Data from SEMA’s Automotive Lifestyles survey continues to show that even if gas prices surpass the $4 mark, hard-core automotive enthusiasts—the driving force of our industry—still plan to spend money on their vehicles. A survey of automotive magazine subscribers and website visitors during the first week of March (when the national average for a regular gallon jumped to $3.16) showed that nearly one in four would wait until prices rose $1 before spending less on specialty equipment.

Fifteen percent of the enthusiasts surveyed would wait until an additional $2 were tacked on to the current price, while an astounding 9% said that prices would have to surpass $4 more per gallon before cutting their specialty-equipment spending. Although gas prices have been increasing, enthusiasts say that the average price of gas across the nation would have to rise to $4.63 for them to curb their specialty-equipment spending.

Despite the current spike in prices eroding the disposable income earned by automotive enthusiasts, they seem loyal to their passion for personalizing their vehicles. To test this, these consumers were asked to rate how they would allocate their extra spending cash as gas prices increase.

According to the September-November Automotive Lifestyles survey, other non-necessity “luxury” items tend to compete with automotive specialty equipment. A little more than one in three of survey respondents, however, said that they'd first spend their money on custom automotive parts and accessories before going on vacations or buying music and portable electronics. Consumers will cut spending on other non-essential items, such as music and video games, before spending less on their rides.

Reports of consumers changing their driving habits and spending less due to rising gas prices have been circulating for some time now. Consumers may alter their driving habits during days of high gas prices, but it seems that once consumers become automotive enthusiasts, their desire to customize their cars or trucks takes precedence over other spending. The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) recently reported that 91% of consumers they surveyed said they are driving less.

Meanwhile, a "Kelley Blue Book" study reported that 50% of consumers reported less shopping of non-essential retail items compared to 44% who claim they will eat out less often, 40% who plan to purchase fewer media entertainment items, and 9% of new-car shoppers who intend to delay the purchase of a new home due to the rise in gas prices.

Automotive enthusiasts that make vehicle personalization part of their lifestyle, however, are less sensitive to gas price hikes. So far, they seem ready to continue fueling their need to customize.

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Source: SEMA Research & Information Center