The Guide to Aftermarket Data Standards in the Automotive Industry

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The Guide to Aftermarket Data Standards in the Automotive Industry

With the current COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world’s economy, it’s estimated that car sales will plummet by as much as 22% in 2020. Today, the automotive aftermarket industry is valued at around $400 billion. But unlike the automotive industry, the aftermarket is expected to rise over the coming period, reaching around $433 billion by 2021, based on the latest industry news. In 2022, online auto parts and accessories sales are expected to reach somewhere around $19 billion, with digitally influenced sales in the market being predicted to be as high as $162.4 billion during that same period.

All of this stands to show just how many opportunities there are for those operating in the automotive aftermarket industry. Nevertheless, simply because the aftermarket is growing in the current economic climate, this doesn’t automatically mean that everyone in the business will be successful. It just highlights the opportunities that exist. To guarantee high returns, online retailers will need to know how to leverage fitment data and the two industry standards that govern it: ACES and PIES.

These two industry standards were created and are managed by the Auto Care Association (ACA). Formerly known as the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), the ACA was established in 1999 and changed its name to the Auto Care Association. In short, this is a not-for-profit trade organization that has around 3,000 members and affiliate companies. In total, it represents over 538,000 automotive aftermarket businesses all across North America that are involved in the entire supply chain of the aftermarket industry. This includes those working in the manufacturing, distribution, retail, and installation of vehicle parts and components, tools, supplies, equipment, and services.

What is The Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standard (ACES)?

Known as ACES, the Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standard is an automotive aftermarket data standard used by those in the industry to manage and exchange automotive catalog applications data. Auto parts manufacturers can send and receive product data with their trading partners by using industry-standard vehicle applications. These come in the form of year, make, model, different part types, as well as other qualifier statements.

ACES product data includes part numbers, part types, manufacturing brand, and fitment information that will determine the vehicles in which these components will fit. Elements such as vehicle model, make, year, submodel, vehicle engine, transmission, etc., are all included in this category.

The ACES aftermarket data standard consists of two main databases. One of them is known as the Vehicle Configuration Database (VCdb) is made up of over 60,000 vehicle combinations in terms of year/make/model from North America. The cars and trucks from the United States can be traced back as early as 1896. The information on the same vehicles from Canada goes back to 1942, while those in Mexico go back to 1961. It’s important to note that even though the ACA updates this database once a month, any universal parts that do not have specific fitment information will not be covered by ACES standard data.

ACES acts as the bridge between a specific part number for a vehicle that’s found in the vehicle configuration database. However, access to this database is only possible via one of two available subscriptions. The first one covers all automobiles and light-duty trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating between 1 and 3. It also covers all Powersports vehicles, such as personal watercraft, motorcycles, and ATVs. The second subscription level covers all heavy-duty trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating between 4 and 8.

The Parts Configuration Database (PCdb), on the other hand, focuses on part types and categories, such as replacements, service items, or other types of supplies sold in the aftermarket industry. This database makes it easier for all those in the supply chain, such as manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, to put together their automotive catalog. Customers can also use the PCdb database to identify and compare which auto parts will fit their vehicles. When classified properly, the products listed in the electronic catalog will have fewer mistakes and interpretation gaps for the intended use of each item. This, in turn, will imply increased sales, fewer product returns, and improved customer experience.

Each ACES file will come in an XML format and will contain information about each manufacturing brand. All aftermarket suppliers are advised by the ACA to validate their fitment data against the ACES standard to make sure that all of their catalog information is correct. Whenever there is data missing, it’s known in the industry as application holes. And if a potential customer is trying to find that particular part, they will not be able to find it.

What is the Product Information Exchange Standard (PIES)?

PIES product data is used by those in the industry to manage and exchange part number data on various components and accessories. The PIES standard is organized in 25 categories, spread over 180 different electronic data elements, and contains over 20,000 product types. As is the case with ACES, PIES data also comes in the form of XML files. However, these files contain information on product attributes like product prices, size, weight, brand ID, UPC codes, kits, marketing content, country of origin, and more. Unlike ACES, however, PIES does not require a paid subscription to access.

That said, PIES utilizes Auto Care’s databases that need a subscription, such as the PAdb, PCdb, Qdb, and the Brand Table. It’s also possible to maintain all of this data in-house; however, that may require internal resources that many businesses may not be able or willing to commit.

What ACES and PIES Are Not

Despite their usefulness in the automotive aftermarket industry, the ACES and PIES standards have gained some misconceptions surrounding them in terms of what they contain and what they can actually be used for. One of the most common myths is that ACES and PIES can be used as catalog lookup tools. However, it’s important to know that none of the ACES databases can be used as a sort of repository that contains catalog application data or part numbers.

These standards are not some sort of software program but a series of coded values that can be used to transmit Product and Vehicle information among those in the aftermarket supply chain. To better understand these standards, look at them as a form of “common language” that helps all trading partners communicate between them with more accuracy.

You will need to maintain that type of information through an internal cataloging software system. The vehicle configuration database (VCdb) will provide you with the codes to transmit this information to all of your trading partners. Simply put, this data is a mix of your own catalog fitment information and the coded data coming from the ACES standards. All of it will be transmitted in the form of an XML file that can be accessed by all partners that need it. The ACA provides these standards to translate the coded values into actual text that can be used in your catalog. On a similar note, the ACES and PIES standards will not provide any service, repair, or alignment information and cannot be used as a VIN lookup tool.

It’s also important to mention that ACES and PIES do not include any original equipment manufacturer (OEM) applications. While multiple service providers can offer OEM numbers and other fitment data on the components, the VCdb will only provide the vehicle’s ID and it’s other valid attributes. All of this information can then be combined with your own catalog application data and Vehicles in Operation (VIO) information.

In addition, the Auto Care Association maintains the standards by which the ACES and PIES product data can be sent to and from the supplier and receiver. The ACA does not have the supplier’s part number, which is specific to the product attribute for all components available on the market. It’s the suppliers’ job to provide this data to their customers. In other words, if you are selling auto parts online, the supplier will have to give you their ACES and PIES data. But in order to access, translate, and display it on your website, you will need to have a paid subscription.

How ACES and PIES Standards Work Together

To provide accurate and reliable information among trading partners and potential customers, aftermarket businesses need to use the ACES and PIES standards together for them to work effectively. Whether we are talking about auto part shop owners, warehouse managers, suppliers, or consumers, they all make use of ACES product data to see whether a certain part or accessory will fit their vehicle. If it does, they will turn to the PIES product data to determine if that component will be able to satisfy all of their needs.

This level of efficiency and streamlined communication would be next to impossible if every vehicle manufacturer used their own standards in terms of fitment and compatibility. Simply put, the success of every company in the aftermarket industry relies on the fact that their customers will be able to find what they are looking for. By using ACES and PIES, users will be able to eliminate the guesswork that would, otherwise, go into ordering auto parts online.

By using a fitment data management system, all available compatible parts in the inventory will be displayed to the customer automatically. This process will eliminate all doubts regarding a part or accessory’s compatibility with the intended vehicle. Yet, since the ACA updates its database regularly, anyone’s fitment data will also need to be regularly maintained and kept up-to-date. 

How Your Automotive Catalog Fitment Data Spoils

When it comes to selling its products online, the automotive aftermarket industry is unique. Unlike most others, it needs to be backed by fitment data so its customers can determine if their products will be compatible with their vehicles. As such, this fitment data will also need to contain everything from the make, model, and year of the vehicle, to the submodel, trim, engine, transmission, and other such relevant information for each individual component.

However, this can prove to be a significant challenge since the average vehicle component can fit hundreds of different vehicles. As such, the fitment information that accompanies it needs to be clear, complete, and accurate. Only if it accomplishes these criteria will customers be sure that they will find the parts and accessories they need.

As mentioned previously, the ACES automotive standard consists of the two main VCdb and PCdb databases. These, in turn, contain information of different vehicle configurations at a given point in time. As newer car models and components are introduced to the market, and others are removed, the ACA updates this information accordingly and regularly. Nevertheless, it is important to note that this data is not provided by the original equipment manufacturers. Instead, it is researched by the ACA’s team, which looks across the internet and specialized publications, putting it all together. This means that, even at the best of times, there is no 100% guarantee that the information will be completely accurate or complete.

It also means that any catalog’s fitment data will have a certain amount of time before it spoils. As more and more time goes by, and this information is not properly mapped to the appropriate ACES research, the less reliable it will be. As previously mentioned, the ACA updates its database once per month, adding and removing various vehicle configurations. If your fitment data contains any removed vehicle configurations, it will become invalid, and all the components attached to it will no longer appear to your customers in their searches. In the industry, this is known as having “holes” in your data. To keep it clean and up-to-date, automotive aftermarket businesses will have to regularly update and validate that data.

How To Keep Your Catalog Data Clean?

With every company’s fitment records being a crucial business asset, locating and resolving these holes as quickly and as easily as possible is the key to long-term success. To achieve this, however, you will need coverage metrics on both vehicles and products. With them, you will be able to locate any holes in your auto parts catalog. You can do this manually by trying to discover and fix these issues one at a time. Unfortunately, most business owners do not have the time, resources, or available manpower to do this on a continual basis. Luckily, an auto parts catalog management software can help in this sense.

Evokat Premier is an ultra-flexible solution that can help you deliver better data sets to your recipients and manage disparate requests from one single interface. The platform is driven by the latest versions of VCdb and other similar databases, meaning that it will make all the necessary information available to you whenever you need it. Evokat’s vehicle mapping interface also helps its users by sending them immediate feedback on all available vehicle configurations that are in relation to your target attributes. These are, of course, based on the Auto Care Association standards. This will include everything from cars, light and heavy-duty trucks, agriculture, Powersports, and marine vehicles.

What’s also useful about this platform is that you will no longer need to have paid subscriptions to the PCdb and PAdb databases to gain access, making it a “one-stop” solution for all your catalog data. The mapping process, itself, is also completely configurable, based on something as simple as a Year/Make/Model definition or something more complicated that will include engines, body styles, fuel types, and more. Evokat Premier also makes it possible for you to create associations between different parts and components, as well as between different catalogs. This is incredibly useful if you are looking to incorporate fitment data directly from your suppliers and manufacturers.

There are also some instances when changing individual records is not the best way to validate your data. Sometimes, you may need to change your entire catalog, all at once. You can use Evokat’s bulk load/change capability to add or update product data and vehicle definitions, alongside previews and quality checks during every step of the process. Evokat Premier also offers an extensive and constantly expanding report format library that allows you to customize your reports whichever way you want. It will also allow you to schedule automatic generations and manage data distribution over email and FTP channels. For example, if one trading partner places a new requirement on any of your other partners, everyone in your supply chain will receive a detailed report about it. 

Being an online-access, cloud-based solution, Evokat Premier will help you manage your catalog data from anywhere there is an internet connection. If you can’t spare the time to do this, Illumaware also provides its clients with catalog management services that will handle all of this work on your behalf. Contact us today if you want to learn more about automotive aftermarket data standards or are looking to get started with managing your auto parts catalog.