No Time To Curb Your Enthusiasm

Dec 28, 2009

In 2008 came the recession. Quickly. Powerfully. And it caught most businesses, especially those automotive related, with one foot ready to step into a deep economic hole.

The recession continued through 2009, even as economic forecasts and indicators offered glimmers of hope toward the year’s end and pronouncements from market watchers and economists declared that the recession was over.

The auto bailouts begun by the previous White House and carried through by the current White House seemed to have stanched the money-letting and propped up the industry. The “Cash for Clunkers” program at least sold vehicles, keeping some dealers alive and getting a handful of carmakers to add work shifts instead of adding layoffs. Gas prices stayed well below the $3/gal. mark. And Ford and General Motors plan to up their vehicle production in the first quarter of 2010, which not only is a needed morale boost, it serves to say the economic turnaround in the auto industry for autoworkers, parts suppliers and dealers is on the horizon. That can only bode well for restylers.

Up for the challenge

On the West Coast, December’s LA Auto Show highlighted 49 electric, hybrid and alternative-energy vehicles, a definite move into the growing “green” automotive marketplace. A month earlier, at SEMA’s annual show in Las Vegas, some alternative-energy vehicles captured second looks, too; but it was the “here’s what’s new in the aftermarket” that the thousands of automotive businesspeople walking the aisle and populating the booths had come to see, had come to determine, how they might make their own shops do better in 2010.

For what proved to be perhaps the most challenging year for restylers, the SEMA expo managed to attract 120,000 people, including those who worked the booths of the more than 1,700 businesses that SEMA said had exhibited. Moreover, almost one-fourth of the registered buyer attendees came from outside the United States.

As published by the association, “One hundred percent of the businesses who attended the SEMA Show put it all on the line,” said Chris Kersting, SEMA president and CEO. “This is an excellent indicator that buyers, manufacturers and services in this industry are ready for an active 2010.”

Hot, hot, hot

Even with a yet-to-thaw economy, the heat of hope burned in the hearts and minds of those in the automotive aftermarket world. No doubt 2008 and 2009 proved trying times, but those times strengthened some companies, while others grew weaker, some saying, “no more.” But…and there’s always a “but”…ingenuity, positive attitude and a bold business posture prevailed.

Attendance may have been down, overall; some shopkeepers had to tighten their money belts and keep a closer local eye on their operations. And a few fewer exhibitors were missing from the exhibit halls’ floors. But that didn’t curb the enthusiasm of the annual show.

At the 2008 show, the 2009 Camaro was all but the designated show car, found in at least 35 booths. And wouldn’t you know it, the 2010 Camaro was the hot item for this past show. Just page back a few issues to Restyling‘s October 2009 magazine and you’ll see how many 2010 Camaros made the transition from stock, new-car offerings to sizzling road machines; attendees yearned to switch on their ignitions, wrap their hands around their steering wheels and let their accelerator foot do the talkin’.

WD-40 had its Camaro, to be auctioned off in January, with the proceeds going to Child Help and the Victory Junction Gang. Designer Rick Bottom had his hot-looking orange Camaro, a GM award winner (see sidebar, “Winning Ways”). There was TV’s Jay Leno 2010 Camaro, RealWheels’ Cool Shades Camaro and Neil Tjin’s Light Green Camaro, which GM cited as best GM vehicle.

Want a Camaro that’s not a Camaro, but a Corvette? Or vice versa? The union -¦ no, the synthesis of a Corvette ZR1 supercharged LS9 engine with a Hennessey Performance Engineering modified 2010 Camaro. The result: a limited edition (as in just 24 of these for the model year) HPE700 LS9 that boasts 725 bhp and a “twisting 741 pound-feet of torque -¦ with a 0-to-60 mph achieved in a scant 3.5 seconds.”

And NASCAR race organizer Hendrick Motorsports had Calloway Cars build its 25 limited edition 2010 Camaro SS muscle cars with 582 bhp.

But the venerable Mustang was a powerful presence because it’s just too iconic an American car not to be a presence. So many model years were found on the show floors around the halls and out on Ford’s design floor. 3dCarbon, Street Scene and Steeda had their 2010 Mustangs honored by Ford.

Trucks, Jeeps and 4x4s, plain and fancy. OK, none were plain. From a fully dressed and rigged work pickup in the Thule booth to a super-lifted Bully Dog dually parked outside the convention center (“parked” but ready to cruise the streets of Las Vegas) there seemed to be no signs that tough trucks were a shadow of pre-2009’s economy. Any step (powered or static), rack, tonneau, toolbox, tailgating party design, winch, grille, grille guard, wheel and tire for trucks of today and yesterday -” maybe even waiting for those of tomorrow-”were polished, shiny, matte and black.

Parts. Well, let’s just leave it as saying this show, as always, is the largest parts store you can find, all in three huge halls, and a couple of football fields’ worth of outdoor displays.

Green ‘n’ lean

Last year, green seemed to be the “in” thing, as far the as talk of hybrids, electrics, biodiesels, zero-carbon emissions, etc. Folks did mill around and check out 2008’s Making Green Cool Zone. This year, however, though the “green zone” was represented, its excitement wasn’t as noticeably notable. Odd, because though the economy put a damper on hybrid sales, especially as gas prices dropped and consumers looked again to SUVs (the smaller, CUV-sized ones) and, thank goodness, trucks, a lot of attention design and manufacturing are going into electric-assisted or electric-based vehicles. But with those 2010 Camaros the toast of public relations admiration, all things muscle car are back in the limelight (were they ever not there for enthusiasts?).

Still, among the many electric vehicles, how about the all-electric powered ’33 Hot Rod from the team at Wareham, Mass.-based Factory Five? It was based on the ’33 Hot Rod that won SEMA’s 2008 Best in Show – Hot Rod award. The all-electric ’33 claims the following: “Powered by UQM technologies electric drive and A123 Systems high-power lithium-ion batteries. It produces 300+ hp and more than 660ft./lbs. of torque in a 2,400-lb. car; and delivers a range of 100+ miles and 0-60 acceleration in an estimated four seconds.”

A restyling focus

SEMA, like many companies and organizations, has had to reduce its paid staff. Nonetheless, it boasts a small army of volunteers who drive the engines of many councils. For restylers, that means the Professional Restylers Organization, or PRO, which serves to promote the professionalism and growth of restyling.

The 17-member select committee comprises of manufacturers, distributors, marketing and public relations experts, news disseminators and restylers. More than simply a group that presents annual awards, PRO has set a goal to grow its membership to 400, encouraging everyday restylers to join and make their voices heard and their actions even more noticeable in the automotive aftermarket world.

With nearly half of the sales accounted for in the specialty automotive industry – that has translated to $15.4 billion annually – PRO wants its members to succeed in their everyday business operations; and it has a variety of materials that can help, from seminars and a sales training manual to networking events and installer certification. PRO members receive the sales training manual and business development guidebook free.

Giving a strong kickstart to education, PRO is putting together an ambitious hands-on training program that is planned for this spring with 12 classes over six sessions. Topics may incorporate such areas as leather/interior work, sunroof installation, diesel performance, A6 electrical training and more. Look for more information in the coming months.

Got video?

With the growth of electronic media – from news updates, company and magazine websites, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a host of others – video’s the thing. Shop walk-throughs, engine bay and undercarriage “tours,” discussions, commentaries, how-tos, meets, races and gatherings are all digitally captured and available for the world to view.

While at SEMA, Restyling’s own production crew captured 25 videos (some for our brother publication, Performance Business). See and hear what industry suppliers have to share at restylingmag.com.

It might have been one difficult year for the auto industry, but new aftermarket and specialty products still keep being created and coming down the pike for restylers to use.

2009 was tough, but high hopes abound for how 2010 will turn out. Be prepared; and be prepared for 2010’s SEMA show in Las Vegas.