Editor’s Corner: Talking Research & Development With Companies at the 2012 HRR Trade Show

Apr 17, 2012

To gather information that would be incorporated into the post-show coverage that will appear in the May 2012 issue of Hotrod & Restoration magazine, I spoke with many exhibitors about the new products they were showing off.

In addition to asking them about the features, innovations and benefits these new products boast, I also wanted to know about the processes companies follow when developing new products.

It’s an interesting journey, starting with a basic concept or loose idea and winding up with a completely new product, and many people are involved, including you and your customers.

Here, seven 2012 Hotrod & Restoration Trade Show exhibitors describe various steps in their research and development processes.

“We do a lot of looking at the demographics of the population of vehicles through the DMV and looking at those kind of records to see where the most highly populated areas are of certain makes and models,” Rich Barsamian, national sales manager for Advanced Clutch Technology (ACT), said. “It’s one of the best ways to decide to whether we should go forward on something or not because there’s more Mustangs on the market, for example, today than there have ever been.”

“We work with designers in the color marketing association and we use outside consultants and design specialists for each market, automotive, contract and marine,” said Eric Petersen, national sales manager for Enduratex.

“Automotive tends to be more traditional, the colors don’t change as much. Hospitality is more of a five-year cycle, the colors will change a little bit more, but automotive, the grains tend to stay more traditional and more consistent year-to-year.” “We do extensive testing, we have three in-house cars that we use as mules to beat the living tar out of something,” said Mike Hawley, sales manager for Heidts Hot Rod & Muscle Car Parts. “We do it on road courses, we autocross, we dragstrip, we daily drive them, somebody takes the car home every night, we want it over train tracks, we want it through potholes, on and on and on.”

“A lot of it is customer requests and then you keep track of what they’re looking for, and if it’s something up your alley, kind of gauge it by there,” said Erika Woody, co-owner of Hydro-E-Lectric. “[T]hen you have to look and see how many cars there are that would require it, and then it has to do with cost variation.”

“First of all, we talk to people who are doing auto body restorations and we ask them what kinds of problems, what are the difficult situations that they find,” said Red Petersen, market research analyst for Malco Products. “Then we bring those ideas back to Malco, turn it into a new product development group with engineers and we brainstorm, say, ‘How could we cut a floor panel better than they’re doing it now?’ and we’ll come up with an idea, we’ll develop a prototype, we’ll take it back out to the field, let them try it and tell us what they need to have improved. Once we get past that, then we start into production.”

“We’ll do extensive research on the specific models-”how many cars were in production, whether or not there’s a need in the industry, if it’s a popular car coming up,” said Jim Pennekamp, national sales manager for Trim Parts. “[T]hen we’ll find as many original pieces as we can find so we can verify that the parts that we make are like original and not like service replacement parts.”

“[The] reason we do so many shows during the year, not only is it a way for us to show off what we have, it’s also a way for us to talk to customers, get their input,” said Rick Love, executive vice president at Vintage Air. “We’ve got a new complete bolt-in system for the ’70-’72 Olds Cutlasses, and that is a direct result just from input from customers because there’s a lot more Oldsmobiles out there than I would have thought, so that’s kind of a direct result of feedback we received from customers on the road.”