For savvy automotive jobbers, the performance aftermarket represents a unique opportunity.
In Canada and the U.S., the market for performance parts and accessories continues to grow. According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), it is currently a $0.63 billion industry worldwide and is projected to grow significantly through 2021. Additionally, given the excitement and pizzazz that performance and customization can generate in the auto sector, specialty parts can provide a significant halo effect for retailers, parts distributors and service repair businesses.
On the parts and distribution side, some of the hottest products at present include electronic fuel injection swaps for classic cars, late-model engine swaps for vintage vehicles (particularly General Motors LS1 V-8 conversions), performance lubricants, paint and detail products, exhaust systems and off-road suspension kits for light trucks.
Bob McJannett, who co-founded Performance Improvements, a well-recognized Canadian Speed Shop chain, with his girlfriend (later wife) Susan in 1964, says that today, traditional speed parts, such as intake manifolds, exhaust manifolds and headers and ignition systems are still popular, but the huge increase in retrofitting late-model components to vintage cars has provided good opportunities on both sides of the border for those able to capitalize on them, especially since the classic car movement has become a global phenomenon in the last three decades.
“EFI products are appealing because of the improvements they can provide in drivability, vehicle operation, fuel economy and reliability,” says McJannett.
In addition to classic cars, the market for customized pickups and SUVs has also exploded. It’s hard to drive anywhere and not see numerous customized late-model trucks or Jeep Wranglers.
Wheels, tires, exhaust and air intake assemblies are popular upgrades, as are custom grilles, bumpers, lights and even decal wraps. In Canada, many owners opt for the rugged off-road look, which means they often require suspension kits to improve capability as well as accommodate wheel and tire combinations larger than factory stock.
Chris Gauss, Director, Performance Group for Rancho Suspension and Shocks as well as Dynomax and Thrush Performance Exhaust, says a number of factors have conspired to swell the growth in accessories for late-model pickups and SUVs. One of them has been plummeting demand for passenger cars, while the popularity of full-size pickups and SUVs continues to soar. “With so many full-size trucks on the road these days being used as family vehicles, people are looking for personalization as a way to stand out,” says Gauss.
And an easy way to do that is by adding a larger set of wheels and tires, along with a performance exhaust with signature tone.
“Additionally, there is a particular demographic of buyers looking to do extra-curricular activities such as camping and hiking on weekends,” he says. Translation? Greater off-road capability. “Buyers for these vehicles typically fall within the 28 to 44 age group,” says Gauss. “They have good jobs and the disposable income to be able to modify their vehicle.”
Rancho offers a range of products specifically aimed at late-model truck applications, from Quick-Lift loaded strut assemblies that accommodate larger than stock wheel and tire combinations, to full-lift kits with subframes that require professional installation.
For jobbers and distributors that supply these parts, Gauss says it’s important that the end user understand what’s required for the install. Even if a professional shop will be doing the work, both they and the customer need to understand that the first installation of a particular kit will take longer and consequently the total cost, beyond the parts, will likely be more significant. “They will need extra time,” he says, “but second time around, their labour time will probably be cut in half.”