Market Snapshot

Surge in Used Car Sales Spells Opportunity for Specialty-Equipment Industry

Used Car Lot
An increase in used-car sales is also causing an uptick in wheels, tires and navigation systems as buyers seek new-car features for their pre-owned purchases.

The automotive industry landscape is very rocky right now. A rapid sales rebound is not on the horizon, and many companies are going through radical restructuring. But a research report commissioned by SEMA and conducted by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) sees opportunity for SEMA members in this environment.

"I'm confident there will be many new opportunities for SEMA members to make cars go faster and farther as the auto industry restructures," says John Waraniak, SEMA vice president of vehicle technology.

The report, "The Major Determinants of U.S. Automotive Demand: Factors Driving the U.S. Automotive Market and Their Implications for Specialty Equipment and Performance Aftermarket Suppliers," lays out long-term trends in the light vehicle market and their significance to SEMA members.

According to the report, new vehicle sales in the U.S. should hit bottom at 10–11 million units this year. The market will add only 2 million units of additional sales a year for the next two years. By 2014, sales will peak at 16.8 million units.

"There is no more normal as the industry restructures and transforms,” Waraniak adds. “It will be a new day and a new game with new rules.”

This year, global auto production will fall 25% to 52 million units, he says.

One thing that won't slow down, however, is the change in technology. SEMA members, Waraniak notes, are usually first to market with products that use new technology.

"Innovation does not come from the discovery of technology, but from being the first to use that technology to meet customer needs," he says.

SEMA members must be open to more collaboration, which will be required in the customization and aftermarket performance world of the future, Waraniak says.

"You wouldn't think of competing with a 25-year-old vehicle or process,” he explains. “Why would you continue living in a world that existed 25 years ago?”

An Aging Fleet and Used Car Sales
With weak new-cars sales, the median age of vehicles on the road in the United States will continue to rise over the next five years, says the report. That benefits SEMA members.

"The vehicle owner expects their car to last a few more years," says Yen Chen, a project manager in the Center for Automotive Research's labor and industry group. "If they aren't willing to buy a new vehicle, they can invest in their existing vehicle."

The Cash for Clunkers program will have a short-term impact on the age of the fleet and won't have a huge impact on SEMA members, Chen says. He points out that the number of cars bought under the program represented only one-tenth of the total volume.

"In my point of view, those people who turned in their vehicles aren't SEMA customers anyway," Chen says.

Meanwhile, the traditional factors that prompt vehicle sales will remain: The population will continue to rise, as will the number of households.

When consumers do buy another vehicle, however, they will be more likely than in the past to buy a used vehicle, the report says. That also benefits SEMA members.

Group 1 Automotive, the fourth-largest dealership group in the United States, is seeing strong used-vehicle sales. That should continue, says Geoff Bedine, director of used vehicle operations at Group 1.

"People are being smarter about their money,” he says. “The used-car market will be pretty stable over time.”

Many used vehicle buyers will be purchasing a used car for the first time, says the SEMA/CAR report. They will be accustomed to new-car features. "They present a great opportunity for the specialty-equipment supplier," says the report.

Indeed, Group 1 is selling more wheels, tires and navigation systems to used vehicle buyers, says Bedine. And it is seeing a new group of used-vehicle buyers.

"We have people buying their first used vehicle and downsizing," he says. Additionally, "new luxury customers are buying used because the leasing deals aren't as good."

SEMA members who are aware of the changing industry and can flexibly adapt to the changes, be they new powertrain technology, increased used car sales or an aging fleet, are more likely to survive, says Waraniak.

For more information about the SEMA-CAR reports, or to order a copy (free to SEMA members; $99 each, non-members), visit —Alysha Webb