OE vs matching quality

Over the past year, aBr has been running quite a few articles around the issue of Right to Repair. Most of these have been around the push for legislation to allow consumers more choice when repairing their much loved vehicles. But there are many other intriguing aspects that underlie this debate. One of these aspects is the different perceptions of quality, and how these perceptions are formed.

Here we give the floor to Andrew D. Graham, managing director of SUPLEX GmbH, who has a firm opinion on these matters, and who has the ability to get his point across with style and humour. aBr came across Andrew at the SEMA show in November 2013, and he kindly agreed to allow us to impart some of his refreshing views to our readers. This series has been extracted from a letter Andrew wrote to Peter Lawton, Editor of “CAT Magazine”, one of the UK’s leading automotive aftermarket trade magazines. This letter is so good, that we print this informative missive practically verbatim.

The debate that currently rages in the UK about what exactly constitutes “matching quality” is something I have watched from afar. I have observed the activities of the recently formed Original Equipment Suppliers Aftermarket Association (OESAA) with interest and, indeed, met with senior representatives from some of the founding members. I have also read and digested the correspondence and press releases issued by Comline and Firstline and I can, to an extent, appreciate and understand the opinions of both parties. But far from sitting on the fence, I have my own views on this prickly subject and would like here, to outline them to you.

Gwendolen, in “The Importance of Being Earnest” said, “There are occasions when it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind, it becomes a pleasure”. That might just apply to what follows here. Those who know me well know how strongly I feel about the whole matching quality issue. My position as managing director of SUPLEX GmbH, a shareholder in both this and our UK distribution company, SUPLEX UK Ltd., together with my formal qualification as an engineer - I have a B. Eng. (Hons) in Aeronautical Engineering - means I take the responsibility of supplying only the very best quality products to our customers very seriously indeed. I believe that if you ask our customers whether we have achieved this, they will assure you we have.

SUPLEX issued its own “Matching Quality Certificate” as soon as this became fashionable but only to those clients who demanded it and believed, in some miraculous way, that it could guarantee the quality of the parts they were purchasing. In the UK, for example, buying groups are eager to include the availability of such a certificate from a potential supplier in their list-of-boxes-to-tick, but most, if they are honest, would have little clue on whether the products they are receiving are matching quality, or not. The tools are simply not in place. SUPLEX has never actively promoted the certificate because right from the start I believed a certificate endorsing the quality of our products and which has been undersigned by me has little relevance at all. It’s akin to signing off my own bill of health each year. I much prefer an independent appraisal from a specialist.

Brian Spratt’s welcome discussion on Matching Quality at the 2012 IAAF conference was, in my opinion, long overdue and presented an opportunity to discuss with the IAAF the particular problems SUPLEX and its clients face when competing with coil-springs advertised as “matching quality” but which are, even to the untrained eye, clearly different from the Original Equipment (OE) component.

Where automotive road springs are concerned, the “matching quality” moniker has, since its introduction, been applied to many aftermarket products where the only feature common to the OE part is the colour of the spring. I’m not exaggerating. Everything else; wire diameter, number of coils, spring body diameter and, more critically, spring free length, spring rate and the fit in the OE spring pans can deviate, often quite wildly, from the original design. It is not unknown for some coil-spring suppliers to include their own design of spring pans with their “matching quality” spring because the latter will not fit those supplied with the car! There is, I’m sure you will agree, something fundamentally wrong with an initiative that allows component manufacturers and suppliers to self-certify their products and subsequently describe them as “matching quality” when the physical differences between them and the OE parts are so obvious, so gross, that they can be pointed out by my five-year old daughter.

Surely it is time to take action, time to install the tools the market so desperately requires to sort the wheat from the chaff.