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What is OEM

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OEM stands for “Original Equipment Manufacturer”, which refers to a company that makes a product that is used in another companies end-product. For example: a Chinese bottle company is the OEM supplier for the bottle of polish you use. There is a lot of confusion on the term, its meaning and its proper use.


Ambiguity around OEM

OEM can also be used to refer to the maker of a system that includes other companies’ subsystems.

For example: manufacturer A makes polishing machines and can use parts that are manufactured by manufacturer B. Manufacturer A then sells his polishing machines to a reseller that puts his own brandname on the machine. Manufacturer A and manufacturer B are both OEM.

OEM for car parts

When talking about car parts, the OEM supplier is the manufacturer used to create the parts that are used during assembly. For example: manufacturer A creates a special ECU for the fabrication of a certain car. After 5 years, manufacturer B re-creates the same ECU, but with added options to be fit into the same car, but NOT during fabrication. Manufacturer A is the OEM supplier, manufacturer B is an after market supplier.

Negativity around non-OEM

There is a certain amount of negativity around the term OEM, especially the non-OEM. Car enthusiasts often consider anything non-OEM “wrong”. However, if the car was fitted with spark plugs from brand A during fabrication, and the car enthusiasts has replaced them with brand B. He is using non-OEM spark plugs.
Brands of parts that are used during the fabrication of a car, can also decide to offer these parts via different channels, like retail stores. So buying a certain part via a different channel then the official dealer has no relation to it being OEM or not.

The part you buy for your car, can be non-OEM on your car, but OEM on another car.

For example: manufacturer A builds a car that uses a manifold from brand A. Manufacturer B builds a car that uses a manifold from brand B.
If the owner of a car from manufacturer A decides to use a manifold from manufacturer B, the manifold is a non-OEM part. Even though that same manifold is a OEM part when used in a car from manufacturer B.

OEM in the world of detailing

OEM is a tricky subject. As read above, its meaning depends on the situation. It can get very technical in different meanings.

For example: detailing brand A and detailing brand B both buy the same bottles from the same factory. If you empty the bottle from brand A, and put the product from brand B in that bottle, the bottle you are using is still OEM.
However, if you would put a product in that empty bottle from a brand that does NOT use that bottle during fabrication, it would not be OEM.

Private label, outsourcing, rebranding, white label

In the world of detailing it is reasonably common to make use of rebranding, private labelling, outsourcing or white labelling. All these terms basically mean the same thing.

  • Private label: the service offered when a manufacturer creates products for another company to sell. Example: Menzerna offers a service in which they develop and create polishes that can be sold under the brandname of other companies
  • Outsourcing: hiring another company to perform a task or service for a client. Example: Brand A is outsourcing the design of their label to design-agency B.
  • Rebranding: Replacing the brand on a product with your own. Example: buying a product from manufacturer A and putting your own label on the product, making it your own.
  • Relabelling: The same as rebranding.
  • White label: A service offered by a company to offer products, not made by themselves, under their own brand, clearly stating who the original manufacturer is. Example: Dodo Juice has sold Satsuma Rock via their network, with their label on it, but clearly stating that is is made by Bouncer’s.

Since the development, science, equipment and knowledge needed for good products is very costly, it would not be economical for some brands to do this themselves.

For example: company A has spent the last 50 years on developing polishing agents. They have spent a lot of money on testing, buying equipment, hiring chemist, gaining knowledge and expertise and much more, to be able to create a polishing agent that performs outstanding. Brand B then has the choice of trying to come up with all that knowledge themselves, or to use their knowledge. Doing it all themselves means a large investment into equipment, chemists, knowledge, the right certificates and of course the patience to wait till it yields result.
Asking manufacturer A to create a polish for them, to eventually put their own label on, is much faster and cost effective.

Common example of rebranding

A very common example of the above is the Kestrel DAS6 dual action polishing machine. The original machine was developed by Kestrel Machine Tools in Canada. The popularity of due to its low cost, ease of use, versatility and good quality. Many detailing product manufacturers decided that it was cheaper to get a machine from them, put their own label on it, and sell it as their own product. This is why you can buy the Kestrel DAS6 in many different colors with many different labels and names. The machine itself is in most cases the same. However, a few manufacturers have asked for minor modifications. If unmodified, it is OEM, of modified for a specific client it is ODM. An example of this is the Kestrel DAS6 Pro, which has a few different versions due to manufacturers complaining about certain characteristics. The Dutch refused to sell the machine due to certain imperfections. The manufacturer decided to adjust the design to eliminate these imperfections. This is the fine line between ODM and OEM.
In the situations described above, Kestrel is the OEM supplier, the other companies are re-branding the product to expand their product-range with minimal investment. When a specific alteration has been done for a specific client, it becomes ODM.

Negativity around OEM

The common opinion about OEM and non-OEM is that OEM is better. This is most likely due to manufacturers advising to only use OEM parts. This is logical for two reason:

  • Reason 1: guarantees and quality assurance.
    If you buy a product from a manufacturer, that product has been designed with certain parts in mind. The characteristics and design of those parts have been thought out very well and their has probably been a lot of research in designing or finding the best parts for this product. The final product you bought is an accumulation of all the parts put together. And its only as good as its weakest part. A manufacturer can therefore only guarantee the quality of its product if the user only uses OEM parts, since it was never tested or designed for after market parts.
  • Reason 2: economical reasons.
    Some manufacturers make certain arrangements with their suppliers. For example: Bosch is a very large manufacturer of various parts. They make money by having customers. If they can convince Ford to use Bosch parts in their cars, they do not only earn money on the fabrication of the cars, but also the maintenance and repairs on those cars. Ford might get a reasonable discount for being able to offer Bosch customers on a very long term. Being beneficial for both parties.
    Another reason for manufacturers to use outside sources instead of fabricating things themselves, can be costs of set up and patents. Both cases make it difficult and expensive to make the products themselves.

However, the negativity towards non-OEM parts is not always justified. A few leading causes for this negativity are:

  • Poorly remade parts
  • Marketing campaigns against the use of aftermarket parts, funded by OEM suppliers
  • Poorly installed DIY jobs with non-OEM parts
  • Car customization clubs with poor mechanical/engineering knowledge
  • Manufacturers stressing the use of OEM parts

Not all of these arguments are valid though. There is little direct correlation between OEM and non-OEM being better or worse then the other. As has been explained above, something that is OEM on/in a certain product, can be non-OEM on/in another product.

For example: Ford decides to only use Champion sprak plugs, and Renault decides to only use Bosch spark plugs. That does not mean that either Champion or Bosch is better or worse then the other. And it also does not mean that a Bosch sprak plug will not work properly in a Ford car, or that a Champion spark plug will not perform properly in a Renault car.
But, it does mean that Ford won’t guarantee the performance with a Bosch sprak plug, and Renault will guarantee the performance with a Champion sprak plug. Both products are OEM or non-OEM, depending on the situation.

Rebranding in the world of detailing is very similar. Many manufacturers/brands have decided to outsource the manufacturing of certain products. This does not mean the products are good or bad, it simply means that they have decided to use another company to create that product for them, for whatever reason that might be.
An example of this is when there was a large scale discussion on the Detailing World forum in 2009 regarding how bad Smartwax was and how good Chemical Guys was. After two groups started to form (1 pro Chemical Guys and 1 pro Smartwax) it became known that these are directly related.
A similar revelation happened when it became known that Zymol Autowash was made by Turtle Wax.

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