Street Beat

Jan 2, 2011

It appears 2011 will be another important year for the street performance market, with plenty of questions yet to be answered.

What are the popular cars and hot new products? Will negative forces-from a down economy to stricter emissions regulations to an aging enthusiast population-have an impact on the market? And what can performance shops do to maintain and grow their street performance customer base?

We put these questions and more to a sampling of aftermarket performance parts suppliers and learned that there’s plenty of optimism surrounding the street beat this year.

“Of course the economic outlook and fuel prices are a concern for enthusiasts,” notes Todd Ryden, director of marketing for MSD Ignition. “However, we found that even when gas was over $4 a gallon, people still wanted to cruise and drive their cars. Look at the Power Tour for instance. It has continued to grow with participants and it seems most car shows and events were pretty well attended last year, too.”

Armed with a generally positive outlook, here are some thoughts on where the street performance market is headed over the next 12 months.

Old Meets New

When it comes to typical street machines, a big part of the market is the older generation of 1960s, ’70s and ’80s classics, and their new-generation 2011 counterparts. And in some cases, it’s becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between the two-whether it’s who’s driving them, or the parts they’re buying.

Will Baty of Centerforce Clutch explains.

“Quite honestly, we are seeing the classic vehicles utilizing the late-model drive lines, so in most cases it is a direct bolt-in for the year engine they use,” he says. “But the largest difference between the generations is in the use of hydraulics and matching the correct clutch system for the hydraulics.”

Thor Schroeder of Moroso points to Mustangs as a perfect example of old meets new.

“With the boom of Fox body Mustangs in the ’80s (it took from 1979 to about ’85), with Mustang-only race series, companies (were) built around servicing and providing parts for Mustangs. The Mustang became more than a car, but a culture,” he says. “When the 2005-up Mustangs were introduced and deemed a hit, it gave Chrysler and GM the opportunity to come out with retro vehicles of their own.”

And, in many cases, again target former customers.

“These vehicles are going to the enthusiasts who already have the earlier cars (but) don’t want to subject them to everyday driving because they are too valuable,” he continues. “(Plus), having an earlier original car comes with ’60s technology in braking and handling.”

This leads to the popularity of new street machines that evoke the image of their older counterparts but perform much better.

“These new cars do add excitement to the market-they bring muscle cars to the masses,” Schroeder says. “This new breed of muscle cars is going to be more technically demanding than their forebears.”

Michael Jonas, president of Stainless Steel Brakes, Clarence, N.Y., notes that the markets for the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s were very distinct, particularly when it came to brake systems and products. However, the 1980s vehicles in particular, he notes, are an area to keep an eye on.

“The 1980s were mostly plain Jane cars-no horsepower like current models and the brakes were mostly carryovers from the ’70s. This was the beginning of the ‘appliance’ vehicles,” he explains. “(However) Camaro, Corvette, Mustang, G-body and a few other standouts were keepers. (And) as the prices of older cars begin to climb, these will be the next collector cars.”

Until recently, typical street machines were limited to a handful of engine prospects. But that, too, is being updated.

“For us, everything revolves around the fuel system,” says Jesse Powell, director of marketing for Aeromotive Inc. “The power potential of the late-model performance engines like the LS and Mod Motor is crazy. (Builders can find) 600- to 700-hp in the blink of an eye with a minimal investment that was unheard of in the mid-’80s. If you were making that type of power, you had a serious pavement-pounder and had made a significant investment and people knew it. Now, you can pull up to a stock-appearing new Camaro or Mustang driven by someone who looks like your mother and she could blow your doors off.”

He, too, sees how new and old is coming together.

“The other interesting thing about the late-model performance market is its influence on the muscle car and street rod market. Last year’s trip to Louisville for the NSRA Nationals was a perfect example. We spent the better part of a week doing nothing more than fielding questions and drawing up systems for guys to put in-tank fuel systems for EFI engines in their muscle cars. The adoption of the LS swap, even into older street rods, is proving to be more than just a fad. It’s here to stay and if the current trend continues, carbureted small blocks will become a nostalgia movement.”

It Starts with Parts

Ryden also sees potential for parts sales with the new LS engine line.

“As far as the late-model muscle cars, we offer performance coil packs for the Hemi, Mod Motor and of course the LS,” he says. “The LS engine following is huge and we’re seeing more and more retrofits. We’re getting more questions about our ignition driver for the carburetor swaps on LS engines. Plus, we’re developing a few other ignition components for these engines as well. Late-model performance is already exciting and it’s growing even more.

“MSD is known for our 6A and 6AL ignition controls, and for 2011 these two ignitions have been revised with digital performance and increased power,” he adds. “At shows and events we’re finding more people building cars from the late ’70s and early ’80s. We’re seeing more third- and fourth-gen Camaros-simply (because) these cars are affordable compared to the muscle era.”

Expanding applications seems to be a common goal for many manufacturers.

“Our new twin-disc DYAD DS is what we will be focusing on this year, increasing the application base and offering additional levels for enthusiasts who like to push the envelope,” notes Baty. “The DYAD DS is a ‘true sprung hub’-designed dual disc system that honestly has the same pedal and driver control as a bone-stock clutch, but with 1,300 foot-pounds of torque-holding capacity.”

Schroeder says hot new products for 2011 include motor mounts, suspension pieces, oil pans, anti-roll control kits, water pumps, coolant tank expansion and more.

“Everything we have been working on for the street and performance market revolves around in-tank or ‘stealth’-designed fuel systems,” Powell adds. “We’ve recently released aluminum fuel cells with built-in fuel pumps and took that design to the next level with an in-tank option for the C5 and C6 Corvettes. The demand for in-tank fuel pumps in late-model performance cars and trucks has been on a steady increase.

“We are (also) working hard to come to market with a full line of performance fuel pumps that drop right into the factory fuel tanks. Although we have released the Corvette fuel system, 2010-newer Camaro and SN97 Mustang kits are soon to be released, with a variety of other applications on their way.”

Jonas says his company has developed a series of DOT street-legal calipers that fit 15-inch wheels and are specifically designed for street-able drag racing cars.

“We are introducing 8-piston calipers that will fit into 15×8 wheels. We also have a complete line of rear disc brake kits for 1932-2011 cars and trucks. By adding rear disc brakes, you can improve stopping power by over 25 percent.”

Helping Hands

So, what advice do manufacturers have for shops looking to maximize the potential of the street performance market?

“Technical assistance and customer support have never been more important,” says Ryden of MSD. “When you can point a customer in the right direction of product decisions, and help them with any tech support, you’ll have a customer that will come to you first.”

Baty of Centerforce agrees.

“Customer service,” he says. “Get to know the customer and ask them their goals for their vehicle. We like to find the customer’s intended use of their vehicle and what they are looking for out of a clutch so that we can properly suggest the correct clutch system to that customer.”

Moroso’s Schroeder first recommends that shops pay close attention to their inventory management by understanding the needs of their customers, and then also check out what’s new from manufacturers for the coming year.

Help to get that done is available.

“They could learn this information from the sales reps that come in the front door, and the new catalogs that come out,” he says of shops. “Sales reps are a great source of information, or call the manufacturers themselves.”

He also suggests a road trip.

“(Shop owners) or someone from their organization should go to the (national trade) shows to stay fresh with what the trends are. Go to a couple of races a year and most importantly have an open mind when listening to customers.”

Jonas of SSBC believes that shops need to understand the importance of a quality product, and be able to explain the benefits to customers.

“Chinese imports and a lack of quality are affecting the street performance market. People are buying on price. (But) what is cheap does not last long, while what lasts long is not cheap. Get to know your customers and the needs they expect to meet,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions on driving style and learn their expectations of the product.  Price is not always the answer-sell on customer service and quality, and then the price will look cheap. The worst thing a customer can say to you is ‘no,’ so don’t be afraid to ask-you may get to sell them more than you expected.”

Powell of Aeromotive also encourages shops to be there for their clients.

“Being a resource for enthusiasts is the key,” he says. “It’s not all about parts on the shelf. Yes, you need them and need to be able to get them, but it’s about what else you can provide. What most people really want is information and confirmation that what they are doing is the right choice for their build and the best they can get for their money. If you understand the systems and can provide this type of technical expertise, you’ll get the sales time and time again.”

Crystal Ball

Count Powell among those who are feeling optimistic about the coming year.

“Just judging from the SEMA Show, I would say that things are definitely looking up,” he says. “The attitude was overwhelmingly positive. Most people are doing pretty good-not breaking the record books, but maintaining really well. It’s hard to say where things will go from here, but for the first time in more than two years, things are on the upswing.”

Ryden also saw positive signs at the SEMA Show.

“With one big trade show down, it seems that our industry is optimistic for 2011,” he says. “Racers still want to race, and hot rodders want to drive. MSD is ready to give them the fire they need. We’re excited for 2011, but we’re already looking to 2012 for new products.”

Baty knows that the economy will continue to be a factor.

“It’s going to interesting to see how the economy plays out,” he says, “but I would like to say I see growth in all aspects in the performance market.”

Jonas says the industry outlook calls for “positive, slow growth, but many are still very cautious. People expect discounts.”

Schroeder sees another way the recent down economy could positively affect the market.

“After the economic meltdown that our country went through the last couple of years, we feel that ‘Buy American’ will be stronger in people’s hearts than in most recent years past,” he explains. “The ‘new’ Mustang, Challenger and Camaro-these new late models will always be niche vehicles, but they will sell in the years to come in sales numbers that the performance aftermarket can greatly benefit from.”

In fact, Schroeder’s company recently had an encounter with someone who was little too enthusiastic about the market.

“The SEMA Show this year was very busy for us with a lot of interest in our product line-so much so that two of our display engines disappeared between the end of the show and when our shipping crates for our display arrived at our booth,” he says.

But he does believe that good news from the OEMs will trickle down to the aftermarket.

“Positive excitement is in the air with GM’s IPO announcement, how strong Ford has been and Chrysler’s success with the new Grand Cherokee,” he says. “These positive influences greatly help our market because besides the die-hard enthusiasts thinking about cars, the general population is also.”

Street Specialization

What’s the outlook for the street performance market in 2011? Glenn Thompson, VP tech support for Stage 8 Locking Fasteners, San Rafael, Calif., shares his views:

What are your company’s hot products for the Street Performance Market in 2011?

Our Locking Turbo Nuts that attach the turbo to the header or manifold. Turbos are more popular than ever and their loose turbo nuts have always been an issue.

How does the market break down between the new generation of street machines and the classics from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s? 

We still see a good 50-50 mix. The classics are holding strong while the newer generation shows slight growth every year

What main factors do you see affecting the Street Performance Market in the coming year?

Choices! There are so many good street machines out there today that choosing one can be a real struggle.

What can shops do to maximize their potential for 2011?

I think specialization may be a key, so that you can focus on one segment and saturate that market with related offerings instead of trying to carry a wide variety of some items for all.

What’s your outlook for the market next year?

I think the market is looking up due to the large variety of performance vehicles that are hitting the streets as of late.