Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2008   by Auto Service World

Still Fast–But Less Furious

Sport Compact Accessories Market

With retail sales for the restyling market nearly doubling over the past decade, auto consumers have shown that vehicle customization is one way they like to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

According to SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association), retail sales for restyling products have shown a steady increase from 1996, when sales were US$2.287 billion, to 2006, when sales were US$4.076 billion.

B. J. Leanse, North American sales manager of Big Country Truck Accessories and chairman emeritus/advisor of SEMA’s Professional Restylers Organization (PRO) Select Committee, agrees that sales of his restyling products have experienced consistent growth over the past decade, and believes that this market trend is a response to the almost uniform appearances of many vehicles.

“So many vehicles look the same when they come out of the factories,” Leanse says. “Consumers don’t want what they are driving to look like their next-door neighbour’s, and both jobbers and dealers have been there to provide

consumers with the products they want. When we add style, function, and quality, we give people what they are looking for and that’s how our business keeps growing.”

The restyling market includes all products used to modify the exterior and/or interior of vehicles. This includes a wide array of products, ranging from sunroofs to ground effects and grille guards to drop-centre bumpers. Accessories represented 66.4% of the products sold in the restyling market for 2006, while performance products accounted for 15.6% of restyling market sales; wheels, tires, and suspension composed the remaining 18.0%.

“Today’s consumer wants something unique and different,” says Jim Spoonhower, vice-president of market research for SEMA. “They’re buying vehicles that are dependable and reliable, but then they’re personalizing those vehicles so that they look distinctive, perform differently, are more comfortable, convenient, safe, or just more fun. What’s really exciting is that we’re seeing more and more mainstream consumers discovering the benefits of vehicle personalization.” A 2007 survey found that 25% of American drivers plan to purchase automotive specialty-equipment industry products in the next 90 days.

SEMA also notes that automakers are recognizing the importance of customization. In fact, many automakers collaborate with SEMA on programs that allow members to develop products better, faster, and more efficiently than ever before. “The automotive specialty equipment industry is made up of innovators,” Spoonhower continues. Because many enter the industry as enthusiasts who know and love the hobby, they have a deep understanding of what end users will want and need. “As a result, products are resonating with consumers more than ever before.”

Preliminary results from SEMA’s 2007 Automotive Lifestyles survey show that two out of five (41%) people surveyed show an interest in sport-compact vehicles. What kind of specialty-equipment products are these enthusiasts purchasing? The following is an excerpt from SEMA’s Compact Performance Market Report, which lists the top products purchased by this group.

The “Fast and the Furious” movies controversially thrust the compact performance segment into mainstream view, and many enthusiasts were put off by the negative stereotypes attributed to the overzealous nature of the scenes portrayed in the first two movies. Average citizens were even harsher, and the excessive “look at me” style of 2001-2004 suddenly became pass, if not taboo.

The days of mismatched and unpainted body kits, Franken-car part mixing, spray-painted interiors, and questionable decal schemes have mostly passed. Nevertheless, enthusiasts remain interested in accessories and appearance products for their low cost and visual impact. Alarms, shifters, pedals, window tinting, license plate frames, instrument gauges, and lights remain enthusiast favourites, and the list of “hot” items people plan to buy includes vertical doors, seats (front and rear), custom paint, and a range of carbon-fibre pieces. Some of these parts are purely aesthetic, but the recent twist on performance favours items such as racing seats and carbon-fibre parts, for their ability to improve the racing potential of a car and its driver.

In body kits and exterior elements, the trend is towards subtle modifications that blend into the factory lines. Previously, there was an epidemic of aggressive kits that had little, if not a negative, effect on aerodynamics. Wild “fighter plane” styles and enormous rear wings have been replaced with a more conservative look.

Much of this influence has come in response to the criticism caused by mainstream coverage, but also by clean styles from Japan and Europe. European luxury sedans often incorporate modest body upgrades that are appealing for being simple and classy. Likewise, the “JDM” and VIP waves from Japan are inspiring a direction of visual minimalism. Consumers now demand parts with substantial functionality and prefer bolt-on features that have proven aerodynamic advantages. Bold packages are still popular and wide-body kits are on the rise, but their architectural range is less adventurous and more integrated.

Slick Tip on the Slippery Tonneau

With the growing trend of using customization for fuel efficiency reasons, jobbers should not ignore the accessories available for the light truck market.

To aid in your sales pitch, SEMA has recently completed wind resistance testing on the often-debated tonneau cover. According to the researchers, the results of a new wind tunnel test confirmed the popular belief that tonneau covers do indeed improve the coefficient of drag and can improve the fuel efficiency of a pickup.

The study, sponsored by SEMA and conducted by Dr. Richard Mark French of Purdue University in W. Lafayette, Indiana, tested 13 different tonneaus from nine manufacturers. All testing took place in January at the A2 Wind Tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina.

“While other tests would need to be conducted in order for fuel economy to be calculated, it is safe to say that a reduction in drag would improve fuel efficiency for these pickups,” says Megan McKernan, the SEMA researcher who headed up the project.

The tests were conducted on four different trucks: a 2006 Ford F-150 with 5’5″ bed;a 2005 Ford F-150 with 6’5″bed;a 2006 Dodge Ram 1500;and a 2007 GMC Sierra with 6’5″ bed.

The improvements ranged from 4.2% to 7.8%.

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