SEMA eNews Vol. 14, No. 14, April 7, 2011

The Hottest Vehicles of 2011

SEMA News—April 2011

Gazing Into the Crystal Ball (With Some Educated Guesses)

    The base LS version comes with a 312hp V6, and the high-end SS is powered by a 426hp 6.2L V8
Perhaps the most obvious car on SEMA manufacturers’ radar screen is the ’11 Chevrolet Camaro. The base LS version comes with a 312hp V6, and the high-end SS is powered by a 426hp 6.2L V8 and is equipped with a host of add-ons, including Brembo brakes, leather trim, a heads-up display and built-in Bluetooth and USB ports. The Camaro won the SEMA Award in the car category at this year’s SEMA Show in Las Vegas, and by all indications, will continue to be the focus of considerable investment among specialty parts manufacturers.
     
     
Each year, a few vehicles dominate the automotive landscape. It stands to reason that the most popular vehicles among consumers and specialty-equipment manufacturers would also be among the most profitable for all SEMA members. To help sort the vehicular wheat from the chafe, we examined a series of forward-looking “SEMA Indicators” to see what they might suggest about the crop of cars and trucks that are likely to make the biggest sales impact in 2011.

Foremost among our fortune-telling tools is the SEMA Show itself. Those who attended last November may be aware that SEMA bestowed a series of awards on select vehicles at the 2010 event. The awards for Hottest Car, Hottest Truck and Hottest 4x4-SUV of the Show were actually selected by the exhibitors based on the number of each model displayed in the exhibit spaces. As SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting put it: “A booth space is a ballot, and the models these exhibitors selected represent their votes.”

The 2010 SEMA Show featured more than 1,900 exhibiting companies, and the three awards were bestowed upon the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford F-Series and Jeep Wrangler. Those are three perennial all-stars for the specialty-equipment industry, and they have been at or near the top of their categories in sales for decades, in some cases. But, we also wanted to dig further into the list of SEMA Indicators to see if there might be other candidates that automotive retailers ought to be conscious of as the year progresses.

Technology Downloads

The SEMA Technology Transfer program is one of the most popular tools available to manufacturing companies. It allows members to request data, such as CAD files, from the SEMA website. The files can be processed directly into the manufacturers’ computers and production machinery, allowing them to eliminate reverse engineering and proceed directly to prototyping components and assemblies. Companies that utilize Tech Transfer shorten their design time, save thousands of dollars and get their products into the marketplace quicker. By counting the number of requests for each vehicle, we get a kind of poll about the way members plan to spend their R&D dollars. Oscar Muñoz, who administers the program, said that the association received 522 requests from 164 members during the final quarter of 2010.

“Without doubt, data for the Camaro, the Corvette and the Mustang were the most requested,” Muñoz said. “New engines are very popular, and the data being requested included cylinder blocks, the intake tract from the air intake to the cylinder heads, internal parts and engine accessory drives. We’ve seen requests from all of the supercharger companies for the engines and surrounding body panels in those three cars. At the moment, I would gauge musclecars and trucks—both light-duty and heavy-duty—among the vehicles of greatest interest to SEMA members.”

Muñoz said that there have also been a number of truly unique requests that may be indicative of vehicle trends. For instance, several producers of electric and hybrid vehicles have asked for files on complete frame and suspension assemblies as well as drivetrain parts for the ’10 Camaro, ’10 Corvette, ’10 Mustang, ’06 E-250, ’08 Focus and ’08 F-150.

     
    Ford’s F-Series pickups were the best-selling vehicles in America for 24 consecutive years and the best-selling trucks for more than three decades.
The winner and still champion, Ford’s F-Series pickups were the best-selling vehicles in America for 24 consecutive years and the best-selling trucks for more than three decades. The perennial all-star not only ranked high in downloads from the SEMA Tech Transfer program and was the subject of the best-attended SEMA Measuring Session last year, but it also won the 2010 SEMA Award in the truck division. With so many units out there and so many variations on how a pickup can be customized, it’s a good bet that the F-Series will stay hot among manufacturers in 2WD, 4x4 and heavy-duty work-truck categories.
     
    The Jeep Wrangler is another perpetual favorite among enthusiasts as well as the general public, and it took the 2010 SEMA Award for being the most ubiquitous 4x4-SUV at the SEMA Show
The Jeep Wrangler is another perpetual favorite among enthusiasts as well as the general public, and it took the 2010 SEMA Award for being the most ubiquitous 4x4-SUV at the SEMA Show. The Wrangler can be ordered with either of two 4WD systems and heavy-duty axles. The 3.8L V6 may be mated to a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The Wrangler caters to enthusiasts who require off-road equipment, not to mention drivetrain upgrades, so it has been a strong source of parts sales in spite of dips in the economy.
     
    The Chevrolet Corvette—America’s Sports Car—has been an enthusiast favorite since the first one rolled off the assembly line in 1953.
The Chevrolet Corvette—America’s Sports Car—has been an enthusiast favorite since the first one rolled off the assembly line in 1953. The latest version has been the subject of numerous inquiries to SEMA’s Technology Transfer program. This factory hot rod has turned 190 mph on the track. It’s fitted standard with a 6.2L LS3 aluminum-block V8 and is a slick beast, with a drag coefficient of only .286. Corvette owners, while smaller in number than some cars, are typically enthusiastic about performance upgrades.
     
     
Another SEMA Indicator comes from a program that is a companion piece to Tech Transfer. SEMA Measuring Sessions allow member companies to gain hands-on access to near-production prototype vehicles directly from participating automakers in order to collect surface data. These sessions are generally held at the automaker’s facilities and provide attendees with the opportunity to talk directly with original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) engineers.

SEMA holds about 20 Measuring Sessions each year. By looking at how many manufacturers send measuring teams, we get a sense of where industry interest is focused. According to Bill Wolf, SEMA’s senior director of OEM relations, the companies that attend Measuring Sessions tend to be manufacturers of wheels, suspensions, interior and body accessories, mobile electronics and performance powertrain parts.

“These companies are interested in time savings and engineering and design cost savings,” Wolf said. “They can spend more time with a vehicle at a Measuring Session than if they were to borrow it from a dealer. The sessions that were the most well attended were those for vehicles such as the Camaro, Mustang, Scion tC and Mazda2, along with Ford, Ram, Chevy/GMC trucks.”

The best attended of the most recent sessions were those for the ’10 Camaro in the musclecar category, ’11 Ford F-Series in the truck field, ’12 Ford Explorer in the SUV group, Honda CR-Z in the sporty-car class, and Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan. The best-attended gathering of all is no surprise—it was a two-day session in Dearborn, Michigan, that featured the new Ford F-Series.

The New Product Launch Data and Buyer Interest

Another relevant statistic comes from the SEMA Show New Products Showcase, where manufacturers highlight their newest products. By counting the relative frequency of brand-specific product launches, and looking at which categories were most clicked on, we can get a picture of R&D investments made in 2010, and what retailers will be selling in 2011 and beyond. It’s an inexact measurement because so many products are offered without mentioning any specific application, and it ignores entire categories such as street rods and restoration parts. Still, the results confirm the other indicators.

For example, there were at least 83 Ford Mustang-specific product offerings, and 76 product descriptions that mentioned the word “Camaro.” Jeep Wrangler was third with 31 applications. The fullsize pickups were all about the same in terms of new applications: the F-Series had 15 new products; Ram had 14; and a search for Chevy Silverado turned up 14 new products. The somewhat lower numbers for the pickups suggests there are many products that are generic, such as bed boxes, lights or winches. Other models that turned up frequently in product descriptions were Toyota FJ Cruiser, Nissan 370Z, BMW, Range Rover, Corvette, Subaru WRX and Honda Civic.

Another more exact insight comes from buyer card-swipe data, indicating which categories were of greatest interest to buyers at the Show. Among registered buyers at the 2010 Show, the top 10 hot categories were, in order: wheels; exterior accessories; suspension and steering; waxes and polish; engines and engine parts; brake systems; tires and tire accessories; exhaust systems; interior accessories; and lubricants. This represents a bit of a shift from 2009, when engines and engine parts were the number one category among buyers.

By combining the two observations, it seems clear that wheels, suspension components and engine parts for musclecars, Jeeps and pickups will be fertile ground for manufacturers and retailers in 2011.

Spy Shot Clicks

New vehicles that are near release or are on the horizon also pique interest as SEMA Indicators. A feature called “Spy Photos” in the association’s SEMA eNews weekly electronic newsletter has developed a devoted following. Each week, Brenda Priddy and her band of surreptitious shooters capture a few unauthorized frames of test vehicles that the automakers have out on the roads but aren’t quick ready for the general public to see. Jason Catullo, the newsletter’s associate editor, said that five such shots created considerable spikes in viewership in the last year. Logically, these are the vehicles that specialty manufacturers find most interesting.

The Ford Taurus SHO tallied top interest, followed by the announcement that the Chevy Malibu would be receiving a turbocharger, an Australian version of the Ford Falcon, the Chevrolet Volt and the Acura TL.

“On a general note, our readers are most interested in domestic models,” Catullo said. “Ten domestic models that scored higher than average in the last year included the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, an SRT8 development vehicle, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Cadillac CTS Wagon, the Ford F-150 Raptor, the Volt, the Australian Ford, the Malibu with Turbo and the Taurus SHO. Even though only four truck or SUV photos ran during the entire year, they all scored higher than average and were all domestic.”

     
    The Cruze is touted by Chevrolet as having the “spaciousness and amenities of a midsize car with the fuel economy of a compact
The Chevrolet Cruze led in Measuring Session attendance for its compact sedan class. The Cruze is touted by Chevrolet as having the “spaciousness and amenities of a midsize car with the fuel economy of a compact.” It’s powered by either a 1.4L Ecotec turbocharged engine or the standard 1.8L Ecotec and includes electronic stability control with rollover sensing and traction control.
     
    The Mustang GT is equipped with a 412hp 5.0L V8 engine and a six-speed manual transmission, while the base V6 delivers 305 hp and 31 mpg.
Tech Transfer data on the Mustang was also among the most requested, and the GT500 version ranked very high in auction searches on eBay. The Mustang GT is equipped with a 412hp 5.0L V8 engine and a six-speed manual transmission, while the base V6 delivers 305 hp and 31 mpg. There was a large number of customized Mustangs at the SEMA Show in 2010, and a significant factor in parts launches as seen in the New Products Showcase.
     
     
Our final specific-vehicle indicator comes from eBay. We asked the highly trafficked auction site to let us in on the top makes and models viewed in the past six months, and this time, the results were surprising. The top search topic was the high-zoot Maybach, with replicas and kits based on Porsches and Corvettes in second place. When we asked about views for domestic vehicles, eBay’s experts told us that the top five most-viewed vehicles were the Tesla Roadster, Shelby GT 500, Galatea kit car, Hummer line and various Cadillac models.

In a more general sense on the international front, Reuters reported in February that the global auto market was on an upswing. Of course, that was prior to the latest unrest in the Middle East and the resulting uncertainty in fuel prices, but it’s worth noting that the emerging markets were looking more positive and U.S. sales were stronger, both of which affect total global sales. Toyota, the world’s number-one auto manufacturer, raised its expectations based on stronger projections and cost-cutting measures, and Reuters said that Toyota was forecasting better-than-expected sales in Asia, Japan and Russia.

Reuters also reported that BMW unit sales rose 28% in January and expected to reach its target of selling more than 1.5 million units in 2011. Daimler, meanwhile, was aiming to sell the highest number of cars in the company’s history, with Mercedes-Benz sales rising 23.1% in January. And Audi posted a global sales increase of 22.6%, continuing to grow in both China and the United States. That tells us that the luxury side of the market is coming back, after a long dormant period.

Fuel Prices: The Wild Card

Another indicator that may trump the rest is the price of fuel. We’ve been seeing a steady climb over the past few months, and there is nothing in the near future that portends a shift back southward. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA; U.S. Department of Energy) said in February—even before the revolutionary goings-on in the Middle East—that the average price of a barrel of crude oil would rise from about $93 in 2011 ($14 higher than the average in 2010) to $99 in the fourth quarter of 2012. That translates to $3.17 per gallon for regular-grade gas this year ($.39 higher than last year) and $3.29 per gallon in 2011 but about $.05 higher in the peak driving season of April through September. Things are so uncertain, however, that the EIA is hedging its bets with a further 25% probability prediction that prices could exceed $3.50 per gallon in the 2011 peak period and an 8%–10% probability that they could exceed $4 per gallon during the peak, with diesel prices rising even higher in each forecast.

If you believe fuel prices are going up, you might expect the sales of fullsize SUVs and pickups to go down. According to a National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) used-car guide industry update in January, if fuel prices continue to increase, consumer demand may again shift toward smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, which could lead to a softening of prices for larger, more fuel-inefficient ones. “While it doesn’t appear that we’ll experience significant fuel-related shocks over the course of the next 12 months,” the NADA guide said, “the anticipated increases in the cost of fuel will most likely be enough to stifle the two-year explosion in prices enjoyed by certain truck segments.”

         

The Explorer comes with the very popular MyFord Touch driver-connect technology and SYNC integrated communications and entertainment system

The best-attended SEMA Measuring Session for an SUV in 2010 was the one held for the Ford Explorer. The Explorer comes with the very popular MyFord Touch driver-connect technology and SYNC integrated communications and entertainment system as well as stability and curve control technology, and it lays claim to best-in-class fuel economy, which could be an increasingly bigger deal as oil prices continue to escalate. The Explorer is likely to become a high-volume SUV, which could lead to significant demand for upgrades in 2012 and beyond.

 

The CR-Z two-passenger coupe is a gasoline-electric hybrid that pairs a 1.5L i-VTEC four-cylinder engine and a compact and lightweight Integrated Motor Assist system

The Honda CR-Z made our list of hottest vehicles for 2011 by virtue of leading the Measuring Session attendance in the sporty-car class. The CR-Z two-passenger coupe is a gasoline-electric hybrid that pairs a 1.5L i-VTEC four-cylinder engine and a compact and lightweight Integrated Motor Assist system. It’s available with a six-speed manual transmission or an automatic continuously variable automatic.

 

Super High Output (SHO) vehicle, which is powered by an EcoBoost twin-turbocharged engine that generates an estimated 365 hp at 5,500 rpm and 350 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm

The Ford Taurus SHO tallied the greatest number of clicks in the popular “Spy Photos” SEMA eNews feature. The weekly electronic newsletter’s subscribers were obviously interested in the renewal of the Super High Output (SHO) vehicle, which is powered by an EcoBoost twin-turbocharged engine that generates an estimated 365 hp at 5,500 rpm and 350 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm. Though it’s early in the year, the Taurus SHO has already won several awards, and as a high-performance car, it’s logical to predict popularity among enthusiasts who will customize.

         

The Tesla Roadster electric supercar was the most-viewed domestically produced vehicle on the eBay online auction site over a six-month period

The Tesla Roadster electric supercar was the most-viewed domestically produced vehicle on the eBay online auction site over a six-month period from September 2010 to February 2011. The Roadster is hand built and skinned in carbon fiber. Its electric powertrain, which produces zero emissions, propels the car to a top speed of 125 mph and accelerates to 60 mph from a standing start in 3.7 seconds. Its onboard charger can be plugged in to any 110- or 220-volt electrical outlet. Given time, it could be a player in the “driving green” segment of the aftermarket.

 

The Toyota Corolla/Matrix was the top-selling car in the United States during January 2011

Sheer popularity: The Toyota Corolla/Matrix was the top-selling car in the United States during January 2011, according to Automotive News. All models are equipped with the 1.8L DOHC four-cylinder engine, which can be ordered with a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. Corollas are also equipped with an electronic stability control system and traction control. The Corolla shares platform components with the more enthusiast-oriented Matrix; between the two, specialty parts manufacturers can expect a high-volume market.

 

Although the ’10 F-Series pickups seemed to generate the most interest, Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra and Ram pickups are high-volume opportunities with higher-than-average rates of adaptation using specialty equipment

Pickups, perhaps the ultimate generic automotive commodity, will continue to be ripe for lowering, lifting and outfitting for towing. Although the ’10 F-Series pickups seemed to generate the most interest, Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra and Ram pickups are high-volume opportunities with higher-than-average rates of adaptation using specialty equipment. Approximately equal numbers of new products were launched in 2010 for each of the three models.

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