Future is in the cars

Jan 26, 2010

One need only look at how similar many of the vehicles on today’s roads appear, to understand why the restyling market has grown so large. After all, restyling products make each vehicle as individualistic as its owner. They provide the looks, features and creature comforts that just don’t come with production vehicles to mainstream consumers and automotive enthusiasts alike.

For the past 10-15 years much of the restyling market has concentrated on SUVs and pickup trucks. Both are types of vehicles that readily lend themselves to customization. It fact it was so easy that a significant number of mainstream consumers entered the market – even they could see that adding customizing touches to their vehicles was fun and made the truck more enjoyable to own.

Now we see new-vehicle sales shifting back to passenger cars and, in many cases, compact cars. The sales ratio of light trucks to passenger cars has dropped back to what was prevalent more than 10 years ago. And for those of us who remember the 1970s, this looks like history repeating itself. Back then there was a gas crunch in the United States and consumers quickly switched from large cars and station wagons to compact cars.

Unfortunately, young Americans who got their first drivers license in the 1970s found mostly boring cars that were designed for one thing, getting good gas mileage while going from point A to point B. As a result, restylers pretty much lost a whole generation of American drivers. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that what is called Gen X is largely not involved with our industry. Fortunately, the next generation (millenials, Gen Y, Echo Boomers) did catch the car-loving bug.

Small-car opportunities

Now we have a chance to learn from history and not repeat it. Today, approximately 4 million Americans get their first driver’s license each year. These new drivers are entering a market that is poised to explode with small and compact cars similar to what we saw more than 30 years ago. That’s where the opportunity is for restyling going forward.

We will see an avalanche of new small cars. In fact, it has already started with the likes of the Yaris, Fit, Smart, etc. Add to that, we are being told that Ford will bring the Fiesta, Fiat will bring the 500 and the Alfa Romeo MiTo to the States from Europe – three very well built cars, but not necessarily styled for U.S. tastes.

It will be up to the restyling community to make these cars fun for American drivers. Restylers have to unleash their creative talents and instincts on this whole vehicle segment in order to grow the marketplace and survive as businesses. Only restylers can find a way to make these cars uniquely European for the enthusiasts who have wanted them but couldn’t have them, while also making it possible for the same cars to be readily assimilated into the American culture.

For instance, look at the concept rendering put together by the Sketch Farm. It obviously takes the strengths of the base Ford Fiesta and adds modifications that make the car more appealing to American drivers. There are enough muscle car cues to appeal to that niche, while also being edgy enough to grab the compact performance crowd. You will notice that Sketch Farm added a little twist to the Fiesta in labeling it “SVT Lite.”

Regardless of what niche your customers fall into, you know the products that can be used to modify small and compact cars that will make them uniquely theirs. You also know the particular styling that makes individual cars “cool” in your part of the country. The only thing left is for you to take advantage of the opportunity.