Spark Plug Industry Outlook
Recently, we sat down with Rich Fleming, the General Manager of Fram Group, which includes the FRAM, FRAM Fresh Breeze and Autolite brands. In this interview, Fleming discusses the outlook of the spark plug industry, as well as Autolite’s place in the highly competitive spark plug industry.
Could you give us some insight into your background? How did you get started in the automotive industry? What is your history at Autolite?
I started out with FRAM more than 18 years ago. I’ve held numerous positions within the organization across the country and even internationally through that time. Currently, I’m the General Manager for all of Fram Group, which includes the FRAM, FRAM Fresh Breeze and Autolite brands.
The Autolite brand is a strong one with many associations. In your opinion, what is Autolite's place in the spark plug market?
Autolite has a rich, storied history in the spark plug market dating back over 80 years and we’ve been at the forefront of spark plug development for a very long time. I think that today, Autolite’s place in the market is to be a very high-quality alternative to OE plugs. Our plugs meet or exceed OE specs for a wide range of vehicles, both foreign and domestic nameplates, and we are generally at a more competitive price than the OE plugs. For example, we’re the only spark plug manufacturer who carries a Lifetime Limited Warranty on our Iridium XP plugs. Autolite really does provide a high-quality alternative to any OE plug and we’re trying to make sure that consumers know that they have a choice in the spark plug market that could save them some money and give them the same or better performance.
What’s your take on the industry outlook in the short and long term? How is Autolite currently positioned and/or preparing to position itself for these future industry changes?
We’ve seen a lot of changes over the last ten to fifteen years, whether it’s advancements in metallurgy or quality improvements, the industry is constantly changing. For example, improved spark plug quality has resulted in longer change intervals for spark plugs. This means that people aren’t buying spark plugs as often and we, as a collective industry, have become victims of our own quality improvements—and that is only going to continue. At Autolite, we are working to continually ensure that our products are of the highest quality and performance standards because we want customers for life. We want the people who buy our spark plugs to have the utmost faith that our plugs are going to deliver for them every time.
Autolite has been a constant in the spark plug industry for more than 80 years—how is Autolite continuing to innovate and push the envelope in spark plug technology?
Our engineers and designers are constantly looking for the next development in spark plug technology that will advance the industry to the next level, whether that’s tweaks to existing designs to improve quality and performance or entirely new innovations that move the industry in a new direction. Our testing labs are running 24/7 and that work never ends. In addition, we’re always monitoring overall automotive technology. Engines are evolving and changing, becoming more complicated, and we need to be sure that we’re keeping up with and even ahead of those innovations. Our engineers are perpetually testing and evaluating plugs and utilizing that data to ensure that our products will meet those new demands.
Autolite is very customer focused and several activities support that, including your website redesign and outreach programs, such as mobile tours, and your investments in training and education (i.e. training teams, new technical/product video content). How do you think each of these to support your brands messaging?
As I mentioned previously, we believe that we have a very compelling story to tell to both consumers and automotive professionals about what our products can offer them, and education and outreach are very important to telling that story. Autolite have invested in our training teams, our mobile tour program, our sponsorship of a variety of motor sports teams, in addition to other communications programs. We have a team of technical trainers who are constantly criss-crossing the country, training automotive professionals about the latest in spark plug technology and the benefits of using Autolite. Additionally, we’re actually going to be launching a redesign of our website in the near future, as well as releasing a host of new informational and training videos. We believe that all of these efforts help to get our message out to the right people.