Monday, February 2, 2015

Editorial: How Can the Aftermarket Get Out of its Slump?

Image courtesy of Mustangs Daily
Working in the cargo and logistics industry, you tend to get a pretty good gauge on how business is doing for various industries that import their products from other countries. One of the industries I happen to have some customers in is the aftermarket auto parts industry. Being a car nut, this is an industry that I am pretty interested in. For the last few years, the aftermarket auto parts industry seems to be in decline. One of my customers, whose company sells aftermarket suspension parts for import cars, has noticed the slump and shared some of his reasons behind why he thinks the industry as a whole is slowly dying.

1.) The Green Car Movement
These days, every car manufacturer has either some kind of alternative fuel vehicle, hybrid, or electric car. While my customer recognizes that fossil fuels are not going to last forever, not enough car manufacturers are creating alternative fuel, electric, or hybrid cars that are exciting to the enthusiast crowd. Sure, you have cars like the Tesla Model S P85D, which will outrun most sports cars despite being completely electric. Unfortunately, the Tesla happens to be financially out of reach for many. Honda attempted to inject fun into the hybrid with the CR-Z, but failed miserably as the CR-Z simply does not posses the qualities to truly make it an enthusiast's car. We are not even going to get into cars like the Porsche 918, Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1, as most people will never be able to own those cars no matter how much they want to. As for alternative fuel cars, my customer asked me, "can you think of any alternative fuel cars that are actually fun to drive?"

2.) The Generation Gap on Driving
When East Brother and I were young, having a car made you cool. Having a fast car made you freaking awesome. We grew up in the Fast and the Furious era, when modifying your car was the cool thing to do. Big wings, loud exhausts, huge body kits, and slammed suspensions were in. As time passed though, that fad is slowly dying. Why? Because the younger generation does not seem to care about driving or cars in general. Kids these days are more concerned with having the latest smartphones and tablets than they are with their ability to transport themselves without an adult shuttling them around. For many kids, their online presence is far more important than their actual physical presence, which forgoes the need for a vehicle.

3) Aging Clientele
My customer has noticed that though his clientele has remained largely the same over the years, many of his customers have started families, which has caused their priority to shift from doing stuff to their car to getting a responsible people mover to shuttle their family around. In order to keep their family vehicle comfortable and responsible, putting aftermarket performance parts is largely out of the question. Sneaking some sort of aftermarket modification into their family mover winds up being a bit of a risky proposition as the risk of having a significant other become incredibly angry over it is always ever present (unless you are lucky enough to have a significant other interested in cars as well). As a person gets older, their bodies are also going to become less tolerant of loud noises and super stiff suspensions.

Image courtesy of Automobile Magazine
What can be done to help get the aftermarket industry out of its slump? Unfortunately, the generation gap and aging clients cannot really be fixed. Such is the nature of advancing technology and getting older, respectively. But what about the shift towards eco friendly cars? Fortunately, there are some aftermarket companies working diligently on giving eco friendly cars a swift performance kick in the pants. Honda's own in-house tuning arm, Honda Performance Development (or HPD for short), has a complete handling kit and supercharger for the CRZ that actually makes the CR-Z a fun to drive car. Famed Honda tuners Spoon Sports and Mugen also have their respective modifications for the ho-hum CR-Z. Ford tuner and supercar builder, Steve Saleen, has a tuned version of Tesla's Model S sedan. While the modifications are mostly for the suspension, they do improve the car beyond what the car is capable of out of the factory.

So there is still hope for the aftermarket industry. As cars shift towards being more green and eco friendly, manufacturers will need to start looking towards these eco friendly technologies to help boost the performance and fuel economy of their enthusiast friendly cars. While the technology is still primarily restricted to higher end luxury cars and supercars, my client believes that this sort of green technology will eventually find its way into less expensive, enthusiast friendly cars. When these cars start popping up, my client says that he will be more than ready to start offering parts for these cars.