Just five years ago, Stephen Snow recalls, Ford's F-series pickups offered three choices of batteries. Today, says the parts director at Northstar Ford- Lincoln in Fort McMurray, Alberta, "you're looking at six, based on what the option packages are."
The F series, bristling with technology, has a wide array of options. But it isn't an exception: Since 2012, estimates Michael Czach, the global strategy and planning manager of Ford Motor Co.'s customer service division, the automaker's parts numbers have increased by 15 to 20 percent.
Ford isn't alone. Even as automakers generally seek to limit their parts numbers, many have grown anyway. As factories also toughen their rules for returning parts, dealerships must plan their orders ever more carefully to prevent expensive bloat in their inventories, especially for special-order parts.
Several factors account for the increase in parts numbers, car company officials and dealers agree. These include the need for new powertrains and lighter parts to help automakers meet federal fuel economy rules, which President Donald Trump has vowed to roll back. Consumer technology also is a major driver of growing parts numbers.
Most automakers have stocking programs for the parts that dealerships need most frequently. They keep track of the most demanded parts from logged orders and even lost sales among dealerships.
In-house stocking programs include Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Automatic Replenishment Ordering system, Ford's Top 300 and PartsEye — a third-party vendor that manages parts stocking for Nissan, Kia and Subaru.
Most of these systems allow free returns of unused parts that automakers have recommended. Others tie parts returns and stocking levels to bonus cash and traditional — if decreasing — return allowances.