Why Don’t Car Manufacturers Make Their Own Wheels? Unraveling Genuine OE, OES, OEM & Aftermarket Wheel Terms
Have you been sent a link to this page because you have asked if the wheels we offer are OE/OEM?
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Car manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz don’t actually make most components of the vehicles themselves. They can be more accurately referred to as vehicle assemblers. Every sensor, LED, wheel and many tyres are produced for them under licence by external suppliers who are contracted to deliver according to a very strict schedule for both new vehicle production and aftermarket spare parts. However, the vehicle assemblers/manufacturers do usually make the body, subframes and perhaps the engine block and cylinder heads themselves.
In some instances, there is dual supply where two component manufacturers are contracted to supply parts for new vehicle production. This encourages competition and also hedges against supply interruption in the case of union strikes or raw material supply disruption. This is why you will see, for example, brake pads being made as OE parts for the same car by both Ferodo and Sachs. This also happens with some wheels, and Porsche comes to mind here. See that this wheel is manufactured for Porsche by both BBS and Riedel:
So what does this mean for the alloy wheel rim supply?
Well, every single OE rim is produced for the vehicle assembler (the OEM) by external manufacturers (called OES), who may also (but not always) manufacture rims under their own brand name too. However, the rims they make under their own brand name are never of the same likeness as the wheels they produce under licence for the vehicle assembler. Make sense? Ok maybe not. So here is an example:
BBS have a contract with BMW to manufacture 100,000 wheels of a specific design for the production of the new 1 Series. All of these wheels are delivered to BMW Munich worldwide logistics centre. This is an exclusive supply of this OE wheel to BMW. These wheels are of cast aluminium alloy construction and both the BBS logo and BMW roundel can be found on the back of the spokes.
BBS also make aftermarket alloy wheels, marketed and sold under the BBS brand to their worldwide dealer network. BBS are free to sell these to whomever they wish. What BBS can’t do is run production of the BMW OE wheel (less the BMW markings) and sell through their own dealer network. Wheels are a design component and the production licences don’t allow this (there are some exceptions, but we’ll cover this later).
So now you know what an OE wheel is: a wheel made under licence by a specialist wheel manufacturer, the OES (Borbet, BBS, SAI, OZ Racing, Rimstock) for a vehicle assembler (BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi), the OEM. There are two subcategories of OE wheels:
- Production (Series) OE wheels: these are alloy rims that are used for new vehicle assembly on the production lines
- Aftermarket OE wheels: these wheels are not used for new vehicle production. They are not offered as factory fitted standard or options. Instead, they are offered for sale through the dealer network of the car assembler, eg your local BMW franchise dealer.
So Chris, I’m confused.. Can you define the differences between Genuine, OE, OEM, OES and aftermarket when it comes to wheels?
Sure, but as is the case with language use, popular usage has overtaken the correct definition (don’t even get me started on people using J as a unit of rim width measurement instead of inches.. arghhh!). So here are the strict definitions:
Firstly, let’s define the organisations involved..
- OE: Original Equipment. The equipment being referred to is your actual vehicle, as it left the factory.
- OEM: Original Equipment Manufacturer. This refers to the car manufacturer (vehicle assembler) such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche.
- OES: Original Equipment Supplier. This is a manufacturer of vehicle components that are used in new vehicle production bearing the logos of both the OEM (eg Mercedes-Benz) and the OES (eg BBS).
- Aftermarket Manufacturer: This is a manufacturer of a component that is not used by an OEM for new vehicle production.
When it comes to parts, we have seen a trend in popular usage of using terms like OE/OEM to describe parts that don’t actually have the car manufacturer’s logo on them. They may be made by an OES, but they’re not the same as the part you would purchase at a BMW dealer, for instance. So to avoid all this confusion, we use the word Genuine.
With wheels there is no confusion! Here are the terms that we use:
Genuine <OEM brand name> Wheels: eg Genuine BMW wheels, Genuine Mercedes-Benz wheels. Because we purchase all our Genuine BMW wheels from our trusted authorised BMW dealer, all the wheels we sell are Genuine BMW. They have the BMW hologram and barcode, are supplied to us in the BMW box (don’t worry, we repackage them in our far superior ISTA approved packaging system before we send to you) and have the BMW roundel and part numbers integrated into the casting. This goes for all of the other OEM branded wheels we display in our online shop. We describe the wheels as Genuine Smart wheels or Genuine Mercedes-Benz to re-assure our customers that they are Genuine Authentic parts that have been purchased from authorised franchise dealers of the car marques (OEM) in question.
So if you ask us if our wheels are OE/OEM then we will usually answer yes. But the truth is that your question isn’t phrased in a way that makes correct sense. If you purchase a BMW wheel from us, then you are purchasing a Genuine BMW part that has been made by an OES (eg BBS) for an OEM (BMW), to be fitted to your OE (your car), carries the BMW part numbers and has been supplied to us by an authorised BMW franchise dealer.
What if I buy a BBS or Borbet wheel from Alloy Wheels Direct?
Well, both BBS and Borbet are OES, but they also manufacture and distribute wheels under their own brands too. These wheels are aftermarket wheels. When you purchase a BBS or Borbet wheel from us, you are purchasing a Genuine BBS or Genuine Borbet wheel that has been supplied to us by BBS or Borbet. You can be assured of the quality of these wheels: OEM have chosen them as suppliers because of their processes and quality. Their own branded products are manufactured in the same way. Wheels by these brands are usually available at a much lower cost than an OE wheel, but are never of the same design (see what I wrote earlier).
Avoiding counterfeit fake alloy wheels
What category of wheel does that leave, and how do I know if a wheel is fake or genuine?
Buyers for new alloy rims are understandably cautious about purchasing Genuine authentic products that have been manufactured by the brand whose logo they carry. Thankfully, it has never been easier to avoid replica or fake products and there are a few reasons for that.
- Back in the early 2000s, car manufacturers only had a handful of alloy wheel choices for each model. The factories in China could pick a specific wheel that had popularity and produce sizeable batches of them at a low price. An example would be whichever wheel BMW fitted to the M Sport versions of the 3 series or 5 series, or a version of the M3 wheel that would fit non-M3 vehicles. As an aside, these counterfeit wheels were marketed using names like “MV2” and “MV3”, which some customers use when referring to the Genuine BMW wheel designs that they copy! These days, car manufacturers have a much wider selection of both vehicles and wheel choices for them. Most wheels now only fit single vehicle models, so the Chinese factories don’t have such an easy job to choose one wheel design to copy and market
- We have been in the Genuine OE wheel business for 20 years, but this doesn’t stop our inbox occasionally receiving offers from these Chinese factories of their replica rims. So we get to see what is being offered to all the eBay sellers and cheap wheel resellers. We’re also in a unique position when customers approach us asking for single replacement wheels, often Chinese counterfeit wheels in odd sizes or colours that don’t match the Genuine OE part. We will ask for details and part numbers from the reverse of the wheel and of course there won’t be anything that relates to the OEM brand. There has been only one instance in 20 years where a counterfeit of an AMG wheel had a part number on it in the same format as one would expect, but the part number didn’t match the correct wheel design and of course it was in that Chinese font they use for the latin alphabet. I think they only have one standard font for latin characters in popular usage.
Which is good news for you the consumer: counterfeit wheels don’t have the OEM or OES brand logos in the casting and also lack the OE part number that you would expect.
Check out our YouTube channel and see all the different wheels that we have videographed in our special studio. Of course they are all genuine, and you can pause the video when the reverse of the wheel is being shown to view the logos, part numbers and other information that is part of the wheel casting.
- Counterfeit wheels never match the correct width and offsets for the OE wheels they are replicating. This is likely because the Chinese factories making them want the wheels they produce to fit as many different wheels as possible. These generic fit wheels are not specific to any one model, so you’re not getting the same perfect wheel fit that your car manufacturer intended.
- Anti-dumping and anti-counterfeit legislation have made the cost of doing business higher for the Chinese counterfeiters, which means fewer being sold
All of which means that any wheel supplier that displays a correct OE wheel part number of a wheel of the correct size will certainly be selling a Genuine wheel. It’s not the case like it is with a watch where the Genuine Rolex and counterfeit are aesthetically identical and you need to take the back of and look at the movement details. It’s more like comparing a Genuine Rolex watch to a watch without any Rolex logos and on the reverse says made in PRC.
Are there any wheels where the version made by the OES for the OEM is similar to their own aftermarket branded product?
Yes! The Fuchs wheel for Porsche is the obvious wheel here. In late 1965, Porsche ordered 5000x 15” forged construction wheels from Otto Fuchs for their 911S. This classic wheel design has featured on many Porsche models and is also available in a range of sizes and finishes as a Fuchs branded wheel
Here is a list of OES and the OEM that they produce wheels for. Brand names in italic text also have wheel ranges under their own brands.
BBS (Germany): AMG, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche
Borbet (EU): Everyone!
Fuchs (Germany): Audi, BMW, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Porsche, Renault, Rolls-Royce
Superior Industries: Mercedes-Benz and others
OZ Racing (Worldwide): Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Aston Martin, Lotus, McLaren
Rimstock (UK): Alpina, Bentley, BMW, Lotus, Jaguar, McLaren, Prodrive
SAI SuperAlloy Industrial (Taiwan): BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Jaguar Land Rover and others
In the next article we will cover how OE-OEM-OES relates to tyres.