The Compact Performance market seems to be evolving at breakneck speeds. We have cataloged its progression over the past few years, but wanted to take a slightly new approach to presenting information this time around. This report covers the standard breakdown of the segment but adds a supplemental introduction to a side of Japanese tuning most people have barely, if never, been exposed to. Some of these concepts may or may not materialize outside of Japan, but they have begun to surface in magazines, forums and at events with potential to influence the market. Since 1998 the Compact Performance market has continued to expand. In 2006, the niche reached $5.96 Billion at the retail level, increasing 18.18% over the previous year.
We saw it a few years ago. Young car buyers were accessorizing their rides primarily with “dress-up” parts such as big wings, race inspired body kits, and a host of dress-up modifications. This may sound like the sport compact market of yesterday, but that market as we know it today has shifted more toward performance with appearance almost becoming secondary. So what has happened to that consumer who wants his or her car to look “cool” and is less concerned with performance? The answer may lie in what is known as the urban-lifestyles market. Much like the divergence of the street rods and lowriders decades ago, enthusiasts are divided among those that build their vehicles for performance and those that personalize their rides with style in mind. These consumers modify the cars and trucks they buy to reflect their own unique personalities and spend a lot of money making their rides look different from others on the road. Why should SEMA members care about the urban-lifestyles market? The biggest reason: this market represents a new way for manufactures to market their products and, ultimately, make more money doing it.
Those who are not part of the industry would have trouble accepting that any industry could exhibit continued growth patterns as this industry does. Last year, 2001, the automotive specialty equipment industry continued its incredible growth pattern. With the exception of 1991, the industry has had at least 16 years of continual growth. The streak is probably longer, but industry wide records were not kept prior to 1985. In 2001, we saw an increase of approximately 4 percent. That may not seem like much, but reflect for a moment on everything that happened last year. A year in which the economy of the U.S. grew only 1.2 percent, but still a year that saw our industry increase more than three times that rate.
On an annual basis we continue to see the specialty automotive products industry growing. Since 1992, the industry has had an average annual growth of 8 percent. That's eight years of nice increases. How long can the industry keep up such a pace? There are many companies within the industry that are still reporting appreciable sales gains. Of course there is the other side of the coin and some companies are struggling, but as a whole the industry appears to be holding its own. One of the secrets to industry growth is niches. Since most of the companies involved with specialty automotive equipment are small, niche markets that are unprofitable for larger firms provide a good living with potential for growth. Combined with owners and operators who are enthusiasts at heart, niche markets provide an excellent spawning ground for innovative products.
The specialty automotive equipment industry has always been hard to quantify; not only is it fragmented, but depending on who you talk to, the market definition has any number of possibilities. The approach used here defines specialty automotive equipment as products and services used to improve or otherwise change production vehicles. For the consumers who purchase the industry's products, the real distinction is that performance parts and accessories make their vehicles more enjoyable. In 1998, manufacturer sales of specialty automotive products reached $7.47 billion at manufacturer level, and retail sales were $21.2 billion. That's an increase of 71.6 percent from 1990, when manufacturers' sales of specialty equipment were $4.352 billion.
The automotive aftermarket is typically divided into three major segments: repair parts, service and maintenance, and specialty equipment. The approach used here defines specialty equipment as aftermarket products and services used to improve or otherwise change production vehicles. In this way we differentiate specialty equipment from repair parts used to maintain a vehicle in its original condition. In 1997, sales of specialty automotive products reached $6.85 billion at manufacturer level and retail sales were $19.33 billion. An increase of 57.4 percent from 1990, when the manufacturers' sales of specialty equipment was $4.35 billion.