Pandemic has highlighted the importance of e-commerce in the aftermarket industry. Many suppliers realize the need to digitize their data and have them in ACES/PIES standards for setting up e-commerce sites and also to make their products available online. Parts producers in European / Asian markets (generally adhering to TecDoc standards) who want to expand their presence to European market also need to understand these standards and transform their data to these standards.

ACES and PIES was introduced by Autocare Association (a not-for-profit organization based out of US) as standards for exchanging product data in Automotive aftermarket in US, Canada, and Mexico. These formats are machine readable formats and hence difficult to understand to the lay users. The purpose of this article is to demystify these standards and to help you get a broad overview of the standards, its features and benefits and help you get started on your journey to creating your own ACES and PIES files.


Prior to the introduction of the standards, each supplier or distributor had their own terminologies for vehicle names and for representing parts information. Some examples below:

  • Vehicle Make Names – Chevrolet can be referred as Chevy
  • Vehicle Attributes – Rear Wheel Drive can be referred as Rear Drive or RWD
  • Parts Classification / Taxonomy – Engine Oil Filter can be referred as just Oil Filter
  • Parts Attributes – Outer diameter can be referred as Outside diameter or just O/D etc

The first two refer to vehicle information and the last two refer to parts information. While it is easy to understand with a human eye, it was complicated to handle ambiguous terminologies and also inefficient to handle text strings from a software perspective. Besides, there was no way of validating the correctness of the data and this often led to conflicting information on vehicle and parts attributes from different suppliers /distributors. For example, what is the Engine CC for a 2015-Ford-F150 model with GAS fuel type?

To bring in standardization in terminologies and also data quality of vehicle and parts attributes, Autocare introduced 5 databases with this information. These databases are provided by the Autocare association for a subscription.

  1. Vehicle Configuration Database (VCdb) for data relating to makes, models and vehicle attributes
  2. Product Classification Databases (PCdb) for defining standard classification/taxonomy for automotive parts.
  3. Product Attribute Database (PAdb) for defining standard attributes for different part classifications.
  4. Qualifier Database (QDB) for classification of application notes.
  5. Brand Tables for providing brand information of registered brands

These database tables provide codes for the various names thus providing the base for efficient processing of data using software. Example of the codification for part terminology is given below (with the codes provided in parentheses for the names).

The actual data exchange happens through XML files that refer to these codes in a pre-defined format called ACES and PIES.

What is ACES?

The Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standards (ACES) file is used for exchanging and managing automotive application data (also referred as compatibility or fitment or just vehicle data). The details of the vehicles with which a set of parts are compatible is provided in XML format. Codes are used instead of names for brand, part type, vehicle type, vehicle attributes, etc. This facilitates standardization and efficient processing by software.

ACES files are generated using VCdb, PCdb, QDB, and brand tables. The DB is constantly expanding its coverage of vehicles and hence monthly updates are provided by Autocare at the end of every month. Initial focus of the VCdb was mainly light and medium duty. However due to popular demand, Autocare is expanding its coverage to include Equipment and this information is available in another separate database.

Sample screen shot from an XML file is given below. As you can see, the ACES file uses codes (instead of names) that keeps the file light and easy for processing. On the flip side, it is difficult to read this for an untrained eye and even those trained would prefer to look at it only on a need basis and generally view this information after “flattening” (which is the process of converting it from codes to strings) in Excel format. The current version of ACES is version 4.2 allows publishing both equipment as well.

What is PIES?

While ACES focuses on the compatibility information of parts and vehicles, PIES (Product Information Exchange Catalog) contains information relating to a part. PIES files refer to PCdb, PAdb and brand tables. Parts information is divided into 10 segments (Item, Attribute, Description, Digital Asset, Extended, Hazardous, Interchange, Kit, Package and Price). The file also provides for supplier to provide marketing content for promoting their products at different sections in the PIES files.

Current version of PIES is version is 7.2. Screen shot of a typical PIES segment is provided. Key to PIES is the part number and the different information relating to one part (like Brand and pricing in the screen shot) is grouped together and provided.

The ACES and PIES standards are documented in a detailed fashion in the Autocare website. Access to information relating to these standards is available for free download. The tables however are available only in subscription model.

Usage of ACES and PIES

All large distributors accept data in ACES and PIES format. You might want to note the following:

  • eBay has their own standard for vehicles and parts which is slightly different from the VCDB/PCDB. Hence, they do not accept ACES/PIES XML
  • Amazon accepts only ACES XML
  • Walmart needs both ACES and PIES XML. GTIN is a must for all the parts and the size of the file should not exceed 100MB (you can split and provide as multiple files)

How do I build my own ACES and PIES files

Information relating to parts are typically stored in applications called Product Information Systems (PIM). Automotive specific PIMs and generic PIMs modules (available as part of larger ERPs or MDM systems) can be used. APA also provides a PIM in SAAS model (called PMT), details of which are provided in the link PMT | APA Engineering.

If you are a distributor handling multiple ACES and PIES file (with majority of your portfolio being automotive) and would need to decide between an Automotive and a non-Automotive PIM, you might want to consider the following:

  • A non-Automotive but highly extensible PIM if deployed in automotive context would have following challenges:
    • Beyond being able to ingest or output ACES/PIES file, in a multi-vendor scenario, there are innumerable data scenarios that keep emerging as we handle files from different vendors. The customized software would need a lot of time to mature and would need constant tuning of the functionality as well as performance
    • There are multiple auto-specific functions like holes report, YMME search, VIO, interchanges, motor holes, Health check reports etc. It would take a lot of efforts to have all of this built in by customizations
    • Besides a much longer schedule, it would put a heavy load on your team to document/explain these scenarios besides handling schedule / contractual changes.
  • The ACES/PIES standards framework provides for extending the framework to such products. Following are some of the enablers that proved to be helpful in our experience especially in the heavy-duty industry that does not have data readily in the standard formats.
    • PIES files do not mandate using PCdb terminology (unlike ACES). We could therefore define taxonomies that are customer specific in the PIM and merge this into the overall framework
    • The framework provides specifications to handle universal parts (that fit all applications)
    • PIES allows for custom attributes. This has helped in multiple part terminologies where the PAdb has been found to be wanting.

Key differences:

A significant difference between ACES and PIES is that, the former requires a subscription fee while the latter does not. There are certain exceptional conditions where certain databases require subscription fee in PIES.

If you would like to know more about ACES & PIES