The Future of the Tuning Scene

Dec 2, 2009

Let’s ponder a few questions regarding the sport compact market in these uncertain times.

What’s happening in the marketplace? Will the Europeans start to take over? Will the EVOs and STIs continue to rule the import scene? What about the GT-R? Or will we see the American automakers try to take back market share with modern muscle?

In these uncertain economic times, where are we headed? I ask myself this question every day. As a business owner myself, I feel your pain through the entire core of my being.

Things are tough out there, and they are going to get a lot tougher for a lot of shop owners. We all need to han in there and do our best to try and adapt to the market.

Tough Questions

We can start by taking a good, hard look at the way we are doing things. How efficient is our business? Do we occupy too much space? Is downsizing necessary to stay in business? Should we try to change directions?

These are all daunting questions. To answer them, we first need to determine why it is we are in business in the first place.

I, for one, got into this business for the sheer passion of it. I know that sounds idealistic, but it’s the truth. If I was looking to get rich, I would not have stepped into this business at all-but I decided to forge my future in my passion.

Was it a smart move? Ha-ha. Some call me insane, some call me eccentric, some call me downright crazy, but I like to consider myself an artist with a mission.

So, on to the meat of our conversation. What does 2009 have in store for the tuning scene?

There are a lot of theories, but I believe that the best we can do is to analyze what is happening, what cars people are buying and modifying, and then go from there.

A lot is going to depend on what area of the country you’re in as to what the general trends are, but not entirely. In my experience, there is always some bleed over from coast to coast, with the West usually setting the trends first.

What is the certainty of the tuner market? Where is there going to be growth? The only thing I see for certain is change. There is definitely change happening-you see it on the streets, you see it at the gas stations, as well as the car lots. People’s buying patterns are changing, and their thinking is changing.

Just a few years ago, you couldn’t get a deal on a high-end luxury cruiser like an Escalade or Range Rover. Now, dealers are having to essentially give them away to get rid of them. I think the reign of the big 30-inch wheel, super-blinged-out Hummers and Escalades is over-move over 50 Cent, here comes a new trend.

New Opportunities

The advent of a few new cars is sparking some interest in a lot of the shops I know.

The Mitsubishi EVO X and Subaru WRX STI are still staples, although there doesn’t actually seem to be enough EVOs to really make any real fuss over. In this battle between Mitsubishi and Subaru, I think Subaru has the upper hand, especially here on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, BMW is continuing a nice upwards trend in terms of its tuner-type cars, with the launch of the 335i twin-turbo and the recently released 135i here in the U.S. The only downside I see with BMW is the company’s negative mentality toward aftermarket tuning of its cars.

BMW, in my opinion, is actually trying to monopolize the tuning market with these vehicles, by way of proactively voiding new car warranties if you have any sort of modification done whatsoever. The company is launching a campaign for its own performance products, which brings up the point of legality.

Can BMW do this? I suppose they think they can get away with it, but I believe it’s a move in the wrong direction.

Also, now that it’s arrived, the new 2009 Nissan GT-R-what many refer to as the Skyline-is gaining momentum in tuning and rally circles. But is also garnering some harsh criticism.

From the Skyline GT-R R32 chassis, to the GT-R V-Spec II Nur, Nissan’s near-legendary performance car has long held the attention of enthusiasts who waited patiently for it to become available stateside.

Nissan execs decided that it was finally time to let the American public enjoy a bit of this fun that the rest of the world was having by way of the new GT-R, which was completely redesigned. I think the car is not very attractive, and rather large, but its performance numbers do speak volumes.

The biggest thing that is being criticized by the aftermarket community, however, is the lack of real support from Nissan, and the warranty issues already popping up.

Nissan engineers thought it would be nice to include a launch control feature on the new GT-R; however, Nissan will void the warranty if you use it. Are you kidding me?

If you put it in there, people are going to use it. Now, there is a rash of transmission failures due to this launch control, and at $20,000 a pop for a new transmission, Skyline owners are none too happy. For them, the GT-R was hardly worth the wait.

Now, there’s talk that Nissan plans to drop launch control for the 2010 model. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Wait and See

The Big Three really seem to be in trouble right now-you hear it on the news every day. I wonder if the new ZR1 is going to have a significant impact. I really don’t believe it will. And the new Camaro? They should have left it alone, just the way it was featured in the Transformers movie. (Again, just my two cents worth!)

But, all in all, I think there’s hope. We all need to just hang in there and ride out this storm.