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America has a second, thriving auto industry–and a prolonged UAW strike could threaten it too



Over the past few weeks, a strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union at America’s Big Three manufacturers, Ford, GM, and Stellantis, has captivated headlines. Even though economists say “a short strike would have a small impact with limited spillovers into the aggregate economy,” a prolonged strike could affect the more than 7,000 small businesses that are part of the specialty aftermarket industry–along with the million jobs and billions in wages supported by these businesses.

While many Americans may be unfamiliar with the name of our industry, represented by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), they probably have firsthand experience with it. We’re the industry that manufactures, distributes, and sells the parts on your vehicles that make them taller, lower, faster, prettier, and have a better sound system than is standard, among other things. And it’s all your vehicles–your passenger car, your neighbor’s truck, or that lucky friend who has four-wheel off-road vehicles you sometimes get to ride. 

Sixty percent of those who choose to modify their vehicle after they drive it off the lot typically start doing so within the first six months of ownership. They buy these parts from our manufacturers and retailers and look to builders to install those parts. As production slows or stops at the plants, it will create a ripple effect. Fewer new cars driven off the lot means fewer customers buying our products and using installers.

A long strike will ultimately have significant consequences not just on the Big Three automakers, but also on the industries that support and rely on them. The lead-up to new model year production starts well before new cars hit the lots. There are months, if not years, of investment in product development, testing, and ultimately, production and inventory. A prolonged strike delays the recoup of these initial investments. A timely resolution to the strike will help ensure our members and their employees stay working and reduce the threat to our production lines.

A study released by SEMA this month found that our industry is a counterweight to the narrative that American manufacturing is dead. Consumers spent $52 billion in the last year on parts and accessories. This activity creates more than 1.3 million American jobs in manufacturing, distribution, retail, and restoration. In manufacturing alone, the industry supported over 100,000 jobs at a time when other industries were moving out of the country.

The specialty aftermarket industry directly employs more than twice as many people as the U.S. aircraft industry–and more people than the entire motion picture and video production industry. The specialty aftermarket’s value adds up to about $337 billion. It accounts for more than $24 billion in federal taxes and $16 billion in state and local taxes.

The specialty automotive aftermarket industry isn’t just crucial to one part of the country. Our industry includes many small and medium-sized enterprises that specialize in niche markets. These companies rely on local manufacturing facilities, workers, and suppliers, contributing to the growth of regional economies and supporting American manufacturing at a grassroots level. While the U.S. economy is still muddling through stubborn inflation and other challenges, the specialty parts and accessories industry is an economic engine that consistently delivers jobs and revenue nationwide. It’s also an industry that develops technical skills and enables individuals to achieve success without a four-year degree.  

Our industry is proud to be part of an economy that invests in America and its people. Our workers have good-paying jobs, make essential contributions to communities across the country, and support opportunities for millions of motorists every year.

American manufacturing can succeed and grow when there’s a robust ecosystem of partners and small businesses that make industries like ours dynamic. But first, we need to make sure that Americans have cars available to buy, and that our shops have vehicles to work on, so we can continue to play this role. 

Mike Spagnola is the president and CEO of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), a trade association that consists of a diverse group of manufacturers, distributors, retailers, publishing companies, auto restorers, street-rod builders, restylers, car clubs, race teams, and more.

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The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.



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