Reality Check

Dec 2, 2009

It’s always smart business to stop and take a close look at your industry every now and then. And, taking that same look at other industries can help you develop a fresh prospective on your own. This time, Performance Business talks to a number of manufacturers in the off road and 4X4 industries to check the pulse of off road.

News

The biggest news came quickly from Jay Garside of Outerwears in Schoolcraft, Mich. They make pre-filters for quads, dune buggies, trucks and pretty much anything with an air induction system that can use deflection filtration products; even shop vacs. “I see kind of a slowdown, definitely. Look at the economy. What we see is a slowdown because of discretionary income. Consumers are having to pick and choose on what they spend their money on. People are more selective in what they’re purchasing.”

As far as trends, Garside says, “It’s a trend for people to see if their dollar can go further. They’re investing in items that help protect their investment or increase its efficiency so they can eliminate or reduce the need for service and replacement parts.”

“Our products have been known for years in the off road world, but lately, we have seen an increased use on pavement vehicles,” he says when asked about what’s hot. “Our prefilter that works on the Dodge diesels is quite popular, again on pavement, too. The water repellant aspect of the product line works on dirt and off road. We even see tuners using them. Our new Booties for velocity stacks are hot sellers as well as working on the superchargers seen in production vehicles today.”

And what are the popular models? “The customers that see the biggest benefit are those with high output engines. That’s a match for our product that deflects dirt and maintains peak airflow. General truck people are buying the product. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are Ford, Chevy or Toyota Tundra,” says Garside.

Off Road Trends

Interco Tire Corporation in Rayne, La., is a family business that makes tires for street and off road. The business started with off road tires of only three sizes that covered the entire market. David Guidry is the third generation of that family and says of trends, “It’s changed quite a bit. The bigger wheels are the new trend. The 18, 20, 22 and 24-inch tires. It’s heavy on the West Coast. But they’re not always used off road. I call them pavement pounders.”

So what’s new and hot at Interco? “Flying out the door these days are our IROK® tires which are mainly designed for rock crawlers. They have traction on rocks and we use a state-of-the-art tread compound which not only works off road but has friendly street manners. They are DOT approved and manufactured in both nylon bias and steel belted radials versions.”

What’s popular today? “With so many tread designs, we cover all walks of life. We have a tread design for everyone. We are constantly offering new tread designs.”

On the industry, Guidry says, “The biggest changes we see in the industry are the price of raw materials rising at a faster rate. We have to pay attention to those because it obviously affects the pricing of our products.”

Exhaust

JBA Performance Exhaust makes systems for late model trucks in San Diego, Calif. Their Mark Mathews says, “As far as trends go, a lot of our customers are going with the ceramic coating and the use of stainless steel as opposed to just mild steel. The SUV market we see has slowed a bit. With the growing popularity of off-road racing, we’re seeing bigger interest in pre-runner style vehicles such as Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier and Chevy Colorado. Customers are preferring to go with the quieter exhaust systems to get all the performance but with less noise.”

As with any company, their hot product target list is selling to the most popular models. Mathews lists the, “2007 Toyota Tundra headers and exhaust, ’07 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra headers and exhaust, ’07 Jeep Wrangler headers and exhaust. The new Chevy trucks and SUVs have active fuel management systems that run the engine at four cylinders for cruising speeds. Our exhaust systems are engineered to work with that technology with a pleasant sound and without diminishing performance.”

So what does he see as a big factor in the industry? “I definitely see fuel economy becoming a bigger interest-especially as state laws and regulations get involved. Our type of product adds efficiency and performance to the engine, which translates to better fuel economy when driven responsibly.”

Intakes, Parks

AEM of Hawthorne, Calif., is a 20-year-old company making air inductions systems and electronic fuel injection management systems. Lawson Mollica says, “We’ve seen a lot more development on the suspension and the tires of off roaders. The rise in off road racing shows in the navigation industry, too. For us, we’re starting to see a lot more EFI [Electronic Fuel Injection] use. As it applies to our business, we are seeing more conversions to EFI.”

AEM plays an active role in working with all brands via consumers. “We’ve actually got some great enthusiasts that deliver some great feedback. We’ve got friends in the Jeep community and in rock crawling. Our air filters and induction systems are run by several teams such as Camburg Racing’s Ford Rangers. We support CORR and SCORE and diesel guys, trucks, SUVs-all late makes and models.”

Mollica sees good things in the changes the industry is now undergoing. “Fortunately, the enthusiast market is a ‘want’ market not a ‘need.’ People do this as a passion. Challenges in the future will be the price of gas and issues with land usage. It’s going take a concerted effort from the community to block some of the land usage bills to keep four-wheeling accessible to the participants. One of the things we love on the off-road market is that it’s such a classy market-both on the people side and the racers.”

Along those same lines, Superlift Suspension [founded in 1975] owner, Bret Lovett says, “Reduced land access is spawning more “pay-to-play” off-road vehicle [ORV] parks. Superlift’s ORV Park, founded in 2001 and located in Hot Springs, Ark., is enjoying steady growth.”

To complement that growth, Superlift has introduced an unprecedented number of new systems over the past six months. “Our 2″, 3″ and 4” Jeep JK systems are moving exceptionally well, as is our 2007 GM half-ton system. The new “hard core” targeted X2 lift systems for Jeep TJs and YJs are now shipping.”

Gearheads

At Midwest Motive Gear in Chicago, they offer gears and axle assemblies to the off-road world. Bob Linville sees trends in what styles are being used today. “There’s a big change in people using the Danas 60s on the fronts. It seems to me that the 60s have become very popular. Between street and racing, we see more people using more of our parts and kits for them. We’re getting calls on a lot of the deeper stuff, such as down to 5:38 ratio gears.”

Another hot item for them is a bigger selection of Dana gears. “We’re expanding our ratios based on all the Danas as there’s such a call for those. Probably the 30 and 35 Danas are real hot right now, as are the 44s. The 10-bolt GM stuff and the 8.8 Ford are still popular. We make ratios from 3:08 to 6:14,” says Linville.

Surprisingly, it’s the SUV market that’s popular for them. “In the Ford 8.8 IFS, we offer 3:31 to 5:13 ratio for F-150s and Expeditions. We’re still moving quite a bit of the GM 10-bolt IFS 3:42 to 4:88 ratios. The 9¾ Ford has gotten very popular for us. Late model Expeditions ’97 and up.”

The OEM connection is echoed by Superlift’s Lovett, “The OEM’s new Electronic Stability Programs [ESP] can be an issue on certain vehicle platforms. Superlift and others in the industry are working on this now, and we will inevitably get it dialed in. Vehicle design complexity definitely keeps us on our toes.”

Linville sees rising fuel as the biggest change today. “Gas is a factor. People have driven 100 miles to an event in the past without concern, and that’s going to change. They’re backing off on some of this. We’re assuming that because we saw people attending races closer. We’ve got racers we sponsor that race all over the country and they just can’t do it any more.”

There’s a look from around the off-road market. How does it stack up to your corner of the world?