for everyone in our industry.

 --Sheila Andrews, Manager, Government Affairs

 


 

A Challenging Road Ahead for Mandatory Safety Inspection

March 8, 2013

Every year, the aftermarket talks about the need for states to adopt safety inspection programs in order to ensure that all of those maintenance items -- such as brakes, tires, wipers and lights -- are in good working order. Yes, it is good for business, but as many repair shops know, a lot of people are driving around with critical safety-related components that are not in full working order, endangering their lives and those that share the highway with them. However, the value of safety inspection programs is not necessarily shared by the public and, in many states, the industry is fighting to just keep their programs from being eliminated.

Taking a look back on this history of safety inspection might help provide some perspective. In 1966, Congress passed the Highway Safety Act, which included a provision that made vehicle safety inspection a required element of each state’s highway safety program. By 1968, 31 states and the District of Columbia had programs that required car owners to have their vehicle safety systems inspected on a yearly basis.

In 1973, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) established vehicle-in-use standards and states risked losing highway funds for not establishing a complying safety inspection program. However, the NHTSA standards were pretty weak and so were many of the state programs. Perceiving that the inspections were both inconvenient and ineffective, the public called on their local elected officials to eliminate them.

In 1976, Congress bowed to public dissatisfaction, eliminating the ability of NHTSA to take away highway money from states that failed to implement a safety inspection program. With the federal pressure off, many states shed their safety inspection programs. Now, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, only 16 states have programs, and four of those states have gone to inspections every two years.

Until recently, safety inspection programs have been pretty difficult to defend. There just was not enough data to demonstrate that they had a measurable safety benefit. However, in 2011, the Department of Transportation for the state of Pennsylvania completed a report that showed very clearly the importance of safety inspection to saving lives on the nation’s highways. The report, which was undertaken by Cambridge Systematics, Inc., concluded that Pennsylvania’s, as well as other vehicle safety inspection programs, are effective ways to reduce fatal crashes and save lives. Specifically the report stated that:

  • Nationally, vehicle safety inspection programs appear to be a significant factor in lowering fatal crashes;
  • Based on the model results, Pennsylvania can be expected to have between 115 and 169 fewer fatal crashes each year, corresponding to between 127 and 187 fewer fatalities each year than it would have if it did not have a vehicle safety inspection program; and,
  • The largest difference in reported vehicle failures at the scene of fatal crashes between states with programs and states without programs is for vehicles of three years of age or more.

Of course, more data is going to be necessary to turn the corner on safety inspection. In the meantime, states like Hawaii, Missouri, Mississippi and North Carolina have had bills introduced that seek to end or reduce the number of vehicles that are inspected. Whether these bills receive any attention or not, it is critical that aftermarket companies in these states contact their legislators in support of keeping their safety inspection programs in place. We simply cannot afford to lose any more programs.

In addition, the industry can take matters into their own hands by producing more voluntary car care events. During these events, car owners can obtain free inspections of some of their safety items, but without the government mandate. These events have proved very popular since it appears that the motoring public may not want to be required to have their car inspected, but they don’t seem to be as opposed to having their vehicle voluntarily inspected for free. Interesting, but certainly not surprising.

More information on hosting a car care event can be found here or by contacting the Car Care Council at www.carcare.org or 240-333-1088.

--Aaron Lowe, vice president, government affairs

 


 

It’s Time for You to Have the Obamacare Conversation 

March 1, 2013

If you have paid any attention to government affairs over the years you probably got tired of reading about Association Health Plan legislation long ago. These bills would have permitted trade groups to provide health insurance to their members across state lines with the aim of reducing premium costs for small businesses.  While great ideas, these bills passed easily out of the House only to become stalled in the Senate.

Fast forward to 2010, and as the small business community was shut out of the negotiations, we watched dejectedly as Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which quickly became known as Obamacare. We had your attention briefly when AAIA and associations from multiple industries spread the word about the onerous 1099 Reporting provision contained in the Act, and with an enormous grassroots response, had it stripped out of the law. 

Our concern now is that with the constant press coverage of Obamacare and the implementation dates seemingly far in the future, healthcare fatigue has set in and anecdotal observations lead many of us in the association world to believe that business owners just aren’t paying attention to what’s coming in 2014.

At this point, it’s worth remembering that the Supreme Court essentially validated the ACA and John Boehner, Speaker of the House, famously stated that, “it’s the law of the land”. That does not mean that AAIA is not part of the efforts to repeal sections of the law—quite the contrary in fact—but businesses should not count on the repeal of ACA as the solution to the upcoming implementation of the law.

A minimal understanding of the ACA, and the subsequent regulations, quickly point to employers who have over 50 employees, but less than 200, as particularly vulnerable to a lack of preparedness come January of 2014. Simply put, if you have less than 50 employees you are excluded from almost all of the ACA, and if a company employs over 200 people they are likely to be self-insured and have a dedicated HR department, which means they are going to be watching this issue pretty carefully. Those in the middle will in fact be caught at the center of ACA. 

Why should companies be concerned?  In the last few months, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have finally started to issue the regulations that will implement the ACA, including the proposed rule on Shared Responsibility for Employers Regarding Health Coverage (the employer mandate) and the Essential Health Benefits package (the minimum necessary benefits for a plan to qualify). 

These rules were expected to be complicated, and the agencies did not disappoint.  For example, the following paragraph is from the IRS’s own Q&A page on the Employers Shared Responsibility, in answer to the question, “How does an employer know whether it employs enough employees to be subject to the provisions?” 

To be subject to the Employer Shared Responsibility provisions, an employer must employ at least 50 full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees that equals at least 50 (for example, 40 full-time employees employed 30 or more hours per week on average plus 20 half-time employees employed 15 hours per week on average are equivalent to 50 full-time employees). Employers will determine each year, based on their current number of employees, whether they will be considered a large employer for the next year. For example, if an employer has at least 50 full-time employees, (including full-time equivalents) for 2013, it will be considered a large employer for 2014. 

This doesn’t even delve into the convoluted formulas required to determine if your employee is full-time/part-time, whether your employees’ contribution to premiums triggers a penalty based on the Federal Poverty Rate or the amount of the penalties you could be facing.

The bottom line is that companies, especially those with 50-200 employees, are strongly encouraged to sit down with their accountant and healthcare provider in order to develop a real understanding of the ramifications and compliance requirements associated with the ACA. While AAIA over the next few months will attempt to make  resources available for members that will help explain many aspects of the ACA and provide easily accessible links to the regulations, these resources will be no substitute for the Obamacare conversation you need to have with your trusted advisors; hopefully, as soon as possible.  

I welcome your call with any questions or comments or e-mail me at paul.fiore@aftermarket.org.

--Paul Fiore, director, government affairs

 


 

Who Are the Real Heroes When it Comes to Lobbying?

Feb. 22, 2013

No matter what you may hear in the news about how technology is replacing people, the fact is that in the end, the success of any industry is dependent not on the technology, but the people who work in it. People develop the strategy for how a product is to be produced and marketed and it is people that will need to effectively implement the strategy.

The same holds true for lobbying. The success or failure of a lobbying effort is often dependent on the people who participate—clearly the professional lobbyists, but maybe more important, the people from the industry that become involved in the issue on behalf of their companies and the industry. An industry that has a large number of people that are willing to passionately make their case to legislators will find success in achieving their goals.

I can definitely point to the willingness of an industry member to come out and meet with legislators or their staff as a key reason why we have won battles in state legislatures and in Congress. While lobbyists can meet all day long, it is the constituents that can really drive home a message with an elected official. No one really tells the story as well as someone who is living the story, someone who is actually a part of the industry that a lobbyist represents.

The importance of people in a lobbying battle comes to mind recently with our recent victory in Oklahoma. Through the efforts of some individuals from our industry, we were able to prevent consideration of a bill that would have had an extremely negative impact on the aftermarket parts industry. While I am always hesitant to mention a name since there are often many people involved in an effort, I feel that it is appropriate to mention one in particular: Jack Vollbrecht from Remy International.

This month, Vollbrecht spent days at the capitol in Oklahoma City explaining how the aftermarket and consumers would be hurt by a bill that required repair shops doing insurance-related repairs to provide a disclosure to car owners when a non-original equipment emissions or safety related part was being used in a repair. Adding insult to injury, the bill further would require the car owner to sign a consent form that they would accept the use the non-original equipment part as if the use of a non-OE part meant getting a second rate component for a repair. Pointing to the negative implications of this requirement on non-original equipment parts, Vollbrecht explained to legislators how these parts are often as good, or better, than the OE part they replaced, and in many cases, made by the same company. It wasn’t easy, but in the end with the help of other aftermarket companies, including LKQ, NAPA and O’Reilly, Vollbrecht convinced key legislators to back off support of the bill and it is currently looking like this bill will die in the legislature.

Winning on an issue can require some good strategy and sometimes spending a lot of money. However, victory often comes down to having the right people involved in the effort—people who have the facts, willingness to work hard and, most importantly, are passionate about the cause. This appears to be the case in Oklahoma. 

Of course, this is only one story and throughout the years there have been many stories of individuals who have given up their time to help defeat or pass legislation in order to protect our industry. However, today, I would like to send some appreciation to Jack Vollbrecht and his company Remy for their willingness to take on this legislative effort on behalf of the aftermarket. We couldn’t do what we do so well without companies and individuals like them. I hope they will serve as an example of how the people in our industry are one of the most important ingredients in the success of our industry’s government affairs efforts.

--Aaron Lowe, vice president, government affairs

 


 

A Consumer Bought the Car, But Are They Really in the Driver’s Seat When it Comes to Telematics?

Feb. 15, 2013

The old saying goes that “you can’t stop progress,” but does that mean that you shouldn’t try to make sure it going down the right path? This question should be on everyone’s mind as we see the use of telematics become more prevalent on motor vehicles. What is telematics? The technology is evolving so quickly it is difficult to find a good definition anywhere. However, in general, telematics is the ability of a vehicle to wirelessly communicate and accept data from off-vehicle sources. From the point of view of the repair aftermarket, telematics permits a vehicle to transmit, to an off-site facility, information regarding diagnostic codes, GPS and vehicle mileage. This data could be used by a repair shop to determine what repairs are needed and then obtain the necessary tools, software, and parts even before the vehicle is in the shop. Telematics would permit a shop to know the actual mileage of a vehicle and then transmit a reminder to the car owner that it is time for a regular maintenance, and then help the motorist make an appointment online with the repair center. Telematics would permit a manufacturer to update software on a vehicle without the driver even knowing it is occurring.

This leads me to the point of this blog. While there is incredible number of benefits to car owners and the repair industry from telematics (many beyond our industry, including entertainment and vehicle safety), there are a lot of issues that need to be sorted out as well. First and foremost, who owns the information that is being transmitted by the vehicle, the car owner or the vehicle manufacturer who built the vehicle and developed the telematics technology that is on the car? Let’s say that I, as a car owner, do not want my diagnostic information going to the car manufacturer or their franchised dealer network. What if I want that information to go to Joe’s repair shop down the street that has been repairing my car for years? What if I want AAA or another emergency service to obtain alerts when my car is disabled and not the service that is under contract with a manufacturer? Or, what if I don’t want my information going anywhere but to my home computer? Shouldn’t this be my choice? Yes, the car company designed the system, but it is my vehicle and I paid for the development of that system when I purchased that car.

While telematics on vehicles is still a developing technology, now is the time to begin having these discussions before we move too far down the road. As our vehicles become more and more connected, the decisions as to who owns the data produced by our vehicles must be made. Further, from the aftermarket point of view, we must work to develop standards such that, if the car owner wants to send information to a non-car company location, the information can be read and utilized by the independent repair shop. This could require some standardization of the data transmission by the vehicle and some checks and balances such that any non-original equipment telematics solution does not create unintended issues with the motor vehicle’s operating system.

Implementation of a telematics system that utilizes open architecture will provide car owner with choices in vehicle repair and in other areas such as entertainment and safety. However, an open system also will require cooperation between the vehicle manufacturer and the independent aftermarket. Similar to the other new technology, providing choices to car owners in what they can do with their telematic systems is going to make those vehicles more appealing to the car owner, so it should be favorably received by the car companies. “Should be” is the question, discovering what they actually do is something AAIA is looking forward to discovering.

--Aaron Lowe, vice president, government affairs

 


 

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Automotive Aftermarket Political Action Committee (AAPAC)… And We Hope You’re Not Afraid to Ask

Feb. 8, 2013

Although there is a slightly humorous connotation to this title, your AAIA government affairs department takes the AAPAC very seriously. The fact is that we cannot lobby effectively on your behalf without it. Simply put, our political action committee (PAC) funds are used to attend the fundraisers for your senators and representatives that help promote and protect the well-being of the automotive aftermarket. The PAC allows us to reach out to them in smaller settings and deliver the aftermarket perspective on a one-on-one basis. These scenarios play out regularly, all year long, and ensure that your concerns are given the full weight they deserve.

The funds also play an important role in helping legislators get elected that share AAIA’s position on issues of concern to our industry. Campaigns these days are expensive and there is constant pressure on candidates to raise money in order to get elected or re-elected. Funds from PACs are a critical element of a candidate’s fundraising efforts and, with sufficient funding, PACs have the ability to help candidates that are supportive of policies that positively impact their industry.

By the way, during the lead-up to the 2012 election, the press inundated us, on an almost daily basis, with articles, blogs, posts and broadcasts about “Super PACs.” The Super PACs are usually formed to bundle millions of dollars that are donated anonymously, and are used to unilaterally support a candidate or issue. Let’s be clear about this: there is no relationship between a Super PAC and a trade association PAC. 

Now back to our own business -- you may have noticed an increase in PAC fundraising activity by the associations over the past few years. The truth is, AAIA is up against organizations that are operating with PACs that are anywhere from two to 10 times the size of ours. We have been pretty successful despite the fundraising prowess of our opponents, due to the efforts of members in letting elected officials know of their positions on issues important to their bottom line. However, it is an uphill battle and our industry’s political power would be considerably strengthened if its PAC was better funded.

To that end, AAIA has invested significantly in revamping the PAC section of our Government Affairs website, and we now offer members the ability to seek approval to be solicited for AAPAC contributions electronically through the new site. This option also makes this process easier for AAIA members to contribute to the PAC. The site even has a link to answers questions about compliance. 

Watch for new announcements about our AAPAC efforts, and in the meantime, please take a look at the site and let us know if you have any questions or concerns. You can direct your inquiries to paul.fiore@aftermarket.org.

--Aaron Lowe, vice president, government affairs

 


 

The Aftermarket's Real Perception Problem

Feb. 1, 2013

The introduction of a bill (S. 1051) in the state of Oklahoma that would require motorists to receive a written disclosure regarding the use of an aftermarket emissions, safety or crash-related part should be a wake-up call that our industry has a real perception problem with elected officials. While the bill only specifies that the disclosure must happen if the repair is being paid for by an insurance company, it is clear that legislators have very little understanding of our industry or the quality or origin of aftermarket related parts. 

Clearly, a disclosure requirement such as the one under consideration in Oklahoma will put a negative stigma in the consumer’s mind regarding the use of a part not manufactured by the car company. No matter what the repair shop does to explain the law, the consumer is going to wonder why a disclosure is required in the case of an aftermarket part and not the original equipment part. 

Of course, a key reason for the perception regarding aftermarket parts is the marketing being done by the vehicle manufacturers that the only way to be sure that you have the best part on your car is to purchase from them. Yes, the marketing of their product to car owners is fair and to be expected. However, the fact that that the car companies and dealers are moving to secure their market through legislation signals that the competitive marketplace is not working for them, and that they are moving to the legislative theater where they hold more cards. 

Whether the bill passes or not, the mere fact that a state is considering these disclosures at all should send warning flags up in our industry that we need to work together to defeat this attack on the reputation of aftermarket parts. Everyone in the industry must take responsibility to educate legislators and regulators that aftermarket parts are either as good or, in many cases, better than the original equipment part that it is replacing. In fact, the aftermarket often improves on a part since we have the fortunate opportunity to observe the part in use and can determine where there might be a problem with the OE design. Further, aftermarket parts are often built by the same company that the produced the OE part, only the label on the box is different.

The bottom line is that it is critical that everyone send letters and/or meet with legislators to defeat these bills before they have a chance to move any further. 

I can guarantee you that if you don’t speak up in support of your company’s own product, and our industry overall, don’t expect legislators to see through the allegations by the car companies that only their parts are high quality. Yes, I know that parts producers in our industry compete against each other for the spending dollars of consumers. However, the threat of legislation and regulation in the aftermarket parts industry impacts all companies in our industry and demands that everyone go on the offensive together, letting legislators know that bills such as the one in Oklahoma are misguided and will only end up hurting their constituents in higher repair prices with no impact on parts quality.

Companies with facilities in the state of Oklahoma can quickly send a letter to their elected official on the aftermarket parts legislation by visiting: http://aaia.aristotle.com/Pages/TakeAction.aspx.

--Aaron Lowe, vice president, government affairs

 


 

How the Aftermarket Can Stand to Benefit from Free and Fair Trade

Jan. 25, 2013

During a visit to Savannah, Ga. earlier this month, I strolled along the waterfront and watched colossal cargo ships arrive to port. Similar in size to a six-story building and capable of carrying the equivalent of a 44 mile-long freight train, the ships carry many of the goods that surround us daily – food, apparel, electronics – and are responsible for a substantial portion of the $100 billion worth of automotive parts imported annually. The ships are a visible reminder of the importance of trade to the U.S. economy in general, and to the automotive aftermarket specifically.

Despite the false notion held by many of our lawmakers that imports threaten domestic jobs (in the past 30 years, as imports have increased, the unemployment rate has decreased), these cargo ships carry automotive products that are critical to our industry’s supply chain and support thousands of jobs. Many of the imported auto products start from U.S. intellectual property and/or components of goods that are produced or assembled overseas. Many more consist of raw materials, components and capital equipment that support U.S. manufacturing. These imports support jobs in port loading, transportation, wholesale trade, retail trade, advertising and aftermarket service. In other words, the economic activity associated with these imports has a market-expanding effect that adds value and jobs to our economy. These imports also expand choice of goods for U.S. consumers.

Given the importance of trade to our industry, my mandate as AAIA’s director for international trade is to utilize AAIA’s influential voice in Washington, D.C. to advocate for free and fair trade in our industry. This includes monitoring activity of federal agencies and congressional committees that might impact the international trade activity of AAIA’s membership, interacting with federal agency officials that have responsibility for automotive parts trade development, and developing and communicating positions to federal agencies on government initiatives affecting AAIA member companies’ import and export business. These efforts will aim to enhance our industry’s ability to compete and to support the interests of foreign suppliers and domestic importers to make sure the U.S. aftermarket has unrestricted access to the premium products from the best suppliers around the world, no matter where they are headquartered.

In the coming months, AAIA’s government affairs team will work with the U.S. government to identify and eliminate barriers to trade, including counterfeiting, tariffs and regulatory constraints. We will provide input on negotiating objectives for bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, including the Transpacific Partnership negotiations and a potential U.S.-EU trade agreement. We will support action to grant Trade Promotion Authority to the president, allowing him to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can then approve or reject, but not amend. We will review Customs Reauthorization legislation closely and support efforts to streamline the customs process and eliminate redundancies. We will also work one-on-one with members to navigate complicated rules and regulations. And, hopefully, our efforts and your support will help keep those cargo ships coming into port!

--Andrés Castrillón, director, international trade

 


 

A Brief Walkthrough of AAIA's New Political Advocacy Website

Jan. 18, 2013

Earlier this week our government affairs team launched this new website. Our hope was to create a valuable tool to assist both us and our members in our ongoing mission to accelerate AAIA’s political advocacy efforts. With more than 23,000 members, large and small, and at every level of the supply chain, our association remains poised to make a huge impact in political engagement. However, the success of any association’s legislative and regulatory initiatives begins with you, the members of the association. Your commitment to making your voice heard by members of Congress on issues that we care about as an industry is what will help advance our collective interests here in Washington, D.C.

While you will see a lot of the same information that was available on our former site, including issue briefs, our Capital Report newsletter and links to key government agencies, hopefully you will notice the major changes to the grassroots and political action committee sections, which have been entirely revamped to make engaging in our advocacy efforts not only easier, but more rewarding.

Our new “Become an Advocate” section offers users the ability to find their state and federal legislators and contact them about a specific issue relating to your business. The heart of the new website is the newly-energized Legislative Action Center. While the center will still permit members to send letters on issues of importance to the industry, it also will be the place to go for members who want to be key advocates in advancing the industry’s legislative agenda. Key advocates will service as the go-to members that can be counted on to make contact with legislators if an issue comes up that requires immediate attention. Our hope is to encourage as many members as possible show their commitment by becoming an advocate, and then provide us with both the action and knowledge necessary to achieve a certain advocacy goal.

The Automotive Aftermarket Political Action Committee (AAPAC) has been an important facet of our legislative efforts on Capitol Hill for many years, but our competitors continue to outraise us by a wide margin, thus allowing them additional access to key legislators. We have ambitious goals for AAPAC in the coming years, but we will not achieve them without the backing of our members. The new site not only provides more information on why AAPAC is critical to our industry’s future, but will make it easier for our members to participate.

Finally, state legislative initiatives impacting our industry continue to grow. The new website provides an easy way to easy way to keep track of state legislation relevant to the aftermarket. Check out the map on the State Legislative page to see what state legislation that we are tracking and their status in their respective legislature. We will continue to develop this feature, including adding subcategories of “topic” and “priority,” to ensure that our members can conveniently benefit from it on a regular basis.

Our team has set lofty goals for our advocacy program and this website will provide us and our members the necessary jumping-off point to move forward. Of course, we took on this redesign project to make it easier for our members to get involved in our efforts so please feel free to contact any one of us with recommendations on how we can improve the site. We appreciate your support and commitment to keeping the aftermarket an active and thriving industry.

--David Pinkham, associate, government affairs

 


 

A Victory Year for Right to Repair and the Road Ahead

Jan. 14, 2013

This will be the first of many blog posts that I, along with my colleagues from the AAIA government affairs team, will write regarding our views on legislative and regulatory initiatives impacting the aftermarket that happen here in Washington, D.C. and around the country. While most of these posts will focus on current or future events, I would like to focus my first blog post for 2013 on one of the most important events that occurred for the aftermarket in 2012.

Clearly, the victory in Massachusetts on Right to Repair was important to the future of our industry since it ensures cost-effective access to the sophisticated tools and information needed to work on late-model computer-controlled vehicles. Further, the success of Right to Repair was, in large part, due to the strong effort by the aftermarket in the commonwealth. Anyone who was closely involved in the Massachusetts Right to Repair battle recognizes the hard work by many individuals from industry that was required to obtain that win against a better funded opponent.

However, I hope that we will not forget what the Right to Repair battle was really about for the Massachusetts car owner: CHOICE. That’s right -- what voters told car companies and politicians by a wide margin, 85-15 percent, is that car owners want themselves, and not the manufacturers, to determine where their vehicle is serviced. I believe that the referendum not only resulted in the enactment of Right to Repair legislation, but also served as a major vote of confidence for the independent repair industry, reflecting on the high quality of service that our industry provides car owners on a day-to-day basis.

So as we look to the future, I hope that the victory in Massachusetts will send a message to the car companies that it is in their best interest to ensure that they are building vehicles that can be repaired and serviced wherever the owner wants. We further hope that car companies will hear this message and attempt to work with the aftermarket in developing peaceful solutions to issues involving car owner choice, such that their customers are not only happy when they leave the showroom, but in the driving experience for the life of that vehicle. I know it’s a long shot -- and we are ready to continue the war if necessary -- but let’s hope 2013 is the beginning of a new era in aftermarket-car company relations!

--Aaron Lowe, vice president, government affairs