Street Truck Performance

Nov 30, 2009

The argument could be made that they’ve got it all: looks, utility and of course, performance. Street trucks offer performance enthusiasts engine platforms with potential, good-looking vehicles and utility. With all of that, it’s no surprise that the street truck has been on the rise for years. However, looking deeper into the market’s offering, many see untapped potential.

A Fast Growing Market

In recent years, surveys have shown street trucks to be one of the fastest growing segments of the performance aftermarket. Of course, things have slowed down for many market segments recently. Has the street truck market been impacted by this? It depends on who you ask.

“The market has slowed down just a bit,” says Michael Jonas of Stainless Steel Brake Corporation (SSBC) in Clarence, N.Y. “It’s not that the people aren’t buying, but from what we’ve seen, they’re putting off their purchases. The demographics we see show that they’re still interested in doing something; they’re just doing it at a slower pace. Overall, what you’re seeing is a market slow down, and that seems to be throughout street trucks and muscle cars as well. It’s across the board for the automotive aftermarket. It’s certainly not specific to street trucks.”

Brian Murphy of BBK Performance in Temecula, Calif., has a different view. He thinks street trucks are one of the fastest growing markets, but like some of the newer markets, it’s limited by product availability.

Murphy points out, “You’ve got guys jumping all over cold air kits that do nothing but that, but when you get into the things that BBK specializes in, such as throttle bodies, it requires a large investment in tooling, and you’re not going to see a lot of manufacturers jump into the market with those parts. For instance, there are no intake manifolds available for 1997 and newer trucks. As the manufacturers bring product out for the consumers to bolt on, they drive the aftermarket.”

Henry Hippert, sales director for Eastern Catalytic in Langhorne, Pa., says, “The street truck market continues to be a growth segment of the performance business. The increasing fuel costs over the past year have caused some performance segments that focus on large cubic-inch horsepower to slow, but this has had the opposite effect on segments like the light-duty sport trucks, where sheer power is not usually the main focus.”

Ed Hamburger of SLP Performance Parts in, Toms River, N.J., says he would agree with assessments that the street truck market has been one of the fastest growing over the last few years, noting, “For the most part, our efforts regarding street trucks are going through GM and Ford dealers throughout the country.”

the sport truck market has been pretty stable, according to George Ciordas of Belltech in Sanger, Calif. “There’s definitely attention directed toward it. We’ve seen OEMs cater to it with larger wheel fitments, and the high-performance sport truck is synonymous with some aftermarket manufacturers such as Roush and Steeda who offer high-performance F150s. It’s been growing quite steadily.”

Truck Buyer Demographics

The street truck market is performing fine, but who are the buyers contributing to that performance? In years past, the street truck market was regarded as being for young men in the 20s, but many say that has changed.

According to Ciordas, “Ten years ago, this market was really youth oriented and the demographics reflected that. Now, it’s a much wider audience. You have individuals from that crowd who are a little older now but still driving sport trucks, and they still want that lowered stance. They’re still outfitting them with wheels; they still want to get rid of that fender gap.’

Ciordas adds that as the crowd has gotten older and taken on more responsibility, they have trended towards family SUVs, which they continue to modify.

“It’s good news for the market. You can’t say the market is just the 25-year-old with their S10 or even 16-year-olds buying the used S10s. Of course, that’s still some of it. It’s everyone from the younger guy to the older individual who’s still driving their Silverado who wants to level it out and the fathers in SUVs that just want a better stance,” says Ciordas.

Hippert says he has seen the demographics for this market remain in line with most other performance segments. The exception is males between 30-35, a group that has grown larger.

“It’s all over,” says Jonas, referring to the market’s demographics. “I’ve seen all sorts of things with this group. For the most part, in different markets there are different people, but because the truck market is such a diverse group, we’re seeing a little bit of everything.”

However, Jonas notes that whether they are a teenager or middle-aged, the customer has become better educated. And while he thinks the market has slowed some, he adds, “There are still items that they need for daily wear and maintenance, but as far as a lot of the extras that we used to sell, they’re looking a little bit harder at them. They want to know a bit more, and I think they’re demanding a bit more from the manufacturer as well. The overall product now has to be much more sophisticated.”

Makes and Models

With a wider audience seeking more sophisticated products, is reasonable to ask which makes and models consumers are shopping for.

Murphy says the models that traditionally do well for the market overall are also those that continue to perform for BBK. “That’s the F150s, along with the late model GM and Dodge trucks that are our biggest segments. We do a lot of gas, and that is one thing that has been good for us. We’re hitting the gas-powered market for trucks, which still makes up a large percentage of the market. With diesel being around $4.40 a gallon, the advantages of diesels aren’t same as they were a year or two ago, and I think that has helped us.”

Jonas says SSBC has seen success with GM trucks as well. In fact, he says it’s almost a two to one ratio. “That’s the Silverados, Blazers, Suburbans. You can buy a really nice two-wheel drive Blazer for a few grand, trick it out, put a 350 in it, and you’ve got a pretty decent ride. It still needs brakes, wheels and tires, but you’re in it for less than ten grand.”

Ciordas agrees with the appraisal of GM’s strength, saying, “Chevy has always been the sport truck vehicle, first and foremost. Chevy is king. After Chevy is probably Ford, and after Ford it’s debatable as to who comes next. Is it Dodge, or is it Toyota or Nissan with their new trucks?” Ciordas adds that there has been a large demand on SUVs, and he credits that as a result of the market’s direction.

For his part, Hippert has seen the most growth from the Toyota Tundra, which has become a leader in the segment.

Hamburger notes that SLP’s primary focus is late models, though they offer plenty further back. “But, folks think primarily of the ’07 and ’08 vehicles, the new 900 series GM trucks and the ’04 to ’08 F150s. Those are all vehicles we’re seeing being modified.”

Ciordas adds that the great thing about all of the new Chevy applications is that there’s a lot of crossover in components. “That’s a great thing for us and the retailer as well. They can stock one product and cater to multiple vehicles.”

Fuel Consequences?

With its current high prices, any market analysis has to take a look at the impact fuel has made on the segment. Manufacturers have looked at this information in different ways.

Ciordas concedes that it was a concern for Belltech. However, “While we saw some mild changes in our sales, nothing drastic took place.”

Hamburger notes that SLP Performance Parts is in the process of having a third party test their products for not just performance but also fuel economy. “We’ve been told that our customers have actually seen measurable improvements in both performance and fuel economy. Consequently, we want to focus on both of those areas because of the high-cost of fuel these guys. Also, people want to know what they’re really going to get in performance.”

Murphy first points out that if you look at gas prices over the last 10 or 15 years, every time it spiked, it eventually came back down. However, thinks fuel prices have definitely affected the market on certain parts. “It’s disposable income that consumers spend in this industry, so companies that have a pretty saturated distribution base, whether it’s an Edelbrock or some similar company, I think that’s got to be hurting them. If you’re one of the many growing newer companies, there’s opportunity for growth.”

He adds that BBK has seen growth, despite having been around for 20 years, because they’re targeting areas with potential and going after that growth. Murphy sees the truck market as offering that potential, and shops pursuing the market are likely to see their sales grow, just as BBK’s have.

Hippert notes that as a catalytic converter manufacturer, Eastern Catalytic’s products are not geared towards fuel economy but rather clean air and meeting regulatory standards.

“Some of our products may offer better flow characteristics compared to the OE, but they all must meet strict government standards and may not be legal in all states. Additionally, it is illegal to change a catalytic converter unless it is out of warranty and deemed defective, damaged or is missing.”

Jonas notes that while SSBC doesn’t manufacture parts that directly deal with fuel economy either, their brake kits are quite a bit lighter than stock, and the lighter weight will help with improve fuel economy.

Shop Suggestions

Market knowledge is good to have, but these manufacturers also have some ideas on how performance shops can earn a bigger piece of the street truck market.

For Murphy, product is the key. “People have got to have product. The truck market is still being educated on that. For example, we sell a lot of throttle bodies to the truck market. It’s now a rebuild market. You’ve got guys with late-90s trucks with 150,000 miles on them, and as they rebuild the motors, they’re looking for things like throttle bodies as a rebuild item. I think a lot of shops are looking at other avenues of parts that they can sell. We’re doing it with throttle bodies, and we’re doing POP displays that are targeted towards those undercar markets.”

He adds there’s a lot of business out there from a retail standpoint, but unfortunately, it’s limited by product availability.

“If I was stocking items for late model trucks, I’d say it’s pretty hit or miss except for accessories. You can buy a million different bedliners, bumpers, catback kits, intake kits and programmers, but that’s about where it stops,” says Murphy.

Jonas notes that SSBC also has POP displays available for retail showrooms, adding, “You can spend marketing dollars to get people in the door, but if you don’t have a good customer service person at the counter who really knows the product, you’re wasting your money.”

He says that once they’re in the door, the shop must have excellent customer service. That’s part manufacturing support, and part owner support.

“I think the manufacturer has to step up and really put together some very nice POPs. They need to put interactive displays together, and they need to train the guy at the counter so they know the product. No matter how great your marketing is or how nice your showroom looks, if the counter guy doesn’t know the parts, your shops isn’t going to sell to its full potential.”

Hippert says some of the best marketing promotions are dyno days. “This gives the consumer a real way to gauge what benefits are gained by purchasing specific performance components. By offering a free dyno pass when buying certain products and staggering the dyno run days, a savvy consumer will buy a product, install it, run it and then repeat the process to find out what the gain was.”

Street Trucks

As your shop targets the street truck market, keeps these words from Hamburger in mind. “Shops need to do whatever it takes to create awareness in their community about what they offer. He says that covers a range of activities, including local shows and fairs, direct mail-”the whole package. And they need to keep track of which performs the best for them, because it will vary for each market.”