SEMA News - May 2010

More Than 500 Enthusiasts Spread Top Trends From 2009 SEMA Show

By Dan Frio

In an effort to better analyze the tastes and preferences of today’s auto enthusiasts, SEMA, in coordination with Ford, launched the Enthusiast Opinion Leader Research Program at the 2009 SEMA Show.

The program invited 527 enthusiasts, selected through a rigorous application process, to the second day of the Show and tasked them with using social media, including Twitter and Facebook, to broadcast their personal product and trend highlights of the Show.

Beginning at the New Products Showcase, these opinion leaders were asked to post 10 product highlights to personal Twitter accounts. Their activity actually led to the SEMA Show entering Twitter’s top 10 global trends for that day (November 4, 2009).

Nearly half of the enthusiasts selected (49%) were between the ages of 25 and 44 and were active users of social media; 44% said that they updated their personal sites daily. Not only were they hands-on with their computers and smartphones, but they also turned wrenches; 42% said that they worked on their cars and trucks themselves, and 55% did their own work but also used professional installation services.

Nearly nine in 10 (89%) had done performance upgrades to their vehicle, 86% had added wheels and/or tires and 81% had done an engine swap or upgrade. Truck/SUV modifiers (62%) slightly outweighed street-performance/musclecar modifiers (57%). Almost half of the enthusiasts owned a GM vehicle (48%), edging out Ford owners (36%).

Three in Four Enthusiasts Primarily Use Internet for Buying Decisions

If you needed further motivation to revamp, enhance or (deep breath) finally develop your business’ website, consider this data gathered from car and truck enthusiasts at the 2009 SEMA Show: An average of 75% of enthusiasts in eight different categories use the Internet to research and inform their parts and accessories purchases. That number jumps to 80% when social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are factored in.

Fellow enthusiast sites are the most popular venues for gathering information, followed by queries made through traditional search engines, such as Google and Yahoo. Magazines, catalogs, car shows and manufacturer websites also still contribute to enthusiast research. Depending on market segment, between 52% and 78% of enthusiasts still rely on magazines, for example, to inform their buying decisions. Street-rod enthusiasts in particular prefer ink and paper (78%) almost as much as they do enthusiast website research (80%). Compact-performance fans are the most receptive to doing their homework on the Internet, with 85% saying that they turn to enthusiast sites for answers. Off-roaders and street-performance enthusiasts (81%) follow closely behind.

Does all of that time in front of the screen convert to action? Absolutely. An average of 72% of parts hunters in all eight categories said that they’d purchased from Internet retailers. Not surprisingly, compact-performance enthusiasts were most likely to buy from an Internet retailer, while those in the restoration scene—just 66%—were among the least likely.

Where does that leave the independent retailer? Generally, about 54% of enthusiasts in all segments—compact performance, off-road, passenger car, racing, restoration, street performance, street rod/custom and truck/SUV—said that they’d purchased from an independent retailer.  Street-performance fans are most likely to buy from an independent (55%), while truck and SUV owners are the least loyal at just 46%.

Participants in the Enthusiast Opinion Leader Research Program at the 2009 SEMA Show were mostly male (96%), with 52% between 25 and 44 years old. Most were married (96%), with 67% having household incomes between $50,000 to in excess of $75,000.

Pain at the Pump Won’t Deter Truck and SUV Enthusiasts


The Enthusiast Opinion Leader Research Program offered 527 auto enthusiasts admission to the 2009 SEMA Show in exchange for their reportage on top products and trends to social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Truck and SUV enthusiasts remain unfazed by gas prices, according to a survey of truck, off-road and SUV enthusiasts at the 2009 SEMA Show. Most surveyed said that they were “not at all likely” to get rid of their big vehicle even if gas prices rise. In nearly all cases, the members of this passionate audience said that they would (if they hadn’t already) buy a fuel-efficient car for daily driving and commuting, but the truck would stay. For many, trucks and SUVs are a necessity either for business or recreation. “I have to have a truck, so gas prices don’t matter,” one participant explained. Another summed up with equal brevity: “I’ll never give up my truck. I’ll give up other things, but not my truck.”

But even if truck enthusiasts sound cavalier about gas prices, they are anything but in their research and purchasing patterns. This astute audience buys based on personal style, function and utility, and availability. They’re also sensitive to private-labeling practices and shoddy customer service.

“Individuality” was the top reason participants gave when asked why they customize. A need to “put your own brand on it” and “make it your own so it doesn’t look like all the others on the road” were two common themes among respondents.

Replacing worn stock parts with specialty equipment prompted many purchasing decisions, with truck/SUV owners perceiving that aftermarket products offer better performance, function and safety. Enthusiasts also noted that factory replacement parts are often more expensive than aftermarket.

Off-roaders were most adamant about the benefits of specialty products. “Stock gets stuck” was one notable response. Utility and function hold high value for this group, and they’re generally not impressed with cosmetic accessories (although, one enthusiast noted that his taillights looked good and merited the cost even though they didn’t improve his truck’s performance).

These enthusiasts are also keen on part quality. Several enthusiasts noted that cutting corners and buying inferior parts usually costs more in the end. Brand name alone is not enough to get the sale, however. More were aware of private-labeling practices in the industry and had strong objections to paying more for a legacy brand if they knew the manufacturer was also building for others. “I’m not spending twice the money for something that’s going to wear out the same,” said one participant.

Retailers and manufacturers take note: If you want this group’s business, make sure you have the parts. Many said that they would first try to buy from a local brick-and-mortar store but often couldn’t find the parts in their area. Not surprisingly, most turned to the Internet. Those surveyed said that they bought an average of 75% of their parts online.

Reduced or free shipping caught most enthusiasts’ attention and often tipped he balance in favor of a particular retailer. But online buying isn’t without its frustrations, enthusiasts said. Several survey participants related stories of placing orders only to learn that the product was back-ordered or simply out of stock.

And, not surprising for an Internet-savvy audience, they do the bulk of their product research online, typically looking first to online forums to learn about the experiences of others with the same or similar products. Fellow-enthusiast endorsements and criticisms are valuable currency with those weighing a purchasing decision.

Many also check a manufacturer’s website for product information and often e-mail or call for details. How a manufacturer responds to these inquiries has a significant influence on the consumer’s decision. Failure to respond promptly or replies with short, uninformative answers typically lose the sale.

Enthusiasts perceive that the effort a manufacturer puts into both follow-ups and the product information on its website reflects its design, manufacturing and customer-service values. Buyers want detailed product specs, photos and application specifics.

“Companies are just not thorough in putting the information on their websites,” one respondent explained. “Many sites will just say one useless thing about the product.”  

For more information on the Enthusiast Opinion Leader Research Program, click here



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