Market Snapshot


We saw it a few years ago: young car buyers were accessorizing their rides primarily with "dress-up" parts, such as big wings, race-inspired body kits and a host of dress-up modifications. This may sound like the sport-compact market of yesterday, but that market as we know it today has shifted more toward performance, with appearance almost becoming secondary. So what has happened to that consumer who wants his or her car to look cool and is less concerned with performance? The answer may lie in what is known as the urban-lifestyle market. Much like the divergence of the street rods and lowriders decades ago, enthusiasts are divided among those who build their vehicles for performance and those who are more concerned with style. These consumers modify the cars and trucks they buy to reflect their own unique personalities and spend a lot of money making their rides look different from others on the road. 

The defining characteristic of this market revolves around one central concept: the bigger the wheels, the better. Loud audio systems bumping hip-hop music, aggressive body kits, custom paint jobs and even some performance products make their way into these custom creations that embody the urban-lifestyle market. And the vehicles involved in this segment are as diverse as the many ways to customize them—from Cadillac Escalades riding on 24-inch wheels to Honda Accords fitted with upswing doors.

The cars and trucks urban-lifestyle enthusiasts drive vary quite a bit. The popular DUB car shows that tour the United States provide a glimpse of what the urban-lifestyle market is all about and which vehicles are popular. However, even events such as NOPI and Hot Import Nights, which were traditionally sport compact-themed, now display numerous urban-styled vehicles, such as the popular Chrysler 300s and Cadillac Escalades. Urban-styled Chrysler 300s were just some of the many urban vehicles shown off at the 2006 SEMA Show, illustrating the latest products and modification trends from specialty-equipment companies. In fact, there were 18 highly customized 300s scattered throughout the Show, making it among the top 10 cars displayed. In addition, there were 15 modified Cadillac Escalades shown, making it one of the most popular SUVs at the 2006 SEMA Show.

Taking a look at the numerous types of vehicles owned by urban-lifestyle enthusiasts reveals that pinpointing an exact type of vehicle representative of this market is nearly impossible. Both the Cadillac Escalade and the Ford Mustang—two very different types of vehicles—show up in the top five vehicles owned by urban-lifestyle enthusiasts, according to data gathered from SEMA's survey. The Chevrolet Impala was the third most frequently owned vehicle, and many of the enthusiasts indicated that these rides were modified into what is known as a "hi-riser." Hi-Risers—also known as a either a donk, box, or bubble—represent an extreme example of how urban lifestyles enthusiast are modifying the cars they drive. Industry experts generally agree that hi-risers are defined as the following: Donks—'71-'76 Chevrolet Caprice or Impala; Box Chevy—'77-'92 Chevrolet Caprice; and Bubble Chevy—'96 Chevrolet Impala.

The basic premise behind the hi-riser trend involves the purchase of one of these low-priced used cars and putting an average of $3,000–$10,000 worth of upgrades into them. Disproportionately large wheels are the most distinguishing characteristic of hi-riser, and the wheels usually range from around 26–30 inches in diameter! Lift kits and custom fabrication come into play when wheel sizes reach beyond 26 inches.

RIDES magazine's Brian Scotto says that hi-risers showcased in his magazine usually have $15,000–$40,000 worth of modifications, while those showcased on the magazine cover can have custom work worth over six figures! Nevertheless, Scotto says that he commonly sees young guys purchasing these older Impalas and Caprices, save up for or even rent big wheels, and slowly modify their rides into the hi-riser of their dreams. "The hi-riser trend is so popular because it is cheap to get involved—it allows for a young 17 year-old kid to buy a $600 car and save up for big wheels and accessories," comments Scotto.  Bottom line: urban lifestyle enthusiasts will drive whatever they can get their hands on and customize them to their own personal needs and desires.

Source: SEMA Research & Information Center