By Mike Imlay
Americans (and indeed car buyers throughout the world) love pickup trucks. What’s more, they love accessorizing them—so much so that 49% of all late-model pickups are modified with specialty-equipment parts.
That’s just one of the key findings of the new “2022 SEMA Pickup Accessorization Report.” Compiled by SEMA Market Research, the report offers a comprehensive look at the evolving pickup landscape along with sales forecasts and other data relating to the parts that accessorizers buy and how they buy them. Packed with plenty of useful statistics and analysis, the 158-page report is available to download for free at www.sema.org/research.
The new “2022 SEMA Pickup Accessorization Report” provides a comprehensive review of the evolving pickup landscape and the key aftermarket business opportunities to be found in the segment.
“The pickup truck market is the largest segment of the specialty-automotive aftermarket and a key opportunity for businesses,” said SEMA Director of Market Research Gavin Knapp. “This report helps SEMA members understand where the opportunities are and how to best connect with pickup accessorizers.”
According to Knapp, the report focuses specifically on late-model and newer mid-size and fullsize pickups found on the road today. It takes a deep dive into the consumer market (as opposed to fleets) in which pickups are personally owned, but also frequently used for work purposes. Its key findings include the following interesting facts:
- Pickup owners spent $16 billion on specialty parts in 2021.
- There are more than 29 million late-model (’10 and newer) pickups on the road, and about half of them are modified.
- 62% of late-model pickup accessorizers buy off-road-focused parts for their trucks.
- 84% of late-model accessorizers plan to make additional modifications in the near future.
- 45% of specialty-equipment businesses view battery-electric pickups as an opportunity.
By far, pickups comprise the largest single specialty-equipment segment in terms of sales. Consumers spent $16 billion on aftermarket parts for pickups in 2021, representing 31% of the industry’s sales.
The Pickup Landscape
“There are more than 280 million passenger vehicles on U.S. roads today, and the majority of those are considered light trucks,” observed Knapp. “There’s often some confusion, though, because people use the terms ‘pickup’ and ‘truck’ interchangeably. Keep in mind that the light truck category includes pickups, sport utility vehicles [SUVs], crossover utility vehicles [CUVs] and vans. This report centers on pickups. While light trucks outsell cars three to one, pickups represent about every fifth vehicle on the road right now.”
Still, he noted, pickups have outperformed many other vehicle types in terms of new sales over the past several years, despite the recent economic hardships, chip shortages and supply-chain issues. “Pickup demand has remained strong, and they’re pretty high-value vehicles for OEMs, which makes them a potential priority in their production cases,” he said.
The majority of pickup owners use their trucks for daily tasks, short road trips, light utility and outdoor recreation. But because pickups fulfill a wide range of roles, they often require specialized accessories or modifications.
In fact, while OEMs are now shifting away from traditional passenger vehicles in favor of CUVs, the pickup category is remaining stable, and will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future.
“Traditionally, pickups have been a small, contained collection of models, allowing something like the Ford F-150 to become the top-selling vehicle in the United States. And if we think about the hottest pickups for our industry, the big, fullsize models are at the top, plus the Toyota Tacoma,” continued Knapp. “But one difference we are seeing now is a reemergence of some midsize and smaller pickup brands and models as people look for cheaper options and better gas mileage.”
Regardless of their size, accessorizing pickups of all types remains a lucrative area of opportunity for the aftermarket. According to SEMA Market Research, specialty equipment sales for passenger vehicles topped $50 billion last year, and the largest individual slice of those sales—$16 billion worth—were in the pickup category.
“Pickups really are a booming market for our industry,” said Knapp. “Looking at our manufacturers and retailers, many companies are selling into the pickup market and have been doing really well. They’ve continued to see increased sales largely over the last 12 months.”
Super-duty pickups are more likely to be modified for specialized purposes, but all makes and models receive a good share of aftermarket upgrades.
Profiling the Pickup Owner
Of course, to truly leverage this $16 billion market, industry businesses must understand pickups owners, how they use their trucks, and ultimately their motivations for vehicle modifications. In that regard, the report arms manufacturers and retailers alike with a wealth of data.
“Nearly all trucks are used as daily drivers, and most people consider their pickup a utility vehicle,” said Knapp. “But a large percentage also utilize their pickups for travel, which can mean pulling a trailer, adding a camper, or equipping it with gear to get off road. It’s when we get into some of those specifics that we really see the opportunities for our industry. If you look at the people who think of their truck as an outdoor recreation vehicle, as a work vehicle, or as an off-road vehicle, their specialized needs become the driving forces for all of their accessory and modification decisions.”
The report finds that more than 90% of late-model pickup owners use their vehicles for travel or road trips, whether they be to access recreation areas, multi-day drives into the wilderness for camping, an overland trip, or an off-roading excursion. In addition, a good portion of their trips include sleeping in the truck, a bed-mounted camper or a trailer towed behind. “For many, the pickup is like their home away from home, and modifications for pulling a trailer or hauling gear is one of their more common needs,” said Knapp.
Most commonly, owners modify their pickups for improved utility and looks, but performance enhancements also enter the mix. Modifications are typically made soon after vehicle purchase, although some owners continue modifying as long-term projects or as new needs arise.
But if anything defines a pickup, it’s versatility—for work as well as play. In fact, SEMA Market Research also finds that about 28% of pickup owners see their trucks as true work vehicles and modify them accordingly.
“There are so many general-utility uses that encompass the entire pickup market, and a lot of overlap between work around the house and work at a job site,” explained Knapp. “However, when it comes to a true work truck, there tends to be more interest in the comfort aspects of riding to and from a job, the ability to tow and haul work gear, and having the necessary storage for it. We see a lot of specialization, especially when it comes to things like a toolbox in the vehicle.”
Still, not every pickup owner feels compelled to modify a truck. The market is actually split between those who keep their trucks stock (51%) and those who accessorize (49%). Among those who do accessorize, the report finds that “non-enthusiast” consumers comprise 57% of the market. True “enthusiast” consumers—those primarily motivated by the enjoyment of working on a vehicle, maximizing performance and handling, or making their vehicle stand out—represent 43% of the marketplace.
Overall, pickup owners tend toward practical modifications for trailering and hauling (38%), easier entry and exit (27%), added storage (24%), or light off-road use (23%). In addition, owners of heavy-duty pickups are especially likely to enhance their vehicles for towing and hauling (47%). Meanwhile, a healthy percentage of pickup owners of all types opt to improve their vehicle’s appearance (35%).
Top specialty-equipment product categories for 2021 reflect all these goals. Popular purchases include off-road and oversize tires; suspension products; bedliners and accessories; transmission products; bed covers; fender, hood and body upgrades; brake products; trailer and towing products; and performance or special-purpose tires.
Off-Roading and Adventuring
Not surprisingly, equipping trucks for off-roading and overlanding pursuits continue to offer prime opportunities for the aftermarket as well. “More than half of people who own pickups—regardless of whether they lightly modify their vehicle or have a purpose-built off-road truck—get onto dirt roads or gravel paths a few times a year, if not on a regular basis,” said Knapp. “In terms of really hitting the trails, going mudding and dealing with steep inclines, we also see a good share of the overall pickup market doing those things as well as other hardcore activities like bouldering and rock crawling.”
Helping these owners achieve their goals (or simply look the part) will go a long way toward gaining loyal customers. This is an audience known for return business—the vast majority of pickup accessorizers who have already done work on their trucks say they plan to do more.
Also reflecting the diverse nature of the pickup lifestyle, aftermarket businesses will find many avenues for engaging truck owners. “It’s not just online, just on social media, or even just in-store,” said Knapp. “With pickup owners we see a lot of word of mouth, YouTube and social-media engagement. Instagram is important too, but you don’t want to neglect building up your own website and training your own staff. Especially with people seeking complicated modifications, if you can guide them through the process, you’ll see a lot of success.”
In short, pickup owners are willing to invest in quality parts that get the job done. As a whole, they’re also brand-loyal, with reliability being front of mind.
“They spend a good amount of money on their vehicles, upgrading and accessorizing them,” observed Knapp. “Trucks are supposed to be tough, and they’ll prioritize tough parts and accessories over the lowest price.”
Domestic fullsize units dominate the pickup landscape in terms of vehicle and aftermarket parts sales, and thus top the SEMA list of hot pickups for accessorization. Still, there are a range of platforms offering opportunities for the industry.
As for the foreseeable future, the pickup market offers a sense of continuity in a changing automotive landscape. The SEMA Market Research report sees growing opportunity in the midsize market, and although smaller pickups currently lag in accessorization, that’s likely due to their market absence of late. As consumers embrace the emerging “compact” models, modifications are bound to follow. Likewise the new rugged models like the Jeep Gladiator, which is also predicted to be a strong platform for the aftermarket.
“The great thing about the pickup market is there aren’t any of them that can’t be modified and accessorized,” Knapp reiterated. “Going forward, we also looked at the electric-vehicle [EV] market. It’s everywhere right now, and our expectation is we’ll see more and more EV pickups hitting the road, along with some increases in hybrid models. But gasoline power will remain the standard for quite some time.”
If anything, the new EV platforms are introducing novelty to the market—along with a new demographic of customers who would not normally consider themselves “truck people.”
“They are early adopter types,” explained Knapp. “But as time goes on and more EV pickups are sold and EVs become more mainstream, so will these consumers.”
Not surprisingly, while accessorizers buy parts for both simple and complex jobs through a variety of channels, particularly difficult or costly mods are more likely to be bought in-store.
After all, added Knapp, “It’s a truck. It’s got four wheels. It’s got suspension. It’s got exterior body panels. It’s got a truck bed. All of those things can be modified and accessorized in the same way that a traditional pickup can.”
In other words, the American love affair with pickups will remain undiminished for a long time to come. And that is bound to spark continued innovation and growth for the specialty-equipment industry too.
Get All the Details
To learn more about the pickup market, pickup owners and the parts they love and buy, download the “2022 SEMA Pickup Accessorization Report” today at www.sema.org/research.
The report is also the subject of a SEMA on-demand webinar video titled “Understanding the Pickup Accessorization Market,” which is now available through SEMA Education at https://learning.sema.org/on-demand-video.