Sunday, December 23, 2018

OEM Parts: an Endangered Species?

Over the past 12 months OEM parts have quickly climbed on top of most owners’ wish lists. Even the BNR34, the youngest sister of the RB26 trio, will turn 20 years old next year: that’s a respectable age, especially for a performance car, and rightly most owners have shifted their attention on ways to keep their prized possessions in good shape.

Nissan has recently started to address the problem as well, by releasing the Nismo Heritage Parts program for the BNR32 in 2016 and announcing its extension to cover the BCNR33 and BNR34 at this year’s Nismo Festival. This hasn’t happened without raising a bit of criticisms from some owners, especially overseas one, lamenting a lack of availability, increased prices and some issues with parts previously sold as OEM being simply relabeled with Nismo stickers. As I am rebuilding and restoring my own car (and was lucky to be able to do so by using Nissan Japan FAST, NPTC and Omori Factory’s very own private stash of parts) I thought I’d share a few updates and personal thoughts that I hope can help owners who are still unclear about the current “parts situation”.

First off, I will start by addressing one of the most common reasons of frustration amongst owners: why are parts being discontinued? The answer is rather simple and requires just a bit of sentimental detachment from our beloved cars. The cost of keep producing them is simply not justified anymore by the lack of demand. Nissan doesn’t just randomly choose what parts go out of production, but bases its decision on demand and future forecasts: what might be an extremely sought after, unicorn part for one owner could easily be ignored by the masses.

When consulting Nissan FAST (the intranet parts database and order system used by dealers in Japan) the staff can check the number of a certain part left in stock and whether is still in production or not. If still in production, the date of when the new batch will be available will also be shown, otherwise it will read either as TBD or out of production. What is the difference between the last two options? Sometimes Nissan produces a potential final batch of one part and their decision on whether keep producing once it goes sold out or stop altogether is based on demand. Parts on the “endangered list” usually end up there due to a consistent decline of orders over prolonged periods of time.

Obviously Nissan and Nismo also rely on third party suppliers to manufacture certain parts and, sometimes, they face challenges on their own. One example could be the Nismo Circuit Link and Circuit Link Pro II sets: these parts are manufactured by an external supplier and have been now out of production for a few months. Unfortunately seems that the supplier has encountered major manufacturing issues affecting their production line and costs, and has communicated their decision to cut supply of these items. A quick glance at these relatively simple looking suspension arms naturally raises the question: why not looking for another supplier? And when I did challenge Ochiai-san with such a question his answer confirmed what I already had in mind. Despite their simple look such parts are rather expensive and difficult to make and, after looking into other options for several months, they regrettably come to the decision of giving up as there is not enough demand for them. What is even worse is that the brand new carbon brake air guides that were released just this past January can only be fitted on the Circuit Link arms as the standard BNR34 ones are not compatible. As you can see this is an issue that affects Nissan and Nismo as well.

Why are parts becoming more expensive? Beside an obvious re-alignment with different demand levels and modern economy, the other factor that seems to be largely ignored are the three magic words that for decades have been synonymous of quality and are still printed on almost every single Nissan OEM and Nismo label: “Made in Japan”. Skyline GT-R parts are all manufactured in Japan, which is obviously not the cheapest place on Earth and surely doesn’t help containing costs. Additionally, Nissan and Nismo parts are often produced in completely separate plants and with different methodologies which result in price gaps; for example, as of 2018 the stock OEM carbon bonnet of the V-spec II and V-spec II Nür models has become a good ¥100,000 more expensive over the Nismo Z-tune version. Same principle can be applied to the new, revised N1 engine blocks, and so on.

Lastly, a lot of people underestimate the cost of R&D that lots of the parts, especially the new Nismo ones, require. Disclaimer: Nismo did not pay me (I wish!) to write this, but I can guarantee that the amount of time and testing put into developing these parts is unlike any other third party tuner. From engines packages (like the S2 and R2) being extensively tested for thousands of kilometers, including at higher altitudes and -20°C, exterior paint colors taking over one year to develop and aero parts tested in wind tunnels and derived from real competition-grade components. As they say, you get what you pay for.

Now, onto the more positive news: lots of parts are still available and the number of key functional components (like blocks, subframes, body panels, etc) that are out of production is very limited. This means that most owners can easily keep the cars running and in OEM condition, albeit having to deal with the increased prices. Everything else is a bit of a hit and miss, so it will be increasingly hard to keep cars in shiny, showroom condition. Nismo has confirmed that they have no plans to stop producing the existing carbon parts since they are hand-made to order and require no production line. OEM electronic parts are also mostly available, except the stock speedometers and the Nismo upgraded MFD for BNR34. Interior parts, on the other hand, are all out of stock and out of production, so I would recommend looking after your panels. Nismo will also release a new GT500 shift knob (hopefully with the new logo) in 2019, which is something to keep in mind if you were planning to spend silly amount of money for the old ones on Yahoo! Auction. Same for the LM GT4: it’s pretty clear that they will be kept in production, maybe adding new finishes or smaller changes. The front core support assembly (which is the main victim in frontal accidents) should also make its way into production with the Heritage Parts program. The Circuit Link suspension kit for BNR34 is no longer in production and, at least at present, there are no plans to re-release it. Engine cam cover set, rear spoiler, stock suspension and front differential are also discontinued, while stock M-spec suspension are still available in limited quantity and OEM brakes (zenki and kouki) are still manufactured. The GETRAG transmission is currently out of production, but it seems pretty much confirmed that spares from the Nismo Heritage Program are in the works.

So, my final take on the whole situation is this: if I had money to invest on my car in 2019 I would rather spend it on a OEM parts refresh than a Nismo parts upgrade. With the amount of money you’d fork out for a Nismo intercooler or set of carbon air inlet pipes you could easily buy a really good number of parts to freshen up your car that most likely will be unattainable in 6 months from now, and could potentially become cause of major headaches once they will break or time out. Based on my personal experience and knowledge I am very, very confident that this is the way to go. Despite being lucky to have access to the best stock inventories of them all and receive huge amounts of support, I still ran into major challenges when it came to some specific parts, often ordering some of the very last in stock, having to wait months to finally find specific ones or even having to go custom-made by Omori Factory. The Skyline GT-R is not anymore the reasonably priced sports car that it used to be and is surely turning into a modern day classic that can justify the extra running costs. While expensive, this adds a new dimension to the ownership experience and the feeling of seeing your pride and joy all fresh and sharp looking is as good as driving it. Now it’s time to grab pen and paper and start compiling our Christmas wish lists.

Until next time.

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