Street Beat

Oct 18, 2012

There are a number of etched-in-stone yardsticks in our corner of the aftermarket, and street performance is one of them. If it’s for a street car and performance-oriented, it’s in.

Sure, it can be a vague category, but that’s only because it’s just so darn big. As one of the core product lines in our industry, we update it yearly by grilling our sources for the latest word on the street.

How’s the market? What are the factors most responsible for its ongoing success? What are the hot products? And how can speed shops take full advantage to increase street-related profits?

We cover all that and more, thanks to our panel of street performance experts.

Strong As Ever

So, there’s still a market for guys who live to hit the open road with their performance machines, right?

“I believe the overall love for performance cars is there,” says Bryan Wilson of Centerforce Clutches. “The feeling of power and ground-gripping performance still gets the blood boiling.”

So does the powerful sound of an aftermarket exhaust system.

“We have seen good growth in the performance exhaust market, with consumers interested in more than just power, but longevity and value as well,” says Richard Waitas of MagnaFlow. “With the financial market fairly stable and the passion for cars as strong as ever, we see a healthy market for now, and people returning to spending some of their hard-earned cash on the customization of their favorite four-wheeled toys.”

Aeromotive’s Jesse Powell also sees positive signs in street performance.

“I think it’s as strong as ever,” he says. “I think the aftermarket is a great acid test. Look at the plethora of products out there-from muscle cars and street rods to late-model muscle cars. When you see some of the amazing products and engineering that has gone into them, and then you look at how many are out there, you know the market is strong and you know there is room for growth. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be such great companies and products in the mix.”

Auto Meter’s Kris Carlson also sees opportunity in the mix of old and new performance vehicles.

“The street performance market is one of the stronger segments in the industry for us right now. Between the traditional muscle cars gaining more acceptance at traditional street rod shows and events, and the Big Three turning out some amazing current-generation pony cars, there are plenty of great platforms available to work on, no matter what your preference or brand loyalty.”

And the numbers appear to bear that out.

“Sales are up double-digits so far this year and with any luck will end the year just as strong,” notes Dan Nicholas of JET Performance.

Product Talk

To back up their upbeat observations, our professional panel is quick to point out their companies’ best sellers.

“The hottest product is our DYAD DS twin disc,” says Wilson. “Today, it is becoming more common to find people building cars making over 700 foot-pounds of torque who still want to drive them on the street with the air blowing. We developed a clutch that holds the power-up to 1,300 foot-pounds of torque. It has a stock pedal feel, is quiet and has smooth engagement qualities.”

Electronic fuel injection has been a driving force behind Aeromotive’s sales, notes Powell.

“We’ve had a big push recently to assist in fueling late-model EFI swaps and aftermarket EFI systems in muscle cars. While there are a million ways to skin a cat, there are some very basic parameters when it comes to your fuel system that cannot be ignored. That said, we saw a real need to fill that void. We’ve recently been working on a full line of muscle car tanks that contain EFI-style baffling and a built-in fuel pump and filter. It’s like putting a fuel system from a new Camaro or Corvette into your muscle car.”

Nicholas says JET’s hot seller is performance mass air sensors.

And Carlson says a range of gauges are doing the trick for Auto Meter.

“While traditional product lines like our Ultra-Lite, Sport-Comp and Phantom gauges series continue to do very well, current hot products for the street and performance market segment for us include next-generation instruments like our American Muscle series that blend new technology with retro styling sensibilities, LS Engine Installation Kits for this increasingly popular swap, and our Universal GPS Speedometer Module,” he says.

When it comes to exhausts, Waitas points to the new breed of American muscle cars.

“The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro is one of the hottest current model year applications,” he says. “Since the rekindling of the pony wars, the battles have been fierce. With the Blue Oval, the Bowtie and Mopar battling it out, the cars have seen unprecedented development in both power and handling. The Camaro ZL1, 1LE and SS are topping the charts on MagnaFlow-equipped exhaust applications.”

Outside Factors

Of course, there are plenty of outside factors that can positively or negatively affect the short- and long-term outlook of the street performance market.

“Weather, fuel prices, the state of the economy and the election are likely to be common themes that you’ll hear from a lot of people,” says Carlson. “While the weather was a positive with the milder winter that got things going a bit earlier this year, the rest still bring a lot of uncertainty and caution to a consumer that’s reigned in their spending habits over the past couple of years.”

“Track availability, government turmoil, jobs and the price of gas,” adds Wilson. “Those are the factors I believe have the most impact on the performance aftermarket.”

Powell notes that a positive influence on the market comes in the form of a renewed dedication to street performance from the Big Three carmakers.

“GM, Ford and Chrysler and their new performance benchmarks, alongside a push for efficiency,” he says of the greatest outside factor. “It’s awesome. Especially for a company like us that thrives on people’s desire for performance. When you have the Big Three fueling that fire and answering the call with great products; what else could you ask for? Not only are their cars strong, their performance divisions are, too.”

He agrees that government mandates could also have an effect, something many manufacturers are watching intently.

“Gas prices and the overall state of the economy” are the big factors, says Nicholas. “Gas prices are funny, because they affect certain performance parts sales, but increase others like our mass air sensor, with customers looking to increase both performance and mileage.”

A growing trend is serving customers who seem to want it all.

“We see that many of today’s performance consumers are looking for more than just the power,” Waitas explains. “As the trends for more power continue, the consumer is not trading value or functionality for horsepower. The consumer wants to have his cake and eat it, too. For us on the manufacturer’s side, it means investing in the latest technologies to test and develop better products (and) do so more efficiently. This is good for everybody, yielding better products and better value, and has been the driving force behind what got us to where we are today. It’s still hard to believe we are in a world of 600-plus-hp street cars that meet SULEV emissions and can be bought off a showroom floor as a standard production car.”

Here We Grow

Earlier we noted just how wide-reaching the street performance market has become. So, where are the target areas for future growth and success?

“Street performance for new trucks should take off soon,” predicts JET’s Nicholas “A large number of consumers held onto their trucks a few years longer than in years past, and when they enter the new truck market again we expect them to spend money on upgrades.”

Diesels included.

“The diesel performance exhaust market is evolving and as it matures, we see some opportunity in providing a street-legal product line that can work with the engine management systems and compliment horsepower,” notes Waitas of MagnaFlow.

Engine swaps have been targeted as another area of interest.

“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of newer, fuel-injected engine swaps taking place with the GM LS engine being the most dominant, and anticipate that this number will only continue to rise as the parts become more readily available from boneyards,” says Carlson of Auto Meter. “We’re also keeping an eye on mid-1970s to early ’90s performance cars (Camaros, Firebirds, G-bodies, etc.) to make a comeback in the near future.”

One strong customer base is the group looking to take its street performance to the next level on the track.

“I see the next growing trend for performance enthusiasts is with the standing mile runs taking place in areas such as California and Texas,” says Wilson of Centerforce. “Similar to the top-speed runs found at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the standing mile has a better chance for growth because of the availability in different locations around the country.”

Aeromotive’s Powell believes that no matter where you look in the street performance market, chances are you’ll find something to be optimistic about.

“Let’s face it; none of us are going to slow down anytime soon. Neither are our cars,” he says. “There will always be that need to build it better. Every aspect of a vehicle is that way today and will be tomorrow. There is a new push for doing it more efficiently now, but that still doesn’t change the core desire for speed and performance.”

Get to Work

If you’re as jazzed about the street performance market as our panel is, then it’s time to get to work.

“Keeping pushing the benefits of performance with good fuel efficiency,” reminds Nicholas. “Actively work the customer to find out what they might have planned for the future and let them know you’re ready to set them up with top-of-the-line products.”

And don’t forget to do your homework.

“Understanding today’s performance aftermarket is about having access to information,” Waitas believes. “Staying informed as to the latest and greatest via print publications and seeking out the massive amount of information on the Internet can help keep shops abreast in today’s fast-paced market.”

Wilson agrees that knowledge is a key.

“Make sure that your sales and technical people have the best knowledge,” he suggests. “Make sure that customers buy from you because they trust you and that you have so much more to offer than price alone. That is where you build a customer base and grow your name.”

Powell says it’s about loving what you do.

“Be a student of the industry,” he recommends. “I can’t tell you how many times customers talk to us about what they are doing and what they plan to purchase or do, and we turn them on to some new product or some solution that makes their lives so much easier and hopefully that much more affordable. I think guys need advice more than anything anymore. If you learn about your products and learn about options out there and can turn guys on to that, they will value the relationship with you more than you might know.”

The street performance market has been built on trust, information and passion.

“Make sure you’re connecting with your customers and building relationships-”both in person and online,” notes Carlson. “In a society where consumer purchases and purchase decisions are increasingly impacted by the Internet, don’t neglect your presence there.”

It’s just one more highway for you to conquer.