Worldwide cuts in automobile production, coupled with global semi-conductor shortages, are causing delays in new vehicle releases for an Australian aftermarket sector keen to manufacture accessories. By Carole Goldsmith.

Global sales of automobiles are projected to fall to just under 70 million units in 2021, down from a 2017 peak of almost 80 million, according to a recent report from Statista, Automotive Industry Worldwide. However, Isabel Wagner, Research Lead at Statista, forecasts that the global automotive industry will grow to just under US$9 trillion by 2030, with new vehicle sales expected to account for about 38% of this value.

International carbon reduction initiatives such as the Paris Agreement have led to several countries enacting stricter emission controls on new vehicle models. Wagner reports that automakers are beginning to expand their business into the electric mobility sector, with one in three new cars sold expected to be driven or assisted by an electric battery by 2025.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused work stoppages in the automotive and other industries globally, though many factories have recently reopened. The pandemic has also caused a shortage of semi-conductor chips for many industries, including the auto sector. The Statista report predicts that electronic systems will account for half of the total price of a new car by 2030.

The Auto Innovation Centre (AIC) is an initiative of the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA), with support from the Federal and State Governments. Luke Truskinger, Managing Director of the AIC, agrees with the Statista research that, with fewer vehicles being made globally and amid the semi-conductor drought, new car production is greatly delayed.

“The waiting times for new vehicles can be over 12 months,” says Truskinger. “The Australian auto aftermarket sector relies heavily on having new cars available so they can manufacture products for these vehicles. We have a lot of work coming up with the release of the new Toyota LandCruiser 300 Series, expected this December. Aftermarket companies are waiting for its release to get on top of the LandCruiser’s accessory market for their customers.”

The AIC has purchased a LandCruiser, and upon delivery will strip it down and 3D scan it. Aftermarket companies will be able to purchase the data to help their own product development, instead of needing to purchase or gain access to a 300 Series themselves. The AIC will then assist companies to install their products to the LandCruiser for research & development (R&D).

Truskinger, who trained as a mechanical engineer and has an extensive career in automotive engineering, adds that the AIC has state-of-the-art equipment to carry out testing for stability control, brake and custom dynamic vehicle testing on newly developed aftermarket products, to Australian Design Rule (ADR) requirements.

The AIC’s Victorian branch, located at the AAAA’s national office in Mulgrave in Melbourne’s south-east, opened in December 2019. The South Australia satellite AIC, launched in April 2021 to support SA aftermarket businesses, is conveniently located in Edinburgh Park, in Adelaide’s north, near like-minded companies such as hyper-car manufacturer Brabham Automotive.

“At the Melbourne AIC, we have a fleet of vehicles on-site, plus equipment that enables us to conduct a range of product-level testing including vibration, tensile strength, hydraulic durability, and a shock dyno,” explains Truskinger. “Although we focus on automotive, our equipment can be used by any industry requiring this type of testing.”

Using its premium-quality scanning equipment, the AIC engineering team take 3D scans of the latest new vehicles on site, which enables aftermarket manufacturers to jump straight on to the next stage of their product development.

“As an example of how this works, we will tear down and scan a new vehicle and produce a high-quality data pack that is vital to the design of a frontal protection system,” advises Truskinger. “If the customer is developing roof racks, towbars, service bodies, suspension systems, brakes, exhausts, or virtually any other component, we also have data packs to suit, or can generate as required.”

A group of 24 Australian automotive aftermarket manufacturers and service suppliers are listed as ‘AIC Champion Companies’ on the AIC’s website. Truskinger explains that each champion contributed to the feasibility study for the AIC as a centre for excellence for the automotive industry, showing just how much they support the industry.

“The AIC is very grateful to these champions for their contribution to the initial study,” he says. “And for their ongoing involvement in our centre, sharing valuable knowledge with each other and with our other customers.

Speaking on the many opportunities for manufacturers in the auto aftermarket, Truskinger advises: “During the pandemic, consumers have been spending a lot more money on accessorising their vehicles and on holidaying in Australia. Our customers are also telling us that due to long delays in imported goods, Australian-made vehicle accessories are in high demand both now, and hopefully in the future”