SEMA News - July 2010

New Car-Care Techniques and Technologies Promote the Rise of Shine

  SEMA News-July 2010-Business 

In addition to clay for removing contaminants, waterless car washes and microfiber for cleaning and polishing, advanced chemistry has led to innovations in protectants. Meguiar’s, for instance, has created a chemical “hydrophobic” action that literally pushes water off the surface of the car. Courtesy of Meguiar’s  

Barry Meguiar’s family has been in the car-care business for 109 years, and he’s personally headed up the company that carries the family name for more than four decades. As the president of Meguiar’s Inc., he’s seen the economic roller coaster trundle up and down many times before, but he’s never seen anything like the last couple of years. Despite the fact that his company not only weathered the storm but actually prospered, posting a double-digit gain in 2009 alone, he said that this recession battered the car-care industry like none other in his lifetime.

“In every other case when we’ve had a downturn, our category—appearance car care chemicals—has had amazing growth,” he said. “People felt that they had to take care of the car they owned because they couldn’t afford a new one. A lot of new customers came into the category, and the market grew. That didn’t happen this time. It was clearly a deeper recession than we’d seen before. It hit people harder and scared them to death. They were wondering if they could even keep their cars and their homes.”

Indeed, the downturn created a shakeout in the category itself, both through consolidation and from the demise of some of the smaller “boutique” and private-label companies in the car-care market. Those who remain have also seen changes. Adam Bateman, marketing manager for Wizards Products, said that the economy altered people’s priorities. They became more conscious of value and more discriminating about not only stretching their dollars, but also about how products performed, he said. They started reading product labels, looking for good product descriptions and directions about how to properly use car-care products.

Craig Burnett, lead chemist for Mothers Polishes-Waxes-Cleaners, said that enthusiasts as well as general consumers are demanding higher-quality products that are easy to use and provide excellent appearance and durability results. A broader range of products and techniques are often needed to care for the new finishes and materials that the automakers have developed.

  SEMA News-July 2010-Business 

Consumers are looking for easy-to-use, quality products to maintain vehicles that they are keeping longer than originally intended. Courtesy of Mothers Polishes-Waxes-Cleaners  

Jason Linkswiler, global business manager for the car-care group at 3M, pointed out that some consumers have become more hands-on with their vehicles. “With the recession, folks are trying to do some of their minor repair and care projects themselves rather than taking their cars to a shop,” he said. “They’re looking to do that at home for a lower cost but still get high-quality results. If you’ve been to an auto retailer lately, you may have noticed an expansion in the number of do-it-yourself kits. We’re designing and launching kits around headlight restoration, scratch removal and other areas. All are under the theme of helping customers do the projects themselves using simple tools and processes.”

In some cases, the stagnation in new-vehicle sales has actually helped the car-care category, said Randall Wemmer, president and CEO of Hi-Lustre Products Inc. Wemmer believes that the increase in basic and preventive maintenance his company has seen has resulted from people holding on to their cars longer.

“People are investing more time and money to maintain the car’s appearance,” he said. “Regular washing and detailing has become a standard. It’s simple: If you take care of your car, its value and longevity will be increased.”

Meguiar said that his own company’s extraordinary growth is the result of its marketing emphasis on “car guys”—a term he uses to encompass both male and female automotive enthusiasts.

“They’re passionate about cars,” he said, “and they use the car hobby as a respite from what’s going on in the rest of the world. The car hobby and car events are a bit of an oasis. There’s a lot of bad news out there, but not at a car show. It’s just smiling faces and people sharing their passion.”

New technologies will also spur car-care rejuvenation, the experts said. Both Wemmer and Meguiar cited changes in the paints used on new vehicles in the 21st century as catalysts for changes in car-care products. Wemmer also cited clay for removing contamination, waterless car washes and microfiber for cleaning and polishing as significant new-product developments.

  SEMA News-July 2010-Business

The industry must continually provide products that consumers can trust, that really work and that are backed with a wealth of information, said industry veteran Barry Meguiar. Courtesy of Meguiar’s  

“Modern paints are very hard,” Wemmer said, “so using a diminishing abrasive that puts its own deep scratch into the surface before it breaks down can create real problems. Hi-Lustre’s polishing compounds use finer abrasives and can cut just as fast as harsher abrasives but are more controllable. This makes using a rotary polisher, especially when combined with foam and softer wool pads, much safer and easier and puts the advantage of the rotary’s speed in range of any technician willing to learn proper technique.”

Bateman said that waterborne paint use has become more mainstream and is even mandated in some states, so manufacturers have had to adapt their existing product lines or create entirely new lines to be compatible with waterborne finishes. Meguiar said that laws regulating volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carcinogens have changed the make-up of the products that can be used to care for paint finishes.

“There has been regulatory pressure not just on those of us who supply packaged goods, but also those who supply the ingredients, raw materials and chemicals to us,” Meguiar said. “We’ve gone way beyond regulations in decreasing VOCs. In fact, we have developed products that are VOC-free.”

Burnett said that hard chrome plating has also diminished considerably in the past few years. Most “chrome” now is a lightweight plastic with a chrome-like finish or a plastic chrome-look cladding.

“Chrome plating is less prevalent due to environmental pressures as well as weight-reduction measures, since chrome is traditionally done on heavy steel components such as bumpers,” Burnett said. “Consumers shouldn’t use aggressive polishes and cleaners on these finishes, and it’s important that they are identified as chromed plastic and are treated as such.”

That type of education can help revive the car-care category, said Jill Subera, a marketing analyst for 3M. “Making sure that consumers understand what they’re purchasing and educating them about new projects they can try is essential,” she said. “Retailers should be extending and expanding the do-it-yourself market. As consumers remain price-conscious, they’ll continue to walk into those retailers but not know what to purchase or how to do something.”

Linkswiler and Burnett said that drill-powered polishing and restoration systems offer one such do-it-yourself innovation. “3M has created a whole new category centered around a phased process that uses a household drill to bring the user’s headlights back to new condition,” Linkswiler said, and Burnett noted that the Mothers PowerBall line can help do-it-yourselfers polish everything from oxidized plastic headlights to billet wheels or a custom paint job.

  SEMA News-July 2010-Business 

Education is a key element in stimulating growth in the car-care category, such as offering tips and giving confidence to do-it-yourselfers who are hesitant about taking a drill-powered buffer to their headlights or their clear coat. Courtesy of 3M  

The Internet plays a key role in disseminating information about those new systems. Subera pointed out that one of the top 10 automotive searches on is a tutorial on removing scratches from automotive finishes. “If you do web searches on sites such as, you’ll see that people are searching for ‘how-to’ information,” she said. “Video content has become very important, offering tips to do-it-yourselfers and giving confidence to people who are hesitant about taking a drill-powered buffer to their headlights or their clear coat.”

Wemmer also pointed to the Internet as a marketing tool, making it easier to sell products. “The Internet is a global store, open 24/7, growing by leaps and bounds every day,” he said. “And because of Internet forums, people from all over the world can share information about products and techniques. This has resulted in a more educated group of technicians and customers.”

That type of marketing opportunity, which spans cultural and socioeconomic boundaries as well as international borders, has led Meguiar’s, 3M and other major players in the car-care arena to extend their reach to Europe, Asia and the rest of
the world. 

“It’s no longer just focused on the United States,” Linkswiler said. “People from all over the world are participating in car-care Internet forums, and we see significant global interest to distribute and sell 3M car care products. Because of our global infrastructure, we can react quickly to meet and support such demands with our local teams. We are observing an influx of product innovation from other parts of the world that will be entering the United States in the next few years. With globalization, there will be tremendous opportunities to develop new car-care products and services for our global partners.”

The challenge for the industry is to keep up with those developments, said Meguiar. “The industry and its retailers need to look at not just what will boost sales right now but what will help in the long term,” he counseled. “That means products you can trust, that really work and that are backed with a wealth of information. The global growth of the car hobby is the most exciting news that I know of. Supporting car guys around the world should be one of our highest priorities.”  

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