SEMA News - June 2009
By Mike Magda
Photography by the Manufacturers
There’s Plenty of Potential for Upgrades, Accessories and Customizing
|Ford revealed the new 2010 Mustang coupe and convertible amongst a backdrop of legendary Mustang race cars.
Courtesy Sam VarnHagen, Ford Motor Co.
During past auto show seasons, the automotive community has offered several subtle hints of a changing market. This year, it gave us a thunderous slap upside the head.
Despite stable gas prices over the winter, the automakers rolled out a host of electric vehicles and hybrid powertrains. Most of these are years coming, but the message is clear: We’ll be trading octane for volts. The looming question is: when?
Meanwhile, the other 95% of vehicles introduced at the Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago Auto Shows between November 2008–February 2009 were traditional fossil-fuel burners. Many emphasized improved gas mileage, lower emissions and overall more environmentally friendly attitudes to keep the green theme in the public’s eyes.
Compacts and high-volume vehicles drew the spotlight, as well. Big SUVs were shuffled to the rear of the exhibit halls, and pickups stressed work, not personal use. Performance cars also got a few spotlights. This year will feature a classic musclecar showdown and a fresh family of sports cars that will generate enthusiasm in various segments of the specialty-equipment market.
The following is a closer look at industry segments and specific vehicles that may be of interest to the specialty-equipment market.
Electrics and Hybrids
Don’t let the movement toward electric motors and hybrids discourage development of specialty-equipment market upgrades and accessories. Ron Cogan, editor of “Green Car Journal,” said that there’s plenty of opportunity for sales once the customer base expands past “early adopters.”
“Owners of hybrids will be no different than those of any other vehicle,” explained Cogan. “You do have the early adopters that buy just because it’s a hybrid or for the environmental impact.
Others will buy it because it’s efficient and they’ll want to customize or personalize in some way.”
“The aftermarket should look at a full range of accessories for advanced-technology vehicles. Any typical custom accessory for a tuner car could find its way into a hybrid.”
Two of the specialty-equipment market’s most friendly vehicles were introduced as electric vehicles during the show season. Jeep debuted an electric Wrangler Unlimited, and MINI brought out the MINI E.
“The aftermarket should look at a full range of accessories for advanced-technology vehicles,” said Cogan, noting a potential in body kits and graphics. “Any typical custom accessory for a tuner car could find its way into a hybrid.”
The Wrangler was one of three electrics that Chrysler introduced in Detroit. Although only two-wheel drive, the Wrangler Unlimited EV has a motor that delivers 268 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. A small gas engine/generator provides additional charging power. Top speed is around 90 mph, and the all-electric range is 40 miles. Jeep also showed a Patriot with a similar powertrain, indicating that this technology moves across many different platforms.
While the Wrangler and Patriot are concept vehicles, BMW will build 500 test units of the all-electric MINI E. Aimed at customers in emissions-tough states, such as California, the front-wheel-drive MINI E features a 201hp motor. The lithium-ion battery pack takes up a little extra room, so the MINI E is only a two-seater. The vehicles will be distributed on a one-year lease and then returned to the automaker for evaluation.
Other electric and hybrid vehicles of note include:
- A production version of the 2011 Chevy Volt that was first shown at a GM centennial celebration and then put on the show circuit. The car is already developing a following, and products made for the Volt will quickly draw attention.
- A Dodge Circuit EV concept boasted an electric motor with 480 lb.-ft. of torque. Built on a Lotus platform, it beat the Dodge Challenger in an impromptu parking-lot race.
- The 2010 Honda Insight made its debut, and Honda is forecasting annual sales of 100,000 for the Prius fighter.
- Toyota introduced its third-generation Prius with a 50-mpg EPA estimate and much quicker acceleration.
Automakers distanced themselves from fullsize SUVs throughout the show season, but brought out a few notable pickups in Chicago.
Ford introduced the 14th version of the Harley-Davidson model, this time on a 2010 F-150 platform. It comes with 22-inch wheels, a billet-style grille and plenty of black leather inside. It’s also available in all-wheel drive. This is the eighth trim or special package available for the F-150 and the fourth that targets upscale buyers. (The others are the Lariat, Platinum and King Ranch.) The H-D model may be in line for a power upgrade. Ford said that the 5.4L V8 is the only engine available, but the display truck in the Ford booth had a 6.2L V8 under the hood. Just a little hint of things to come?
Dodge brought out the 2500/3500 heavy-duty version of the Ram pickup. Many of the underpinnings are carryovers, while the exterior and interior styling follows the lead set by the new Ram 1500. Dodge also unveiled three chassis cab models to confirm its commitment to the heavy-duty market. The backbone of the Dodge heavy-duty lineup is the 6.7L Cummins diesel, and it’s now rated at 650 lb.-ft. of torque.
The 2010 Toyota Tundra will have a new mid-level 4.6L engine and six-speed transmission. The much-improved V8 will give Tundra shoppers strong power, but at a lower price point than the big 5.7L V8. Toyota also displayed two new option packages—one for the working owner called Work Truck that is available throughout the model lineup, and an upscale Platinum package with a lot of chrome and leather for the CrewMax.
|Automakers highlighted the work aspect of their work trucks over personal use.|
Cars that make the annual top-10 sales list don’t always equate to aftermarket bonanzas. A few compacts, such as the Honda Civic, can find an enthusiastic audience, while others are targets for basic accessories and replacement parts. Top-selling cars are usually basic modes of transportation, and some have a rental-car curse to overcome in the enthusiast’s mind.
Ford is hoping to rejuvenate the once hot-selling Taurus brand with a stylish fullsize sedan that’s intended to be more of a personal car than a family mover. This marketing approach may generate passion for more upscale personalization. And to really push the concept, Ford is bringing back an iconic Halo version.
The new Taurus has a very athletic appearance and sport-minded suspension. Ford is making a rather noticeable effort to put some personality into this car, even with a rather stoic V6 engine. There’s push-button start, a paddle shifter on the steering wheel and multicontour seats. And if that’s not enough, Ford will offer a spicy SHO Taurus performance model. Remember that Yamaha-powered screamer from years past? Ford is upping the ante with a 365hp, twin-turbo, direct-injection V6 engine from its new EcoBoost lineup. And there’s all-wheel drive to go along with a stouter suspension. Still not enough? Ford has upgrade packages that can add better brake pads, Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, a lower final-drive ratio, re-tuned steering and 20-inch wheels. The SHO Taurus will start at around $38,000, but this type of performance package helps feed enthusiasm throughout the sedan world.
In other high-volume news:
- Toyota brought out the 2010 Camry, a midsize sedan that often is in the top two or three spots of the best-selling car list. The new model is mostly a refresh with a new grille, a more powerful 2.5L four-cylinder engine and upgraded audio.
- The 2010 Buick LaCrosse is now dressed in a very cosmopolitan suit after designers and engineers on three continents—including China—contributed to the package. The new model is available with a choice of direct-injection V6 engines, a DVD entertainment system and a six-speed transmission.
Young and Hip
The success of Toyota’s Scion brand has motivated other automakers to offer small, quirky models that are within the budget of younger buyers.
Scion did show off a new tC Series 5.0 at Chicago. This limited-edition (2,000 units) gets TRD hardware, a stunning glossy black exterior finish and 18-inch alloys.
“The Kia Soul was designed and developed with personalization in mind,” said Fred Aikins, Kia’s senior product strategy manager. “We developed the Soul to appeal to younger buyers with an emphasis on Gen Y, and we know from our research that accessorization is critical to these buyers.”
Kia will be offering its own line of body kits, lowering springs and performance parts, along with utility accessories for active owners. The Soul is slightly smaller than the xB and has a few more character lines and curves that could be a little challenging for specialty-equipment designers.
The Nissan Cube is also smaller than the xB. The squared-off profile is offset by curvy window frames. The Cube has some funky options, such as rear sonar, but it also appeals to the youth with an available Rockford Fosgate sound system and iPod integration.
“There’s probably some potential, but more in appearance than performance,” said Chuck Howlett, general manager at Stillen. “I know there are a lot of people asking about the Cube, but answers are all over the place.”
One specialty-equipment manufacturer wondered if this segment isn’t getting too crowded.
|The boxy Scion xB will soon have competition in the form of the really boxy Nissan Cube and the less boxy 2010 Kia Soul.|
2010 Ford Mustang
In what’s shaping up as a classic Ford vs. Chevy duel for musclecar bragging rights, the Mustang and Camaro could be the highlight of the 2009 specialty-equipment market. With the all-new 2010 Camaro coming to the showroom this year, Ford wasn’t letting the retro ponycar draw all the attention. The 2010 Mustang was introduced in Los Angeles and boasts a fresh exterior skin, an inviting interior and a few more horsepower and special editions, including a new Shelby GT500. But will it be enough?
“The Mustang will probably lose some ground to the Camaro,” said Richard Bristow, president of SFX Performance. “The Camaro will have a wider range of appeal.”
Bristow noted the advanced multilink, independent rear suspension available on the Camaro, while the Mustang is saddled with a live axle. Camaro also has a 300hp standard V6 engine (that’s 90 more hp than Mustang’s standard V6) that should entice customers looking for fuel economy and performance.
Justin Whitehead of Dallas Mustang is hopeful for a strong, but possibly delayed response to the new Mustang.
“We had a lot of product available for the 2007,” he said. “It seemed like everyone waited a few months and then it just exploded. I hope it’s the same way.”
Whitehead said that the top three sellers are cold-air kits, engine programmers and exhaust upgrades. He also said that the cold-air kits outsold any other Mustang product 10 to one.
The new Mustang will have four trim levels: V6, V6 Premium, GT and GT Premium. The starting price is under $21,000. On the top end of the scale, the Shelby GT500 will offer 540 supercharged hp and some of the boldest stripes available on any car.
By the way, the first retail production Camaro sold for $350,000 at Barrett-Jackson. That’s a slight indication of how hot this market may get this year.
2010 Nissan 370Z
For sheer thrills and bang-for-the-buck performance, the new 2010 Nissan 370Z is the leading contender. It’s already a highly anticipated gem in the specialty-equipment market.
“The potential is huge,” beamed Chuck Howlett, general manager at Nissan specialist Stillen Motorsports. “The Z has such a following.”
The new 370Z boasts a shorter wheelbase, a wider track, lighter weight, a bigger engine and a redesigned suspension. One of the coolest innovations is an optional rev-matching feature that blips the throttle during downshifts, eliminating the need for heel-toe action. In another nod to owners participating in track days, Nissan reprogrammed the brake controls to completely eliminate the stability control when the driver turns it off.
“Early buyers will go for an intake swap,” said Howlett, noting that Stillen has developed an intake system with proprietary technology. “Then comes exhaust for those looking for a change in sound, possibly more aggressive.”
The new Z exudes more retro styling cues than the previous 350Z and is quite handsome, but the market is sure to offer restyling body kits for more ambitious owners. Nissan is offering the new Z in only two trims: base and Touring. The latter has a Bose stereo, bigger wheels and tires and available massive 14-inch front brakes.
The good news is that Nissan didn’t try to make the 370Z equally competitive with the hot GT-R. That assignment is left to the specialty-equipment market.
Come November in Las Vegas, don’t be surprised if the new Mazda3 generates the most enthusiasm and specialty-equipment product lineup of all the vehicles introduced during the 2008–2009 show season.
“The Mazda customer is more geared toward performance than the Honda owner,” said Craig Nagler of Tri-Point Engineering. “The Mazda3 owner is more into performance than accessories.”
The Mazda3 is already a critically acclaimed vehicle in its segment and has a faithful following in the youth performance market.
The redesigned 2010 Mazda3 was first shown in Los Angeles, with strong approval from the motoring press even though no major changes were introduced. Just a few tweaks were all that was needed to keep this group happy.
“Mazda works very hard on how the car feels and drives,” explained Craig Nagler of Tri-Point Engineering. “It has what we call the ‘soul’ of the sports car.”
The best news is the availability of a hatchback version.
“That’s going to expand the crowd,” said Green.
And for those who can wait a little longer, the U.S. version of the Mazdaspeed3 will be introduced in spring. Tri-Point already has a turbo kit for the Mazda3 that adds 100 hp to the rear wheels.
2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The dark horse in the customizing-potential derby is the new Hyundai Genesis Coupe. It’s already on the drifting circuit, and Hyundai showed off a budget-minded R-Spec version in Chicago that can be purchased for less than $24,000. Hyundai is definitely going after the rear-wheel-drive enthusiast crowd with the Genesis Coupe.
“But I wonder if it’s too feminine,” said Richard Bristow of SFX Performance. “It’s not like the Eclipse.”
The R-Spec boasts a six-speed manual transmission, Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential and a 210hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The Genesis coupe is available with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a 306hp V6. A fully loaded coupe with a ZF six-speed Shiftronic transmission will run about $31,000, but that gets you Brembo brakes, Infinity audio, leather seats and Bridgestone Potenza rubber.
| 2010 Jaguar XFR
It’s almost impossible to predict the next urban whip that will become a required fashion statement by hip-hop artists, movie stars and all-star athletes. These owners drop $10,000 on a set of wheels without flinching, demand outrageous audio systems and hold out for extra-dark window tints.
The 2010 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder is a likely contender, with its open-top design and 553hp V8. But that’s probably a little obvious and out of reach for all but the A-list crowd.
The 2010 Jaguar XFR is a hot-rod version of the XF and features a supercharged V8 that pumps out 510 hp, easily putting it in the same über-sedan league as the M5, CTS-V and E63 AMG.
The new Ferrari California failed to overwhelm the critics, but the front-engine 2+ (that’s how Ferrari classifies the car) is already sold out for the next couple years.
| 2010 Porsche Boxster
Sports and Performance
Porsche unveiled a new Boxster and a Cayman S in Detroit. For this tight niche of specialty-equipment market suppliers, the timing was perfect.
The Boxster received a minor facelift, but gets new engines, a new dual-clutch transmission, larger brakes and bigger wheels. Same strategy for the more expensive Cayman. Porsche will also offer a bimodal exhaust on the Boxster, a product line that B&B is developing as a niche in the specialty-equipment market. Is Boat concerned about the factory moving in on his specialty?
“We’ll offer a system that is an upgrade from non-bimodal and bimodal,” explained Boat. “The idea is to really open it up.”
The Audi R8 5.2 FSI Quattro is another sports car of note that was introduced during the show season. The R8 is already on the wish list of many supercar enthusiasts, but some wish it sported a few ponies under the rear glass. The 5.2FSI offers a 518 hp V10 that pushes the speedo close to 200 mph.
“The Audis have great potential for the aftermarket,” added Boat.
Also interesting is the new BMW Z4 Roadster. It’s now more upscale and available with a twin-turbo inline six.