Chevy Performance Market View

Dec 2, 2009

Last month, we put the current performance marketplace for Mopar under the Performance Business magnifying glass. This month, it’s Chevy’s turn. It’s no secret Chevy’s engine world is splitting like a hot atom with the LS series of engines breathing down the neck of the traditional Small Block Chevy. In related GM platform news, what’s old is new again with repop Camaros and other Chevys being manufactured for a place to drop those engines.

The big question remains, “Who wants their new/old Chevy to run and handle like an old Chevy?” The buying public is answering with a resounding, “Not me!” We asked a few manufacturers for their take on trends, hot products and the future of Chevy performance products. They told us how the market is hot not only for driveline products but chassis hard parts as well.

Turn Key Engine Supply

Turn Key Engine Supply in Oceanside, Calif., builds only LS engines. When we asked what was hot, manager Paul Headrick said, “Where we come from, just completing the engine for the biggest thing the customer sees. When the customer gets our motor, all they have to buy is the gas tank. It really puts a smile on their face. We do sell a lot of LS kits for the person that has the motor already and they would go along with that application. We sell two to three for 1967-’69 Camaros a week, complete or in kit form.”

As far as trends go, Headrick noted, “Well, more and more of these things are going into older cars. When we started about three years ago, it seemed like nobody was doing this. And these engine swaps are going along with late model running gear such as 6-speed transmissions, air ride suspension and air conditioning. It’s not just the motor.”

Changing gears to do some forecasting, Headrick says, “As these engines get newer, for example, they have expanded LS3 for ’08, and in late ’08 there will be a LS9, basically a supercharged LS3. It’s kind of like the early Small Block Chevy. As they develop it, the market is growing. What erupted for us are international sales. People actually know who we are. In the last two months, international sales have tripled.”

Detroit Speed & Engineering

Detroit Speed & Engineering in Mooresville, N.C., makes chassis parts and assemblies and mostly for Chevy Camaros. Stacy Tucker says, “First generation (Camaro) is just widely popular now. The second generation cars are more popular now, but because of the price of the first, the second generations are more affordable to start with.”

The trends Tucker sees are for better handling, “Our core business is suspension. We have other products such as wiper kits. What people are looking for today is they want the look of an old muscle car for the body or exterior. But when they get in it, they want it to ride and handle like a BMW or Corvette. They want the best of both worlds. Yet they want to drive home and put the AC on and not get beat up doing that. Our Hydroformed sub frame is one key piece for first and second generation Camaros. That and the Quadra Link rear suspension help achieve the balance between handling, performance and ride quality.”

Down the road, Tucker sees, “Newer model muscle cars, and getting into the ’70s as people are looking for something different and that hasn’t been done. Buying the basic car leaves them with the money they want to spend on upgrading the chassis.” To that effect, Detroit Speed & Engineering’s line of Chevelle chassis products will be released about the time you are reading this.

That move also taps into the Pro Touring market where muscle cars are modified with the latest technical goodies enabling them to perform better as well as look good. When a muscle car era car is not extremely valuable, it can often be made into a Pro Touring ride suiting its owner’s tastes and even budget. Once the style of the car moves away from a pure restoration muscle car, pretty much anything goes on a Pro Touring.

If the latest LS series engine is a benefit to the engine portion of a car, why not have the latest in suspension technology as well?

GM Performance Parts

Dr. Jamie Meyer has a ringside seat for watching what Chevy parts sell. He works at GM Performance Parts in Grand Blanc, Mich. He points out, “Consumers continue to look for products that make their home projects easier for the do-it-yourselfer. To that, GM Performance Parts has just released a new line of controllers with GM harnesses that run our LS2, LS3, LS7 and forthcoming LS376/480-a souped-up version of the production LS3. In addition, we continue to find strong sales from our ‘turn key’ line of small block crate engines, which really offer the end user everything they need to drop an engine in their project vehicle.”

When we asked him what the hot parts and hot makes and models today were, he said, “Crate engines continue to pace GM Performance Parts with the small block Chevy leading the way. However, the market interest in our GM LS and LSX line of crate engines and engine components is quickly growing. We like having the position as being the factory and the industry leader in LSX technology.”

As far as seeing the future in our business, Dr. Meyer has some encouraging news, “Forecast? I think with fuel prices, a down economy, a housing crisis, environmental factors, and a presidential election on the horizon, that it’s surprising how strong GM Performance Parts sales are. The fact remains that the performance industry as a whole is still very much alive and vibrant, and people will continue to build hot rods and race cars for as far as we can forecast.”

Global West Suspension

Global West Suspension in San Bernardino, Calif., makes what their name implies. They manufacture suspension parts for muscle cars, even older ones from 1955 to 1978. Kevin Doyle sees the same, similar trends, “Probably, actually more of the non-mainstream cars. I see the second generation Camaro and even Chevelles gaining popularity. We’re starting to get a lot more interest in those body styles and years.”

We asked Doyle what’s hot and he said, “It’s the second generation Camaro, Nova and Chevelle, ’73 and up. The ’64 to ’72 Chevelle has always been popular. The ’73 is a completely different car, nothing changes over. The ’58 to ’70 Impalas are gaining on the hot-rod side. They’ve always been popular with the lowriders but now it’s with the hot-rod side.”

His statement brings up the subject of lowrider versus hot-rod styles. The parts differ greatly, and the market is strongly separated from suspension to accessories. A smart retailer will know the differences and plan accordingly.

Doyle’s forecast spots what may be a wild card. He says, “The other cars I see gaining popularity are the earlier Corvettes. The Corvette has always been popular, but people want to modify the ’63 to ’82, whereas they’ve been kept more stock.” The same separation as the lowrider versus hot rod takes place when you distance yourself from the usual restoration of older Corvettes to the hot rodding of newer Corvettes. There are lines between the two that may be hard to distinguish.

Notice, too, how as one type or year-run of car grows with popularity, prices get higher for the cars. That, in turn, allows the next generation of the same car to offer more value—even if there are not that many aftermarket parts available. Then, as the popularity grows, more and more manufacturers see the market opening up, build products and fuel that year or years.

The best example of this is in the eligibility of cars attending the bigger shows such as the National Street Rod Association and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association. NSRA has adopted a rollover 30-year spread on cars entered. When a car becomes 30 years old, it can enter select NSRA shows. The next year, a new model will be eligible.

Scorpion Performance

Narrowing the focus of the Performance Business magnifying glass, we zoom in on Scorpion Performance in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who make rockers for both small block and LS Chevys from racing to street usage. Moe Rustam says, “We’ve been selling the hell out of some Small Block Chevy products for the past nine years. We can’t keep LS products in stock.” Their CNC cells are fully automated to the point that Rustam says, “We drop one rocker in a bucket every 30 seconds. We can’t keep ’em on the shelf. In the last year, LS sales have gone up 40 to 60%. Still, our number one seller is Small Block Chevy.”

Looking forward, Rustam says, “I think Chevy has unveiled a great thing with the LS as well as keeping the Small Block guys happy. I think it’s going to get an awesome reputation, totally love it.”

Looks Like

So it looks like we may not have to choose between the traditional Small Block Chevy and the LS series just yet. The questions remains, though, “Will we have to?”