Truck Time

May 11, 2010

Sales numbers are rising. Trucks are moving off the lots. Sure, they have a ways to go, but they’re moving. And that means opportunity for those selling truck parts.

We wanted to take a look at street trucks, so we polled a number of sources as to today’s market and what to watch out for. Is now a good time to start catering to the street truck market, or to increase your presence? Industry suppliers believe it is.

Regaining Strength

The first question we asked was, “How strong do you think the current truck market is?”

Tim Stewart of K&N Filters leads off. “2009 was a tough year for many in the aftermarket industry, especially if the core of your business was made up of truck owners. New truck sales were down drastically and it reflected in overall sales for truck products. We started seeing an upward trend of sales of products for trucks that were a few years old. Perhaps used truck sales sparked second owners modifying their newly acquired used trucks.”

He also predicts better times ahead.

“2010 has started off better for the truck market. The number of product searches on our site for new-model trucks is very good, especially the 2010 Ram, the 2010 F-150 and the 2010 Silverado.”

Darron Shubin of MagnaFlow Exhaust says, “Our perception of the current truck market today is not as strong as it was in 2007, based on sales of the products offered in the aftermarket exhaust category. However, there are signs of an uptick over the last three months in the sales of aftermarket truck performance products that include exhaust, intakes and programmers.”

Gil Cormaci of Vortech Engineering says, “As a boosting solution manufacturer, (the market is) strong enough that we’re proceeding with new system development utilizing our new Lysholm brand twin-screw compressor for GM and Ford V-8 applications as quickly as we can. (It’s) on the same pace as our automotive development with Vortech and Paxton centrifugal-type superchargers. With today’s full-size trucks being far more refined and fuel efficient, consumers are very pleased in general with the ownership experience.”

What’s Moving

Our next question was about which trucks are most popular and who’s buying what.

Dan Labonte of Labonte MotorSports says, “Early diesel trucks without the fuel-gobbling DPFs are in demand. These are great platforms for all-around work and performance builds while still maintaining fuel economy.”

Shubin from MagnaFlow adds, “If you asked me this question 12 months ago, I would have said no truck was popular, because people were selling or trading in their trucks for fuel-efficient crossovers or sedans. Now, 2004-’10 Ford F-150s and GM Silverados remain the most popular choice of trucks, along with 2005-’10 Toyota Tacomas.”

He agrees that pickups with diesel particulate filters are lagging.

“The light-duty gas and diesel trucks should be in two categories. The new DPF-equipped diesel trucks have taken a large hit because of their fuel economy challenges, which directly affects companies that produce aftermarket performance products. The 2011 Ford F Series 6.7-liter diesel should help rekindle the light-duty diesel market with its significant increase in fuel economy and its green efficiencies.”

Stewart of K&N says, “Every year the new-model, full-size domestic trucks prove to be top sellers. The gas V-8 models for all the domestic trucks are the most popular, based on volume. Even the Tundra 5.7-liter is up with the domestics in regards to highly requested products.”

Overall, he believes new-truck sales are growing stronger.

“New-truck buyers are finding good deals on full-size trucks in 2010, and find their way online to research what performance products are available. It’s very common for a new owner to add performance upgrades within the first 90 days of buying a new truck. Diesel trucks are still a very viable part of the truck market. Diesel truck owners tend to be a lot more technical and typically do a lot more research when purchasing aftermarket products.”

So, which markets are the strongest?

“The strongest markets for us are the street, work and racing (off-road),” Cormaci says.

Cameron Low of Master Power Brakes adds, “With the economy slow, we found a new direction in late-model trucks and SUVs. People towing campers, boats and utility trailers were constantly calling us with problems stopping their rigs. We found the brake systems to be less than acceptable in many of the major-brand trucks and SUVs. The solution was not in the trailer brakes or controllers; it was in the tow vehicle brake systems.”

Stewart says, “Both lowered and lifted trucks are still a strong part of the market. These are the truck owners that drive them every day and want to look and sound good getting from point A to point B. Work trucks took a big hit in 2009. With so many small business owners going out of business and others barely making it, new fleet sales were hit hard.”

And Shubin says, “The street and off-road markets seem to be the strongest portion of the light-duty truck market-which is a direct reflection of aftermarket performance product sales-followed by the race and recreation segments. Work trucks, also known as fleet trucks, will always be a strong asset to truck sales.”

What’s Selling

Next we asked, “What are the hot truck products?”

Labonte tells us, “For diesel trucks, programmers and high-flow exhaust systems are usually the first steps in upgrading the vehicle. The programmers have come a long way in enhancing performance while still maintaining fuel economy, but higher EGTs are still a factor for the aggressive tunes. That’s where the benefits of a water methanol injection system come in. Water methanol injection complements the programmers to allow higher horsepower while keeping EGTs in check and without sacrificing fuel economy.”

Shubin points out, “There are thousands of truck products available in every category, from performance, wheel/tire, accessories and suspension. The typical enthusiast will find himself modifying his truck with a cat-back exhaust system, intake and programmer to cover the performance aspect of his truck, and if they modify their wheels and tires, you will find them modifying the suspension with lift kits, leveling kits or lowering kits.”

Stewart says, “Our high-flow intake systems continue to be hot within the truck market, especially with owners looking for some extra power. At roughly a $250-$350 price point, upgrading the truck’s intake system is one of the first areas truck owners modify. A few extra horsepower can translate to an improved throttle response for easier merging and passing.”

Cormaci summarizes: “The hot truck products are superchargers, exhaust, suspension, wheels and tires.”

And Low from MP Brakes says, “Last fall we finished researching the late-model trucks and SUVs. With street testing and diagnostics, we have developed a series of brake upgrade kits for almost all the trucks and SUVs, from 2000 to 2010. These kits are simple to install and include import and domestic models. There are 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton, and 1-ton trucks and many SUV kits available.”

The Challenges

Next, we asked about any challenges facing the truck industry.

Cormaci tells us, “Challenges for our segment of the truck aftermarket are computer calibration (required when boosting) and emissions certification.”

Shubin says, “I think the challenges in the truck industry will always remain challenges against the truck manufacturers. If each manufacturer continues to raise the bar year after year on innovation, quality, fuel efficiencies, strength and reliability, the end consumer will find their way into or back into a truck. I think aftermarket manufacturers face the same thing.”

Labonte adds, “The next round of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Diesel campaign is at hand, which requires diesel vehicles manufactured after Jan. 1, 2010 to have a 90-percent reduction of nitrogen oxide. Ford and GM both have answered the EPA with the implementation of an exhaust gas after-treatment known as urea injection, which converts NOx gasses to ammonia. We have already seen a significant reduction in diesel fuel economy on new trucks when the active DPF was introduced. Now, newer trucks will have a secondary fluid to dump down the exhaust in addition to raw fuel used to clean out the DPFs.

“This presents challenges for performance shops and enthusiasts alike to maintain and service these systems,” he adds. “Truck manufacturers need to take the blinders off and stop looking at what they can dump down the exhaust next to clean up emissions, and (instead) focus on improving combustion efficiency. Water methanol injection gives the vehicle the enhanced air charge needed to improve combustion efficiency while lowering emissions, thus reducing the need for expensive after-treatment systems.”

Stewart speaks of mileage. “One of the biggest challenges for the truck industry continues to be mpg. Through the years, auto makers have improved fuel efficiency for trucks, but due to new government demands for higher mpgs and longer commutes to work, trucks have a sketchy future. The real truck enthusiasts will continue to buy big trucks and spend thousands to customize to their tastes. But how many current owners will convert to more fuel-efficient vehicles?”

Finding Buyers

Lastly, we asked how shops can reach truck-specific buyers.

Stewart suggests, “Truck owners are looking to the Web for product information and prices. Retail shops need to have a presence online and have updated product information. New vehicle owners tend to purchase products for their vehicles in the first six months, and that’s no different with truck owners.”

He also recommends showing off your products and skills with a truck of your own.

“Building a shop truck is a great way to show the work that your shop is capable of doing,” he says. “Getting involved with the local truck shows is always a great way to find potential business as well.”

“Diversification,” says Shubin. “If you’re a repair shop, start selling truck performance parts; if you’re a performance center, start selling truck accessories; if you’re a truck accessory store, start selling truck performance parts. Seek local warehouse distributors that can provide almost any aftermarket truck product along with delivery programs that deliver next day. Also make it a habit to ask the consumer that is in your store with their current vehicle what other vehicles they have in their driveway.”

Cormaci says, “Event marketing (participation), social networking and the old standby of print advertising are still delivering an excellent return with regards to prospecting.”

And Labonte adds, “Performance centers need to know the insides and outs of the products they offer. An in-depth knowledge of a product and how it will benefit the customer will lead to greater sales when the performance center can effectively convey this information. With the wide variety of aftermarket products and manufacturers, this represents a big challenge to keep current on product offerings, improvements and what really works.”

Now your customers can go trucking-with your help, of course.