For years, software performance has been among the first three performance upgrades purchased for new vehicles. Year after year, market analysis has shown that enthusiasts buy intake, exhaust and performance software before anything else.
It’s safe to say that today’s software performance customers get more mileage out of their purchases than ever before.
Once, enthusiasts were required to purchase a new product in order to utilize the manufacturer’s new updates and features. Now, they can often download those updates for free.
In the past, some features were specific to certain products and not available on others. Now, nearly every manufacturer has a top-of-the-line product available that incorporates just about every bell or whistle they ever thought to create.
And finally, it used to be that when enthusiasts switched to a new make or model vehicle, they needed to purchase new performance software. Now, many companies have made it so their customers can simply move it over and download the correct tune for no additional cost.
Yes, a lot has changed in the market for software performance, and it is all for the good of the customer. Let’s take a look at some of the specifics.
In some ways, the new products for software performance might as well be invisible. They are not the type of upgrade that can be picked up and held and turned around in a person’s hands for inspection.
Software upgrades can be invisible to enthusiasts-all they see of new products to distinguish them from their predecessors are printed words on the packaging explaining expanded coverage in terms of additional makes, models and years.
But that doesn’t mean the upgrades aren’t impressive.
“With these products, there is rarely anything significant that comes out from the vehicle manufacturer that causes you to create a whole new product family. But, every year, we add features or application coverage so the dealer can sell to more vehicles, and the device can do more things for the vehicles,” says Tom Bennett of Superchips in Sanford, Fla.
Bennett says Superchips is known for three products. “First is our Mileage XS, which is an economy product, and Flashpaq, which is a performance product, and that is our high-volume, mainstream product that fits the needs of most customers. Then, we offer our Cortex product, which is our flagship item, and it has more bells and whistles than the Flashpaq, as well as a power train warranty.”
He adds, “For 2010, what’s new is the expansion of application coverage. We are adding a few more engines for Dodge and Ford, and for Jeep we are adding a few more model years. For the diesel products, we’re working on the next generation of diesel performance trucks because the OEMs are launching their new engines that will include new emissions systems.”
Dan Nicholas of JET Performance in Huntington Beach, Calif., explains how his company’s products have expanded to cover more vehicles as well.
“We currently have performance modules for most of the 2010 applications for both domestic and import models. Some of the newest applications include 2010 Camaros, 2010 Mustangs, 2010 Jeeps, Hyundai Genesis, etc.,” he says.
Daryl Klassen of Bully Dog Technologies in Aberdeen, Idaho, says his company’s primary product is the Triple Dog GT for diesel and gas.
However, “We also have the Watchdog. The Watchdog is a gauge-only product, and it works on any vehicle’s OBD-II port for 1996 and newer vehicles. It’s a performance gauge, and it will do 0-60 mph (times), quarter-miles, and it has a drag tree in it to help guys do performance testing. Also, for guys who want to use it as a gauge for their everyday driving, it also has a Driving Coach in it, and that will teach the user to drive for fuel efficiency. That can provide up to 30-percent better fuel economy.”
Klassen adds that the Triple Dog GT is everything that the Watchdog is, but it is a downloader as well. “It downloads software onto your vehicle, and it works on Ford, Dodge and Chevy. We are getting ready to release our 2009 Dodge products.”
For performance electronics specific to racing applications, Kirk Miller of AEM in Hawthorne, Calif., notes that his company has a fuel ignition controller (F/IC) and that it is a piggyback module.
“It can be hardwired into a harness,” he says. “We also have extension harnesses they can hardwire into. Then, we have our full standalone engine management system, which we refer to as EMS. It is now our Series II EMS that operates on the EM tuner software.”
These products are for racing applications only-as the factory control module is out of the picture-allowing for control over individual cylinder trims, boost control, two-step launch control, throttle shift, etc.
Miller adds that those products are doing well with turbocharged vehicles. Specifically, “The NASA circuit has done well for us, and it is growing. The SCCA is amateur/professional racing. But even at the amateur level, you cannot show up with a street vehicle and drive at one of their events. NASA has performance driving times where members can go out and log laps in their street car. They can go out and have fun and really let the car stretch its legs. Beyond that, there are a bunch of different classes, and there are a bunch of spec classes as well.”
Bells & Whistles
The manufacturers of performance software and electronics have all made the same astute business calculation: It’s less expensive and less risky to offer more to their core customers than it is to venture into a new market with a new product.
Some of that “more” they are offering amounts to some shiny new bells and whistles.
While noting that Bully Dog has three settings of various horsepower levels (Extreme increases horsepower up to 170-180 hp, Performance 90-100 hp and Tow 50-70 hp), Klassen emphasizes, “Those are all adjustable on the fly; all the driver has to do is hit a button while they are driving down the road. In addition, it monitors boost, EGTs, engine oil and transmission temperatures, all of those things. If any of them get out of a safe range, the Triple Dog will pull it down to the next horsepower level automatically.”
The new modules also have color touch screens with adjustable levels of brightness.
After pointing out that Superchips has introduced some new features for the Dodge Ram Hemi engine, Bennett notes, “We will launch in the near future a new application for our tuners that will allow the user to adjust the engine and transmission parameters and personally set the driving style (while still meeting emissions and safety requirements) from part-throttle adjustments to wide-open throttle. The truck version includes the ability to change standard and 4WD-LO shift schedules. We have given the user the ability to make adjustments to the engine and transmission that they couldn’t make in the past,” says Bennett.
He adds that Superchips also has new features for Jeeps, including allowing users to adjust tire pressure settings for off-road adventures.
Performance or Efficiency
Software and electronics upgrades increase power through efficiency.
“Typically,” says Nicholas, “if you set the ignition and fuel tables for peak performance, you are promoting improved efficiency. You are taking better advantage of proper air/fuel ratios and ignition advance based on rpm, load, etc.”
When fuel prices are high, those facts make for great selling points. However, when fuel prices drop to levels consumers find acceptable, efficiency has less leverage in sales, though it is still a valuable attribute to emphasize.
Bennett says that when gas went up to $4 a gallon, everybody asked, “What am I going to do?” At Superchips, “We thought efficiency and economy were going to be really important in the marketplace. A few years ago, we would talk to customers and ask them what their primary reasons were for purchasing our product. Economy was one of the choices, and it always scored very low. There were always other reasons: power, torque, etc. Last year, the economy shot up to the second-ranked reason for purchase. Power and economy were one and two. A year later, we’re asking the same question and economy is moving its way back down to six, seven or eight.”
Nonetheless, products geared for efficiency are still doing well, says Klassen. As mentioned earlier, Bully Dog sells the Triple Dog GT and the Watchdog, each of which have the Driving Coach that can increase fuel efficiency.
One of the most fun uses for the Driving Coach, says Klassen, is that it can be left on if someone borrows the vehicle. The owner can then see how well it is being driven by that person.
Education Improves Sales
It is no secret that for many products, sales of every sort have been below recent averages over the last year. In such an environment, the need to be proactive is greater than ever.
In the chips and modules market, shops that can educate their customers on the benefits of performance tuning will have the greatest opportunities for increased sales.
“By the time the customer walks into the store, they are often aware of performance tuning, but the average customer is probably not informed about the product’s true capabilities,” says Bennett. “They want to talk to the guy behind the counter, because he’s the expert. They want to know more about the purchase they are going to make. They want to know it is the right decision. The shop should be knowledgeable about the product lineup and the features and benefits of any particular product.”
Nicholas suggests promoting how easy this type of performance is to install.
“Some customers don’t even know what the ECU looks like, and it is really easy to pop the hood, show them the ECU and physically show them how most installs take less than a couple of minutes,” he says.
“We want shops to be able to educate the customer about our products. With the education opportunities available, they can learn more. Whether they are a seasoned tuner or new to tuning, it teaches them how to navigate the software.”
AEM is among the companies that offer online training resources, he notes.
“We have forums on our website, and those are very helpful. We are constantly monitoring the site, so if someone has a question, we are there to answer it. And, if they need a software update, they can download it free of charge.”
Bully Dog offers its customers financial incentive to visit the manufacturer’s website and educate themselves on the products. The company has taken other steps to increase sales as well.
“The packaging of the GT was a response to this question, ‘How can we help our dealers sell more products?’ We went with an all-plastic case. The GT is set in such a way that it is on an angle. There is a hole in the plastic. The salesman can take an USB and plug it in. It will light up and go into demo mode. It becomes its own P.O.P,” he says.
Seeing really can be believing when it comes to software sales, he adds.
“We suggests shops keep one on the counter, because our marketing research, as well as that of others, has shown that an interactive and lit-up counter display will sell product eight times faster than products simply put on the shelf,” says Klassen, adding that the company offers printed marketing materials, a preferred dealer program and others to help shops with sales.
Manufacturers say performance software is the future of performance. Each generation of new products improves upon those of the past, not only in efficient power, but in scope as well.
That scope is constantly growing, increasing the number of makes and models covered as the market expands. The most interesting expansion, however, is the increase of control.
More and more parts, even “hard” parts, have an electrical or software aspect to them. With that comes the ability to adjust-through software-parameters for a variety of applications ranging from mountain and valley tow settings to circle track calibrations.
These possibilities will be exciting when executed, but they present a challenge as well. The challenge is education. Will you and your sales staff learn enough about these new products to sell all of their features?