Ford Mirrors Icahn Old-Car Bet With First Parts Line in 50 Years

  • Omnicraft parts aimed at competitors’ vehicle brands
  • Automaker, Icahn wager that aging autos will spur repair boom

Ford Motor Co. will introduce its first new parts brand in 50 years, mirroring a wager by billionaire investor Carl Icahn that aging American cars leads to an auto-repair business boom.

The Omnicraft line of replacement parts rolling out next month takes aims at consumers who drive competitors’ vehicle brands, Frederiek Toney, president of Ford’s customer service division, said in an interview. Dealers will initially offer about 1,500 components, including oil filters and brake pads, to customers and independent repair shops and eventually expand to about 10,000 different parts.

Frederiek Toney

Photographer: Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images

Ford is making a bet similar to Icahn, whose investment firm owns service and retail chains Pep Boys and Auto Plus and just acquired parts maker Federal-Mogul Holdings Corp. With the average age of vehicles on American roads approaching 12 years, Toney said the auto parts and service business may expand into a $950 billion market worldwide by 2021, from $550 billion now. The U.S. may contribute about 40 percent of that growth.

“We’re going to be very, very competitive against the aftermarket and selling to independent repair shops,” Toney said. “Our pricing is going to be geared to be competitive. For those who’ve not considered us as a viable option, I want to encourage them to take another look.”

Ford already has replacement parts line for its own vehicles under the Motorcraft name. Adding Omnicraft gives Ford another brand to compete against General Motors Co.’s ACDelco and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Mopar. Sales at Mopar grew 10 percent globally last year and 15 percent in the U.S., where Fiat Chrysler shipped about 120 million components, said Pietro Gorlier, who runs the unit.

Icahn Expands

The carmakers are facing an expanding auto business at Icahn Enterprises, which on Monday completed its acquisition of Federal-Mogul. The parts maker’s replacement components include Anco wiper blades and Champion spark plugs.

Icahn’s Pep Boys and Auto Plus compete with chains including AutoZone Inc., O’Reilly Automotive Inc. and Advance Auto Parts Inc. The largest U.S. auto dealership group, AutoNation Inc., also is making a push with its own branded replacement parts.

Automakers’ franchise dealers have to work against a reputation for high prices and unnecessary repairs. Ford struggles to retain customers after the first three years of ownership, when the warranties on its cars expire, Toney said.

Ford controls about 25 percent of the replacement-parts market for its own brands. It’s planning an aggressive advertising effort to convince consumers its dealers can compete against retail chains or the local independent mechanic.

Dealers’ Reputation

“The perception is dealerships are more expensive,” Tim Michael, a Ford dealer and president of Capital Automotive Group, in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We’ve got to go to market and convince our customers that, hey, we can give you a quality product at an affordable price and we can be as competitive as anyone.”

Ford worked with its dealers to craft the new offerings, which also include loaded struts, starters and alternators, covering about 90 percent of the types of replacement parts sold in the U.S. Dealers have already ordered about $2 million in Omnicraft parts, Toney said.

“They listened to the boots on the ground,” said Ronnie Lumley, who runs Capital Automotive Group’s service and parts operation. “We told them we want to be a one-stop shop just like the NAPAs, O’Reillys and Advanced. If someone needs a starter on a Honda, I’d like to have the opportunity to fulfill that.”

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