Last fall’s State Farm class action verdict, along with many other lawsuits involving aftermarket (A/M) crash parts, have led to a desire on the part of consumers and shop owners to learn more about today’s Taiwanese A/M crash parts manufacturers. While many aspects of crash parts quality, usage and distribution have been criticized, additional information can grant an opportunity to look at both sides of the crash parts market. One way to do this is to look at Taiwan and eight of the country’s key producers of A/M parts. Who are they, how did they get to where they are today and what can we expect from them in the future?
Setting the Stage: Taiwan
The tiny island nation of Taiwan (245 miles long and 89 miles at its widest point) is slightly smaller than Maryland and Delaware put together. More than 50 percent of the island’s geographical area is mountainous and wooded and is therefore scarcely populated. Taiwan’s population is around 22 million people. Of those, 2.6 million live in the northern city of Taipei and 1.44 million in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Everyone else, along with their millions of motor scooters and cars, are squeezed into the remainder of the island. In fact, Taiwan is the second most densely populated nation in the world, with an average of 601 people per square kilometer.
The Republic of China (R.O.C.) was established in 1912 as a sovereign state and constitutional democracy, led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Followers of Sun Yat-sen fled the growth of communism on mainland China by moving to the nearby island of Taiwan — formerly known as Formosa — in 1949. Taiwan, R.O.C. is a democracy and one of the staunchest Asian allies of the United States.
Despite limited resources, the population is highly educated, with a 94 percent literacy rate. The labor force equals roughly 9.5 million people, with 52 percent employed in services, 38 percent in industry and 10 percent in agriculture. The unemployment rate is less than 3 percent, while the tightening of labor markets has led to an influx of foreign workers.
Taiwan Auto Body Parts Association (TABPA)
The Taiwan Auto Body Parts Association (TABPA) is a loose-knit group that falls under the auspices of the Ministry of Transportation. Its members include 30 to 40 companies of all sizes that manufacture a wide variety of automotive products. Everything from radiators to lights, engine parts to molding and plastic fascias to outer body sheet-metal parts are made for the domestic and international original equipment and aftermarket. Not all of those companies make crash parts, nor do they all export products to the United States. TABPA, while under a government agency, is unfunded. Minimal operating dues are collected from its membership. The government supplies a meeting room for the organization’s infrequent gatherings and some administrative support. Organization management is left to the elected chairman and his staff.
Key Players in Taiwan’s U.S. Aftermarket
The past 20 years reflect substantial growth and evolution of Taiwan’s A/M industry. Today these manufacturers sell parts to every continent in the world.
The first A/M part made in Taiwan, a Chevy C-10 fender, was imported into the United States in 1979. The demand for A/M products has since developed into a $1.9 billion industry in the United States. Thousands of Americans are employed by A/M distributors and North American A/M parts manufacturers. From only one manufacturer in 1978 to the roughly 40 member-companies in TABPA today, those manufacturing for the U.S. market have now stabilized. Today, eight key players export parts from Taiwan to the U.S. collision repair market:
• Conjoin Key Industries, Ltd. (May be changing name to Cobra King, often referred to as CK);
• Auto Parts Industrial, Ltd. (API)
• DEPO (marketed as Maxzone Vehicle Lighting Corporation in the U.S.);
• Gordon Auto Body Parts Company, Ltd.;
• Jui Li Enterprise Company, Ltd.;
• OTN — Tong Yang Plastics Industry Company, Ltd. (plastic fascia division of Tong Yang Industries);
• TKY — Taiwan Kai Yih Industrial Co. (sheet metal division of Tong Yang Industries);
• TYC — Automotive Replacement Products (Marketed by Genera Corporation in the U.S.).
The previous information was supplied by Karen Fierst.
Getting to Know the Manufacturers
Over the next few months, BodyShop Business will be giving descriptions of each of these companies to help familiarize you with them. Although Taiwan-produced A/M parts and the boxes they come in are always labeled with the name of the manufacturer, many shop owners know little about those companies. But being familiar with their names may not be enough. It’s also been suggested that tracking performance of parts from respective companies will enable shop owners to develop a manufacturer preference from which they can order more parts.
As it stands now, shop owners request parts, and whether they specify a manufacturer or not, they will likely get parts from the company that produced those parts at the best price, says Chuck Sulkala, owner of Acme Body and Paint in Massachusets and one of several people who toured Taiwanese A/M parts factories last year during a trip to Taiwan.
"I could specify for a part, but that doesn’t mean I’ll get it," says Sulkala. "The distributor will get a bid and send an order. Then they’ll buy the best price."
Sulkala suggests that if more shop owners track parts performance and specify from manufacturers, it may help to end the practice of ordering parts and only finding out upon arrival where those parts came from.
Conjoin Key Industries, Ltd.
Out of the A/M parts manufacturers in Taiwan, Conjoin Key’s size tends to fall somewhere in the middle. Conjoin Key’s president –– and former auto mechanic –– Jason Chung, started the business in 1981 when he was 27 years old. At the time, Conjoin Key had only eight employees and $200,000 in capital. Since then, the corporation has grown to 200 employees and grosses $200 million annually.
But this growth didn’t happen overnight. In 1987, Conjoin Key began using computers for its day-to-day operations. Two years later, it set up a second pressing line and obtained CAPA 101 certification, strengthening its role in the North American market. By the time Conjoin Key set up its die factory in 1992, its employee base had grown to 145.
Conjoin Key’s A/M parts can be found on American, European and Japanese automobiles. Companies that use Conjoin Key A/M parts include Chevrolet, Dodge, GMC, Ford, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Pontiac, Acura, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Lexus.
In addition to its parts facilities, Conjoin Key has a large radiator factory and Chung’s brother owns a nearby box manufacturing company, which makes shipping boxes for many of Taiwan’s non-OEM parts manufacturers. Sulkala points out that the box factory was indicative of the company’s desire to take the initiative.
"The boxes they were making for their own operations were ones that were twice as thick as the norm," Sulkala says. "They did this because they were concerned about possible damage from shipping. This was a concerted effort to minimize damage. It wasn’t something that was pushed on them. I thought this was very forward and very progressive on their part."
Sulkala also found the company to be progressive in its manufacturing of hoods. When it came to welding the hoodlock latch, Conjoin Key had developed an innovative way to attach it so it wouldn’t break off. "It was a far superior method of attaching the latch," Sulkala says. "They were working on their own initiative."
Lou DiLisio, who accompanied Sulkala and the others on last year’s trip to Taiwan, was impressed with how Conjoin Key handled hoods. "Looking at the way they fastened the strikers, they were one of the only factories we saw that hemmed the both the top and the bottom and welded them into place," he says.
Conjoin’s research and development team has developed techniques and machines utilized not just by Conjoin Key but throughout the industry, including the robotic spot welder, the robotic hemming machine and the patent of the "wheel releaser."
Co-writer Karen Fierst is president of KerenOr Consultants, a firm out of Silver Spring, Md. She also serves as TABPA liason to the U.S. market. She can be reached at (301) 681-4383 or at ([email protected]).
Co-writer Mike Lawrence is associate editor of BodyShop Business.