Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2004   by Auto Service World

Muscle Memory

Performance Parts & Light Truck Accessories

No matter how justified the hype behind the sport compact performance revolution, it is a performance and accessories market of a different ilk that continues to be the foundation of Canada’s performance aftermarket.

Nowhere was this more in evidence than in a recent new product announcement.

“Enthusiasts of the legendary Chevy 409 and 348 engines will never have to adjust or change points again with MSD’s new Pro-Billet Ready-to-Run Distributor,” said the promo, from Karbelt Speed & Custom. It is important to note that these engines last rolled off the line some 40 years ago. You don’t get much more traditional than that. It is a point not lost on Randall Perks, general manager of Karbelt’s main operation in Ajax, Ont.

“For us, traditional performance is still a very big part of the market,” says Perks, adding that even though some Detroit iron hasn’t been seen on a car dealer’s lot for decades, they sold enough when they were available that they still drive the market.

“I am not sure of the precise statistics, but I would think that the growth of the sport compact market is greater as a percentage, but the market is still far greater in domestic.”

It is difficult to find statistics that bear out his assertion, since they aren’t generally tracked in the same way. It is understandable, considering it isn’t always clear whether a customer is looking to boost the output of a small block Chevy that is going into a pickup, a street rod, or if it’s going into a muscle car he is building for bracket racing at the local drag strip.

Still, the fact holds true that the traditional performance market continues to be strong, buoyed in no small part by the length of experience manufacturers have with it.

That experience means that even with applications on the fringe such as that 409 and 348, parts can still be made available.

“You have to wonder how big the market is for that kind of a piece, but if you already have a part for similar applications, you might just have to machine it a little differently,” says Perks. “And the electronics aren’t going to know if it is a 409, a 407, or a Hupmobile.”

The fact is, too, that many of the customers remain those who remember those applications.

“I would equate it with what they couldn’t afford to buy when they were younger, but they can certainly afford it now. It tends to be the older guys, but I wouldn’t say they’re more mature. They are still kids at heart.

“Intakes, carbs, cylinder heads, camshafts, rotating assemblies–it is all selling pretty well. Also, the greying of the aftermarket, as the dollar base shifts, the guys who grew up with street rods and hotrods have been getting older.

“It has shifted from street rods over the past five or six years. The guys who were driving the street rod business were reliving their youth. Now we’re getting into the guys who grew up with muscle cars.”

“It is funny what drives the business,” says Walt Moore, sales manager for Keystone Automotive Operations Canada Inc. He talks about how the release of the Starsky & Hutch movie, which features the classic white-striped red Toronado from the television show of the same name, may do the same for the traditional performance market as “The Fast and the Furious” did for the sport compact market.

“Every time somebody does something like that, it brings some attention. It is interesting to see that the interest is coming from younger people as well. In that age bracket you would think they’d be looking at the sport compact, but not everyone is.”

He says too, that the light truck market continues to impress.

“It remains solid, even though car manufacturers have stepped up to the plate in dressing up trucks more than they did 20 years ago. There is still that desire for individuality by the consumer. There is that need to be different, and that is what really drives the truck accessory market.”

He commends accessory manufacturers for continuing to feed the market with a broad range of products, with each manufacturer offering a look that is just a bit different.

“A lot of calls are looking for certain brands,” he says. Customers want a certain look and know where to get it. “There have been good advertising campaigns by the manufacturers. The market is strong and continues to grow.”

One of the newer developments in the light truck market combines the love, and perhaps necessity, for a light truck with the desire for more power.

“There is a wave coming with diesel technology,” says Moore. “It has given the performance side of the market a shot in the arm.”

“It is huge out here,” says Shawn Landsman, sales manager for Edmonton-based Dix Performance. “The trucks are so sophisticated. We have a module that can add 110 hp with five or 10 minutes of installation.”

He says that in some ways the diesel performance market appears to be outstripping the development of the sport compact market, likely due to the fact that there is a real need for hauling power in Canada’s west.

He says that the popularity has come quickly, if the company’s involvement in drag racing events is anything to judge by.

“Last season we even added a diesel class, and one event we ended up with more diesels than sport compacts.”

There is no comparison to the spectacle that 7 litres of turbocharged diesel power offers fans.

“These things really tear up the track, running in the low 12s (seconds).”

For a large proportion of the Canadian public, those greying kids are driving pickups and sport utility vehicles, which has continued to drive the light truck accessories market.

“These things aren’t cheap,” says Landsman. “The diesel appeals to the more mature market; customers who aren’t afraid of spending money.”

Curiously, the same holds true of much of the youth market, too.

“What I find curious is that the younger generation just wants to buy the best,” says Doug Coates, Lordco Parts Ltd. He has a 17-year-old son who works in the business but also drives a Dodge pickup.

“He bought a K&N intake system for 360 bucks and thinks nothing of it. These kids aren’t shy of spending the money.”

He tells also of the contractor with a 2003 Denali who wants to put a brake upgrade kit on it, at a cost of $10,000.

“I think there is going to continue to be opportunities for that stuff,” he adds.

From an accessory standpoint, he says that Lordco has continued to have success, despite the competitiveness of the market. One way the company has been able to continue to sell effectively into the market is through dealership alliances, where accessories are displayed for the vehicle customer to see.

“The truck market is competitive; everybody is trying to get a cut of it. A guy will buy a pickup for $50 grand and then spend 10 or 15 more on it. It is mind-boggling.”

Coates says that, like other parts of their business, success depends on inventory and expertise, even if customers are typically better informed than they were only a few years ago.

“Typically they know what they want, but it is a market we see continuing to grow. There are good opportunities and it is all cash dollars.

“It complements everything else we are doing.”

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