I get calls every week from customers asking for “OE” glass. I try to explain that this is a very specious term with some shops because if one takes it in the strictest definition, the glass is almost always logoed with the auto manufacturer’s name or trademark and must be purchased from an auto dealer’s parts department. Glass from a dealer comes usually at a far higher price than everywhere else.
I then go into an explanation that sometimes an equivalent exists. A glass shop may be able to find a supplier who carries the very same brand of glass minus the manufacturer’s trademark or name, but with the same DOT number which signifies that the aftermarket glass came from the identical source as the dealer purchased one.
This past week I became very aware of how loosely the term “Original Equipment Equivalent” can be used and somewhat abused. I had installs on two different Toyota models that had famous glass brand names as suppliers imprinted in the bug. However when I ordered these easily available brands, I found that the aftermarket windshields had different DOT numbers than the OE ones and the quality of the part was nowhere close to the one I was replacing. Both parts I was replacing had USA origins while the new ones did not. The glass had alterations like the location of the frit and heating elements, along with distinct differences in the shape and application of the underlip molding. In one case, the purchase price of a Chinese made OEE windshield was twice as much as a branded competitor one. My customer paid almost $200 more for something we both thought was an identically made product that came in his vehicle. I believe almost anyone would have been able to detect the contrasts between the OE and the OEE ones, I guess I would like to know why? (Is it just the money, Honey?)
Automotive glass manufacturing has become a worldwide endeavor. While it may not rival the labor saving shopping country hopping antics of shoe manufacturers, AGR is not blind to the benefits of operating in countries that offer cheap labor and minimal environmental and other economic restrictions that may negatively affect the bottom line. As China opened itself up to become a center of manufacturing, its move into AGR instigated a tidal wave of change for our industry. Its flood of product that hit our shores drowned a few domestic glass fabricators, but more importantly, it unraveled the profit structure of both the wholesale and retail sectors of AGR.
In fact, a strong argument can be made that it also affected the craft side as well. As imports rose and inventory increased, distributors needed to find more customers and were able to in an evolving easy-entry industry. But I digress …
I have even discovered quality differences between Chinese-made OE and OEE parts. Volkswagen uses a Chinese glass vendor on some models. I have installed several well-constructed dealer purchased windshields that came from that vendor. However, it is another story when buying that same label in the aftermarket. The cowl retainer that comes bonded with a urethane type substance at the bottom of a VW logoed windshield is merely attached with double sided tape in the aftermarket model. Many times, due to shipping and handling, that retainer may already be pulling away or warped by the time a retailer sees it in their possession. In fact, this writer has a hard time recalling an aftermarket glass manufacturer that does not use double sided tape to secure cowl retainers. I would like to challenge those folks to try to explain to their end users why their cowl may not look the same when using their product, but the way I see it, they are just participants in a race to the bottom of the manure pit.
I understand the economics of this industry. The manufacturers want to make a profit. Distributors want to make a profit. Retailers want to make a profit. Auto manufacturers and the dealer networks make a hefty profit selling OE-branded glass. Insurers want to retain as much premium revenue as possible and the consumer wants to pay as little or nothing at all. All this creates a compression factor all the way down the supply chain.
So, OE logoed glass in many ways has become the “gold standard” to the consumer. I would be in the camp of those who believe that an OE glass is made to a higher standard, not much more, but at least the product is not reversed engineered and the tolerances of fit and finish are tighter than with its aftermarket copycat cousins. How much better is a matter of widely diverse opinion but I have told customers, I think it is usually 10 to 15 percent better. This is despite the fact that becoming OE is usually the end result of being the low bid on a contract. However, when a $1,000 difference exists between a dealer-purchased windshield and a generic-branded one, consumers and their insurers balk and demand cheaper alternatives and solutions to get around paying such high (and unjustified) prices.
I am like every other business owner that is looking for an edge to make a sale. If I can find and install an OEE brand of glass over a generic one, I make it a point to say so. From comments made by callers, many of my competitors may be descended more from Pinocchio than from George Washington because of the missing honesty gene. What is being declared OE or OE Equivalent is so wrong or misleading that some regulatory body would call it outright fraud. But what is as worrisome is that legitimate OE glass producers appear to have differing standards as well as plant locations for the very same glass part. The one being made domestically here for the auto manufacturer appears to be much better constructed than the “not made in the USA” one deemed for the replacement sector.
The mythical land of Oz has nothing on the world of AGRR. While we have our resident munchkins, tin men and scarecrows, it is the air of fantasy and illusion that is more disturbing. I can fully understand why a company competing in the aftermarket glass market makes manufacturing choices to improve their bottom line and their ability to sell their product. What I don’t understand is why substantial differences exist within the same company. A manufacturing line is already set for any one run of windshields. Why not just make X amount more instead of sending off the order to a foreign plant? Wouldn’t the increased set-up and shipping costs from a non-domestic plant offset much of any supposed expense increase coming from a U.S. plant? I, for one, would like to say with conviction that in some cases, I can provide a true OEE product to my customers. Then again, one might have a better chance of ordering online a set of FAA-certified ruby slippers that make traveling to Kansas faster and without TSA inspection.