The Mobile Electronics Evolution

Jun 3, 2010

What’s new and upcoming in the restyling market

These days, it seems as if you can’t keep up with technology as quickly as it enters the market. Just when you upgraded your cell phone, digital camera and laptop, a new generation for each product is available. And the automotive aftermarket is no different. From navigation systems, to rear-vision displays and entertainment centers, mobile electronics are rapidly evolving. But with a strong understanding of the available technology, your restyling shop can remain a valuable partner in the aftermarket.

Safety products are popular

As safety features continue to yield a high demand, the aftermarket is developing improved products to protect from collisions and driver distractions. In particular, rear-vision displays are an increasingly popular safety feature, which appear in rear-view mirrors, navigation screens or dash-mounted video monitors, says Ed McElligott, Eastern region sales manager for Rostra Precision Controls, Laurinburg, N.C.

“There are huge blind spots on a lot of vehicles,” McElligott says. “Even the smallest sedan in the industry right now has a 19′ blind spot, so rear-vision displays really are one of the more requested products from consumers right now.”Rear-vision displays are especially effective because they give drivers a firsthand account, notes Josh Rohm, aftermarket sales manager for Mito Corp., Elkhart, Ind. Unlike some backup systems, rear blind spots are uncovered, and there’s never any doubt as to what lies behind a vehicle.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, to use that old saying,” Rohm says. “If you’re looking at a screen in your mirror, navigation or monitor mounted onto your dash, the whole idea is if you see something that shouldn’t be there, you hit your brakes.”

As vehicle repair costs continue to climb, consumers are avoiding backup accidents in any way they can, Rohm adds, and rearview displays provide added financial protection.

“When you were in an accident in the past, it used to be a couple hundred bucks to buff out a scratch on your bumper,” Rohm says. “Well, not any more. Today’s bumpers aren’t made out of chrome; they’re made out of plastic. A simple wreck costs $2,000 or more.”

Backup sensors, which alert drivers of potential collisions, are also a popular reverse system, and they’re becoming more physically attractive, McElligott reports. To install a backup sensor, holes are drilled along the rear bumper, where the system is inserted. Past backup sensors, however, were only available in black. They didn’t coordinate with most vehicles, and color matching was expensive. But now, backup sensors are available in chrome to complement existing emblems, such as a vehicle and dealership logos.

“In a lot of cases, consumers frowned on the black sensors, so now there’s an alternative solution,” McElligott says. “Instead, consumers can go with the chrome. It looks better than the black sensors, and consumers save money because they don’t have to pay for color matching.”

Integrated Bluetooth systems are another safety feature that is gaining ground in the aftermarket, says Ray Yeung, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Motevo USA, City of Industry, Calif. When a driver receives an incoming call, the entertainment system is muted, and the call is played over the vehicle’s speakers. As more attention is focused on safe driving and many states are banning cell phone use in vehicles, this product is especially seeing an increase in sales.

“With all the legislation, Bluetooth systems are becoming a more important feature,” Yeung says. “You cannot hold your cell phone and talk in the car, but Bluetooth systems allow you to take calls safely.”

For your convenience and entertainment

Though safety features are particularly popular in today’s aftermarket, convenience and entertainment accessories are still a large portion on the industry and have seen much advancement.

Navigation systems are particularly growing, as they are more user friendly with improved screen resolutions, mapping accuracy and hardware reliability, Yeung says. Additionally, navigation systems now offer upgraded features, such as 2D and 3D mapping. Photographic building and landmark images are all displayed on 3D mapping, Rohm cites, and 2D mapping provides topography reports. With these enhanced technologies, a driver can confidently trust a navigation system.

Connectivity products, such as Internet radio and iPod compatibility, are also strengthening their market position because they allow for entertainment customization, says Mike Odle, vice president of OEM sales and marketing for Eclipse by Fujitsu Ten, Torrance, Calif. In the past, consumers were focused on just receiving real-time information and entertainment, but their demands are becoming more sophisticated as technology improves.

“We’re now at the next level, where customers want to tailor their vehicles’ content,” Odle explains. “Internet radio, like Pandora, is very popular right now. Customers can go online, enter their preferences and have music delivered into their cars that fits within the parameters they choose.”

Marketing mobile electronics

Today’s vehicles are arriving at dealerships more “de-contented” than in the past. With consumers facing a greater financial pinch, car manufacturers are keeping sticker prices low by installing fewer whistles and bells (thus, de-contenting), which makes the aftermarket a more attractive option, Odle says.

Instead of purchasing a high-priced trim level, consumers can choose a few features that are most important to them for a lower cost. Vehicles in the $15,000 to $27,000 range are a prime target for aftermarket mobile electronics, McElligott says, as that is the typical de-contenting price point. Restyling shops also can provide aftermarket products at a more affordable price than the original equipment manufacturer, which is important when cost is a concern, Yeung adds.

Depending on the type of aftermarket product, Odle sees a separate set of demographics. Generally, the 18- to 35-year-old demographic favors entertainment features. Aftermarket products focusing on safety, however, typically attract the 35- to 50-year-old demographic.

“The younger demographic is more heavily dependent on various entertainment systems,” Odle says. “They want all of their devices to be compatible. But once you get to the older demographic, then a lot of the telematics and driving safety features, such as backup cameras, crash avoidance systems and similar products, become more important.”

For the most effective sales approach, McElligott recommends combining two to five items into a packaged deal, which is more appealing to consumers.

“Most consumers are more apt to do a two- or three-item package at X dollars than they are to spend a single dollar amount and get only one enhancement to their car,” McElligott explains.

Further, by not simplifying your product offering, Odle says, you could be losing sales because you are not -¨targeting consumers with a customized approach.

“Rather than just offering a navigation system or rear-seat entertainment, talk about the whole package,” Odle suggests. “Not even discussing the rest of the options is just leaving a lot of money on the table.”

For instance, try preparing vehicle-specific packages that provide both safety and entertainment products. If a consumer is carting children around the neighborhood in an SUV, a DVD or Blu-ray player system is often requested – but there’s a reasonable chance a rear-vision display would also be highly desired.

Installation for new vehicles

As vehicles continue to add computerized features, installation is more difficult than before, and a certain learning curve must be overcome. Dealerships are increasingly particular when selecting a restyling partner; therefore, staying educated is critical to finding success for any restyling shop, Rohm says.

“The days of dealerships letting anyone work on their cars is gone,” Rohm asserts. “You’re now talking about a computer that has an engine inside. It’s no longer just a car. If you have an old ’82 Caprice and you want to line subwoofers in your trunk, it’s not going to be that difficult, but try doing that to a new Cadillac.”

While there may be plenty to learn, there are also many educational resources available. Many trade organizations, such as Specialty Equipment Market Association and Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association, host certification processes and training sessions that thoroughly cover specific products, laws and electrical issues, Rohm says.

To become more intimate with the process, McElligott suggests first installing aftermarket products on your own vehicle. Most initial kinks are solved, and you are better prepared to meet with local dealers.

“The first install is always the highest learning curve, and people want to know what they’re selling,” McElligott says. “By first installing the aftermarket products on your own vehicle, you really get involved and learn the process.”

Many aftermarket manufacturers are also more than happy to assist you with training. From website videos to regional seminars, aftermarket manufacturers have accessible resources for multiple training levels, McElligott notes. Often, aftermarket manufacturers can even help you develop a strong marketing plan.

But taking a few classes doesn’t put an end to education, Odle says. In fact, the restyling market faces such perpetual evolutions that continued training is necessary.

“The technology of the vehicles and the different electronic systems are far different than what was on cars just a couple of years ago,” Odle states. “Education in today’s market is going to be a constant, ongoing process.”

As aftermarket mobile electronics continue to advance at a rapid rate and more products are available, it takes dedication to stay on top of the latest technologies and trends. But with the right package, your restyling shop can find success in the mobile electronic market.

Installation tips

Restyling magazine checked in with Auto Trim of Denver, Northglenn, Colo., and Mito Corp. for some valuable installation tips. Take a look at how you can ensure a smooth installation.

When installing, always use a reputable product and brand name. In the restyling market, there’s a big difference in quality of products. Cheaper is not always better.

Plan the installation before you start the wire routing. Doing so makes for a clear installation with little hassle. There’s less of a chance that nothing goes wrong, and you’re sure to have all of the correct parts.

Know how it’s supposed to work. After it’s installed make sure all features are working and have enough knowledge of how to use them to pass on to customers: Bluetooth should mute radio; installer needs to know that the mute works; and double check before delivery.

Do not use a test meter to assess the power. Instead, use a volt meter for a more accurate reading, which not only shows the power level but also the level of current.