Aerodynamically Sound

Dec 3, 2009

Hood scoops are what’s hot on the light truck side of aftermarket aerodynamic styling right now, but more and more kit manufacturers report seeing increased demand for kits to fit the smaller, more fuel-efficient crossovers beginning to hit dealership floors.

While there is still healthy interest at 3dCarbon for aerodynamic kits for such late-model muscle cars as the Camaro, Challenger, Mustang, as well as full-size SUVs and light trucks, co-owner Ernie Bunnell is seeing growing interest in kits for smaller economy models such as the Focus, Milan and Fusion.

“It all comes down to gas mileage and the length of a commute for your customers today,” Bunnell says. “We had one guy in the office trade in a Silverado for a Prius and have his auto payment go up $30 while his fuel bill dropped $250 a month. Then he turned around and started styling it out-it’s not a car I would have thought of customizing, but that’s not the point anymore.”

Bunnell points out that 3dCarbon of Newport Beach, Calif., is riding the OEM crossover wave by being one of Ford Motor Co.’s licensed suppliers for aerodynamic restyling products for the new Edge, a vehicle poised to capture the attention of SUV enthusiasts looking to save on gas bills with a smaller, more efficient engine.

The key to being a licensed restyler for OEMs is being able to deliver tightly matched products that are color keyed to specific paint colors. Once 3d had the system developed, it was somewhat less of a challenge to adopt it for new vehicle launches, such as the Edge. And the key to that is injection molding of any aerodynamic body parts, a process in which high-impact plastics are injected into custom molds for both strength and perfect fit.

“It all comes down to the design and the quality of the kit,” Bunnell says. “The end consumer is becoming much more sophisticated when it comes to the image products they are placing on their cars. Quality makes a huge difference to the consumer.”

Here’s the Scoop

Over at RKSport Inc. in Murrieta, Calif., the focus on OEM quality is especially important in the company’s Ram Air Hood products, according to Trevor Medina of RKSport.

“RKSport’s Functional Ram Air Hoods build upon the concepts originally presented by the engineers of the manufacturer and combine with it with the many years of styling and design work which results in the high-quality, hand-laid fiberglass and carbon fiber products RKSport has come to be recognized for,” Medina says.

“With our unique baffled design, outside elements such as rain are kept out of the engine compartment. We have several new designs that we consider to be top sellers within the light truck aerodynamic market segment. An example of this is our Chevy Colorado ‘Extractor’ Hood which releases hot engine air from the engine compartment keeping the engine bay cooler.”

Besides the benefits of keeping the engine bay cooler, RKSport’s line of truck hoods sets the truck’s appearance apart from stock by creating an original look while still keeping with the smooth lines of the truck and staying away from the boxy profile.

Keeping that OEM look while customizing is what the aerodynamic kit market is all about, according to Ed Hamburger of SLP Performance Parts Inc., Toms River, N.J., SLP walks this thin line between an OEM look and aftermarket customizing by designing its popular hood scoops with an internal flange for attachment to the hood so it looks OEM instead of “just stuck on,” Hamburger says.

Hood scoops are also hot right now for SLP, with many light truck enthusiasts looking to set their rides apart from the stock looks on the road. And when it comes to injection molding, Hamburger sings the same praises as 3dCarbon’s Bunnell.

“The kits restyling shops need to look out for are any that are using thermo-formed parts as opposed to injection molding,” Hamburger says. “The thermo-formed add-on parts look just like that: an afterthought. Quality design and quality products are what you need to put on your customer’s trucks. If it doesn’t look OEM, they won’t like it; but, then again, it can’t look too OEM either.”

A Great Matchup

That means the quality of the restyling products your shop offers customers must be “transparent” in emulating the original equipment on their vehicle. In other words, if a customer can tell which parts of a body kit have been sourced by the aftermarket, it isn’t a good fit to begin with, Bunnell says.

“It’s tough for the restyling shop today because the parts have to look like they are factory spec, while on the other hand your customer is looking for an image that the factory isn’t providing.”

What Bunnell recommends the independent restyling shop focus on today is a “mix-and-match” system of accessorizing a vehicle by blending different package options for a truly unique look instead of relying on one set package.

“The successful shops that work closely with us today are doing just that,” Bunnell says. “They might take ground effects for a Mustang from us, then use another company’s rear spoiler or hood kit. That way, their customer can then be guaranteed of having the only vehicle on the block with that particular look.”

Bunnell also notes that automotive dealers today are more receptive to modified looks on late-model vehicles now that a slowing economy is causing lower turnover on their lots.

“Auto dealers are looking at anything that might draw attention to a vehicle in a buyer’s eyes,” Bunnell says. “It isn’t like the recent past when cars where flying off lots and a dealer could reject a lease turn-in with any changes on it at all. It’s good for the aftermarket right now to have that level of acceptance from a dealer.”

Light Duty for Heavier Profits

On the more traditional light pickup truck end of things, Bunnell is most proud of the new Ford F150 kit that Chip Foose selected from 3d to grace his signature supercharged truck line now shipping to dealers.

“It’s a pretty big compliment when a designer like Foose chooses your company’s products to put on one of his signature products,” Bunnell says.

That automotive enthusiast segment that continues to focus on trucks is what RKSport sees for the future, as well.

“We have seen a growing trend of less interest in complete body kits and more interest in functional Ram Air Hoods,” says RKSport’s Medina. “As we have recently added to our line of truck hoods, the pattern is that the buyers are wanting to improve and create a unique look for their truck. We believe this trend will continue, and we will be there to provide a fully functional and quality product as we have done for more than 13 years.”

To make it easier for the independent restyling shop, RKSport provides to all of its jobber/dealers collateral materials such as a full-color, 49-page catalog of a complete list of all its products including its complete line of hoods. The product images, detailed descriptions and part numbers not only let potential customers view the product, but the jobber and/or dealer can have a more educated knowledge when presenting it to customers, Medina adds.

RKSport’s team also encourages restyling shops to visit  its website, which also includes high-resolution images, installation instructions, a sign-up area “if they are interested in becoming a dealer and -¦ if they have further questions,” Medina notes.

Show ’em How

Hamburger of SLP believes the best way to market what your restyling shop can do for a customer’s light truck is to have a finished show vehicle on the floor, one that can be taken to local automotive dealers, as well. One way SLP supports its shops is by offering a tri-fold point-of-purchase sales material detailing aerodynamic packages the company now has available for late-model Corvettes, GTOs, Camaros, Firebirds, Mustangs, Dodge Chargers, Magnums, 300Cs, F150s, Silverados, Sierras and Dodge Rams.

“You need to show you have an eye for style, and you can make the body and aerodynamic kits fit better than well,” Hamburger says. “Everybody wants their ride to be an extension of their personality and turn heads when it goes down the streets. When an individual customer or dealer sees you can do that, they will be receptive to your business. That’s one thing that will never change in the automotive aftermarket; no matter what people are driving, they will always want to stylize it, and that’s where we come in.”

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The Real World of Truck Aerodynamics

Many of the aerodynamic kits available today for the light truck enthusiast are perhaps misnamed, says Stewart Johnson of the Climate Change Saskatchewan in Regina, Sask.

“Creating style is one thing,” says Johnson “but light trucks are actually one vehicle on the road today that can realize an improvement in fuel economy with a few simple aerodynamic improvements.”

While this may sound pie-in-the-sky to most customers of your restyling shop, it can also serve as a shift into new add-on sales. Take for example, the largest aerodynamic improvement on light trucks: the tonneau cover.

“It turns out the biggest gains are to be found on pickups, not by dropping the tailgate-”a common misconception-but by installing a tonneau cover. A tonneau cover improves the aerodynamics dramatically on all pickup trucks,” according to Ford Motor Co.’s Earnest Wegryn, writing for Edmunds.com. “In general, a tonneau cover can provide a drag reduction of two to seven percent, depending on cab style, box length and overall vehicle drag. Average fuel economy improvement ranges from 0.1 to 0.3 mpg. From an aero standpoint, it doesn’t make a difference if you choose a soft or hard cover.”

Other tips you might pass on to your customers when selling a hot-looking aerodynamic kit are: Reduce the use of roof racks, run narrower tires and use smoother, flush disc designs over multi-spoked wheels.

Where many of today’s aftermarket kits do shine is in the addition of front air dams, side skirts and tucked tailpipes in rear air dams.

“Any time you round the front or rear of a truck, lower it, or add side skirts along the doors, you are making it more aerodynamic and that will reduce drag,” Wegryn writes. “A reduced drag directly translates into less fuel needed to maintain a speed.”

If your restyling shop customer is interested in these aerodynamic improvements, it may also be a lead-in to more dramatic ride modifications, such as active ride height adjustment that lowers the vehicle at speed, which Ford employed on the Lincoln Mark VIII and which appears on Mercedes-Benz vehicles with Airmatic suspensions. According to Mercedes, “Lowering the ride height at speed results in a 3-percent improvement in drag.”

Air Ride Technologies, Jasper, Ind., is one such automotive aftermarket company to offer such equipment. Once thought to be in the realm of show cars, it may be of interest to a light truck customer looking to increase fuel efficiency and aerodynamics.

– Dirk Vinlove