Circle the Wagons – and SUVs and CUVs

May 16, 2013

It used to be the only type of concept vehicle one would see would be in the sports car segment. But now, it seems consumers just cannot get enough of the ever-popular and ever-changing (usually for the better) CUV. Manufacturers are now going as far as putting their dollars into creating CUV concepts considered semi-radical. For example, at this year’s Chicago Auto Show, Kia showed off its Cross GT Concept, which looks more like a sports car than an everyday CUV. Seeing OEMs spending money on CUV concepts can quite possibly offer the aftermarket industry a glimmer of things to come.

When it comes to trendsetting, it used to be the OEMs could not keep up with aftermarket designs. However, within most aftermarket segments OEMs (through recent years) have been giving restyling manufacturers, organizations, and jobbers a run for their money.

Keeping up with the OEMs

“The aftermarket business is starting to get a little squeezed by the OEMs,” says Miles Hubbard, director of trade marketing for Katzkin Leather, Montebello, Calif. “Their interior designs did not used to have a lot of options. Today, OEMs are starting to include very expressive interiors with characteristics such as specialty stitch lines, etcetera. This has forced us to step up our game. We need to provide a design that is two steps ahead of the OEM trends.

“I also see the OEMs starting to try newer and bolder things,” he adds. However, there has been a trend within the past five to seven years of consumers increasing the personalization of “everything they own (from laptop sleeves to cell phone cases), and OEMs are having trouble with producing unique designs because they can only produce so many at a time,” Hubbard notes.

“With the CUV and SUV market, we’ll likely see some growth in the types and styles of cargo management systems being offered by various companies that will be geared toward the smaller CUVs,” says Dan Epting, owner of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Perrycraft Inc. “Also, when fuel prices increase quickly, it tends to increase sales of the smaller SUV/CUV segment; however, when fuel prices stabilize and consumers get used to a certain fuel cost level (even if it drops), the growth in that vehicle market segment will slow down a bit.”

One model that has seen quite a few new aftermarket trends is the 2013 Ford Escape -” particularly in relation to the vehicle’s different trim levels and features, such as backup cameras and other telematics.

“One example is when a consumer wants a vehicle feature but does not want to step up to a higher trim level to get it,” says Geoff Dixon, marketing manager at Brandmotion LLC in Ann Arbor, Mich. For example, “to get a backup camera on the new 2013 Ford Escape, you have to jump the first two trim levels (S and SE) and get to the SEL level (which is an added cost of $6,000). You would also have to add an additional $1,895 for a radio and $995 for their parking technology package. The aftermarket has the natural á la carte advantage in many cases such as this one,” he adds.

At Goddard, Kan.-based Universal Products Inc., business unit manager Joan Omo says, “The CUV market is a prime candidate [for accessorizing]. Our OE Unlimited (graphics) series works perfectly with today’s CUV models.”

The products offered throughout the aftermarket industry not only give consumers a buying advantage but a savings advantage.

“CUVs seem to be gathering more and more of the market,” says Doug Jacobs, president of Restylers’ Choice in Cincinnati. “CUVs’ fuel efficiency is the most attractive feature for that segment.”

Interior Motives

Other examples of these situations can be seen in the upholstery segment of the aftermarket. When it comes to this segment, models such as the Grand Cherokee, Ford Edge, Ford Flex and Toyota Venza are extremely popular.

“All manufacturers offer factory leather, but they all bundle them into packages, which sometimes include extra features that a buyer might not want,” says Hubbard of Katzkin. In many cases it is some- times “better to get the base model and save yourself thousands of dollars, because then you don’t have to get options you don’t want.”

Vehicle interior has been gaining momentum in the past few years.

“I think that the heavier emphasis will be on the vehicle interior. For most buyers of the CUV vehicle class, the exterior more than meets their needs,” notes Jeff Varick founder and president of Brandmotion. “But the interior is where they live; it’s their private space, where they are spending more and more hours of each day. Consumers are gravitating toward interior personalization, and it’s usually centered around productivity, convenience [and utility].”

Wagons, Ho

One vehicle from the past that is starting to compete with CUVs (especially in the utility vehicle realm) at both the dealership and custom shop level is the station wagon.

“I think you’re going to see the station wagon that we know from years ago [come back],” says Stephen Carl, president of C&C Car Worx, Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

Besides typically having better gas mileage, station wagons also have other positive characteristics that consumers are noticing.

“Almost every SUV you get into has a lot of blind spots – but in the old station wagons you could get in and see the world,” Carl says. From an aftermarket perspective, with station wagons, “you will see a lot of the same things you have seen previously, such as mud flaps, rain guards and upgraded chroming with wheels and grilles.”

C&C focuses on the Subaru market and targets accessories that consumers want that the manufacturer is missing, such as window visors, body side moldings, grab handles and step plates, according to Carl.

“Each segment will have to find its own tailored little niches [in order to succeed],” he says.

Wrap your head around this

During 2013, and even more in 2014, segments such as auto body wrapping no longer will be used just as a form of advertising one’s business.

“The vehicle wrap market will be a segment that continues to grow, both for commercial and personal vehicles,” notes Robert Rundle, Viscom market manager for Minneapolis-based Ritrama. “Globally, we have and will continue to see an increase in vehicle wrapping where a consumer will [use it to] personalize their individual car. Whether they want to change paint colors [or add] textured wrap films, the personalizing of one’s vehicle is gaining momentum and vehicle wraps are a way for an owner to express themselves or simply revitalize their older car. Owners are even adding accent hood stripes to their muscle cars by using carbon fiber wraps on their hood.”

Although wrapping is no longer being used for only advertising, restylers are finding that in order to best market their businesses, they need to look very closely at what works best for their segment and demographic.

Getting the Word Out

“Advertising to the CUV/SUV market in the retailers’/jobbers’ local area is essential; how- ever, I think the best type of advertising and marketing any retailer can have is through old- fashioned word of mouth advertising by satisfied customers,” Perrycraft’s Epting says. “That means having a knowledgeable sales staff who are proactive in learning about available products for the CUV/SUV market and who can use that knowledge in guiding consumers to products that will fulfill the customer’s needs – that is paramount. When I visit retail accessories shops, it still amazes me how many times I see money walking out their doors. A salesperson will tell a customer, ‘We don’t carry that,’ and they will then drop the conversation. External advertising of any kind will be wasted if a retailer has order takers dealing with customers, as opposed to knowledgeable, proactive salespersons interacting with the customer.”

At Restylers’ Choice, marketing is thought of a little differently by: “Providing awesome look-up tools, which allow the customer to see what add-on accessories are available for their vehicle, and shows them a complete listing with pictures, as well as lets them know if the part is available,” Jacobs says.

The staff at Katzkin takes a broad approach when it comes to marketing practices. “To our restyler base, we offer a wide range of marketing materials, brochures, catalogues, showroom banners,” Hubbard says. “Online social media [should be seriously considered] and not discounted, because it is overwhelmingly effective. We also support TV programs, have giveaways and have a network of cross-promotion relationships. Katzkin also creates brand awareness.”

One way to generate one’s brand is through, “point-of-purchase displays and product brochures,” C&C’s Carl says. “It’s always a sell for a dealership to put your products on their showroom floor – it may be old school but it’s really where you need to be.”

Just read the news and you’ll see how the CUV/SUV and wagon markets are evolving. You’ll want to be ready now and for tomorrow to bring that business into your shop.