Muscle Madness

Feb 7, 2013

This new generation of muscle cars just doesn’t know when to quit-and that’s a good thing. Now that the Big Three are not-so-quietly making them bigger and better, the opportunity for aftermarket upgrades has never been greater.

Everyone, it seems, is excited about the new Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers and even Corvettes. We wanted to take a peek at that market, so we polled our sources for intel about the hottest muscle cars, what buyers want and where the sales opportunities lie.

Throw in a strong showing by the original incarnations of these American classics and the consensus is clear: if you’re not already muscling in on this hot market, now’s the time.

Main Muscle

It’s no surprise that the popularity of modern muscle cars is rising as more models hit the streets and owners find they have more money to spend.

“Currently the new Mustang, Camaro and Challenger are in big demand,” notes Richard Barsamian, national sales manager for Advanced Clutch Technology (ACT).

“Current muscle cars have made a significant rebound with the new platforms that were introduced in the early 2000s. Mustangs are especially hot right now,” adds Rob Koller, director of marketing for Prestolite Performance brands including Mr. Gasket, ACCEL, Lakewood and Mallory.

And that means plenty of hot product segments for these vehicles.

For instance, Christina Briseno, marketing manager at Drake Automotive Group, says her company has been selling plenty of next-gen muscle car parts including “sequential taillight kits, differential girdle, billet hood and engine compartment dress-up parts and accessories such as engine caps, strut tower braces, fuse box covers, hood pin kits, fuel doors and locking fuel caps. We’re also doing well with shift knobs and interior trim pieces.”

Melissa Kilstrom, marketing director for B&M, Hurst Products and Flowmaster, says it is all about “Mustang, Camaro and Challenger manual shifters and exhaust systems.”

Dustin Burr, sales specialist for Wilwood Brakes, notes that these new cars “make a ton of power very easily, and that reminds customers that improved engine torque needs to be matched by improved brake torque. Muscle cars of the ’60s also continue to do well as the Pro Touring market continues to grow.”

Yes, the Pro Touring movement has brought renewed interest in the older set of muscle cars-provided they can be outfitted with today’s advanced technology.

“Auto enthusiasts are breathing new life into their muscle cars in the form of Pro Touring upgrades,” agrees Blane Burnett, marketing and PR coordinator forHolley Performance Products, noting that “many of the common upgrades that enthusiasts are considering more and more are EFI-related. While carburetors are still a great way to meter air and fuel into your vehicle, more and more people are considering the awesome drive-ability, reliability and everyday power potential that EFI offers them.”

A Part of the Whole

That naturally leads to questions regarding which products shops can focus on to increase sales. The good news is that it’s a long list-”ranging from very specific items to total power plant upgrades.

“While customers may not necessarily be asking for them outright, offering complete solutions for engine swaps is a sure thing when it comes to the aftermarket automotive sector,” Burnett says. “The (GM) LS engine remains a go-to choice when it comes to getting bang for the buck in the performance arena. Offering the right components that allow an enthusiast to easily transplant these engines into their ride is a great way to ensure success from a business perspective.”

He notes that Holley’s LS program features self-learning EFI systems, swap oil pans, swap headers, exhaust manifolds, intake manifolds, fuel rails, accessory drive systems and more.

Some more thoughts on hot muscle car products:

·   Kilstrom-“New rear-end differential covers, performance, fuel economy and sound.”

·  Barsamian-“Customers are mainly asking for a street clutch that gives the consumer a connection to the road. Many times, the OE clutch gives a consumer an ambiguous feel and they are just shifting and going through the motions. Through our ‘mechanical’ design, we change that. We allow the consumer to have a connection to the road as they drive and rifle through the gears.”

·   Koller-“Consumers are asking for flexibility with their cars. They want them to be able to do and perform multiple tasks, like be a daily driver and a race car. For example, our new Lakewood Evolution product allows 2005-’12 Mustang owners to personalize their suspension with just a few easy adjustments. This allows them to continue to use it as their race car but also be able to drive it easily and comfortably as their daily driver.”

·   Burr-“Customers continue to want bolt-on upgrades that they can feel by the seat of their pants. Engine torque, brake torque and sticky tires will always drive the market due to their immediate effect on the vehicle.”

·    And Briseno-“Billet products and affordable new products for 2013-’14 models are what you want to offer, as well as great customer service.”

Pieced Together

Of course, an integral part of a good speed shop’s product offering is its ability to put these pieces together into a fun, reliable package that performs. So, when it comes to serving the muscle car market, be sure to work closely with customers to get them just what they want.

“Putting performance packages together for these hot muscle cars is a great opportunity,” Barsamian says. “Shops should come up with packages at different levels that will provide their customers with street performance to strip (characteristics). For starters, they should be thinking cam, brake, chip, air intake, turbo, supercharger and clutch packages. The bottom line is that consumers are too busy to do the math. They want it done for them. Based on these muscle cars, there are a lot of options for today’s shops to offer their customers.”

Koller says it’s about convenience, too.

“The opportunities lie in the ability to offer products that make their vehicles flexible and also in the ability to make products easy to use with functionality that appeals to the consumer, like on a smartphone.”

If you know your stuff, make sure the client realizes it as well.

“The strongest opportunities for a professional shop lie in specialization,” says Burr. “Getting really good at all of the ins-and-outs of a particular model or year range makes you the go-to shop for a dedicated fan base.”

And when dealing with that dedicated base, Briseno stresses that it’s a shop’s responsibility to educate customers on the available products, their quality and how they will work with the rest of the vehicle.

Factors to Consider

Speaking of systems that work together, it makes sense for shops to look beyond their four walls at outside factors that might affect plans to serve the muscle car market. Our sources point to everything from the economy, to new technology, to the psychological state of buyers heading into the spring driving season as things to consider.

“Overall, the weak recovery of the entire economy is probably the single biggest factor holding back growth in the performance aftermarket,” suggests Burr of Wilwood Brakes. “Continued high unemployment naturally makes potential consumers wary about spending, especially on an expensive hobby.”

Hurst Performance Group’s Kilstrom agrees, identifying “the economy and fuel prices” as factors to watch.

Drake Automotive Group’s Briseno again mentions a shop’s expertise, recommending that each muscle car package be built and judged on “quality vs. price, as quality is the key factor.”

And Prestolite’s Koller adds, “technology in other areas, like smartphones, is directly affecting the automotive aftermarket the most.”

Even a contentious national election, ACT’s Barsamianpredicts, can ultimately mean good things for the muscle car market and the performance industry as a whole.

“Normally, we would say the economy right? However, this last year was an election year, and no matter who you voted for, there was a winner. People like to win. So the person they elected to office makes them feel good because that’s who they chose. This has increased consumer confidence exponentially. This isn’t just an opinion-it’s a historical fact. You can go back to every presidential election over the last several years and the very next spring selling season is always better than the prior year. It has already begun. We are seeing greater sales over last year.”

Time to Capitalize

So, just like the OEMs did when they reintroduced these hot new muscle cars, it’s time for shops to capitalize on the opportunity. Here’s how.

“While each business is different and there is a certain level of uniqueness to each one, it’s imperative to make sure you’re taking note of what your customers are asking for and are willing to learn about how to correctly provide that product or service,” suggests Holley’s Burnett. “Aligning your business with manufacturers that provide a wide range of products for popular trends in the industry will always help in keeping your business not only popular in the eyes of your consumers, but from a business perspective also.”

Koller adds that “crowd sourcing, while not new, is a great way to get a whole bunch of new ideas.”

Meanwhile, proper packaging is usually a sound strategy.

“Our most successful customers look for ways to add value to our products through their service,” Burr explains. “Don’t just order a brake kit and wait for it to show up for the hand-off to your customer. Make sure they’re getting everything they need. If your customer is dropping off their car for installation, then offer them a ride to work or wherever their next stop is. In short, make it easy for them to spend money with you and make sure the money is well spent.”

And that can mean working together with others who share your passion and enthusiasm.

“Seek out local car clubs,” Barsamian recommends. “Contact the president of the club and tell them about your shop and what you specialize in. If possible, attend some of their car shows. Create flyers promoting your shop. Aim these flyers at the car club’s niche vehicle. Car clubs have dedicated consumers that love performance and have a higher percentage of members that want to buy and use performance products.”

That goes for inside the industry as well.

“Get involved with SEMA’s Data Co-op program and understand all the product benefits in the lines they offer,” Kilstrom says.

There is a tremendous opportunity to get involved with muscle cars. It’s time to enter a market that continues to show its strength.