Dec 3, 2009

Back in August I took a break from the everyday work world and spent some time in Alaska, driving around, hiking up a couple of those massive mountains (the smaller ones, certainly not Denali/McKinley), wending through willows along bear-scatted-and-tracked trails, and boating in one of those glacier-fed bays in one of the most-impressive and magnificent places in North America.

The 49th state’s gotten plenty of play of late, what with its governor being named a vice presidential candidate and one of its very-long-time senators being indicted for not disclosing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts and services he received from an oil services contractor.

Politics notwithstanding, the Alaskans I met, indigenous native, native-born and transplant, hold fast to that independent character of The Last Frontier. They have to, for as beautiful and majestic as Alaska may be, it’s naturally wild and unpredictable (even a grizzly or moose can be hit by a vehicle whose driver is on his way to get espresso in predawn Anchorage).

Because of time and because of the vast geographical expanse of the largest state in the Union, I pretty much spent my time skirting the Interior in and around Denali national and state parks, and in the South central environs of the Kenai Peninsula between Anchorage and Seward. I don’t have the exact census figures, but it appears that more than half of The Last Frontier state’s population is located in this locale.

In the cities and suburbs, there are plenty of cars, more than I thought I’d see, as I expected full-size trucks and SUVs to reign supreme. Once away from the urbanly areas, however, the expected large 4×4 pickup and SUV population did seem to dominate – how else are you going to get out and about as the snows accumulate throughout the winter and spring?

I also thought I’d see restyled vehicles right and left; after all, I live in Colorado and you can’t swing a tire iron without hitting some restyled vehicle, even in our company parking lot. But that wasn’t the case in Alaska-at least not in end-of-summer Alaska. I expected where that, surely, being an independent lot, more Alaskans would make their vehicles look a bit different from those of their neighbors. Unless there are subtleties I’d missed (such as interior trim, bolt-on engine parts or heavier-duty suspension components), the vehicles – from sedans and sports cars to SUVs and pickups sported little in the way of added aftermarket features. These vehicles just weren’t dressed up.

Is it that those folks of our northernmost state are just practical, utilitarian? Even with the very real prospect of a moose or bear that crosses the road and that certainly can bring a big vehicle to its front axle’s knees, wouldn’t at least a heavy-duty grille guard be bolted on? Nope; I detected only one, on a newer Dodge Ram 4×4.

What I did notice, though, are the countless trucks and SUVs sporting two recognizable aftermarket items: steps and hitches. Evidently, Alaskans have trailers to pull (for their boats, bikes and ATVs, and their hunting prizes), and steps and bars they need to let them clamber up and over the snow as they enter and exit their vehicles. Even the many smaller vehicles, like all-wheel-drive Subarus, and assorted U.S. sedans often have a hitch.

This got me to thinking. What aftermarket goods sell best regionally? Truck caps in the South? Tonneaus out West? Ground effects in the cities and suburbs? Grilles and running boards up North? Suspension systems in the mountains?

Give me a call (800.669.0424, x292) or send me a quick e-mail (reeditor@nbm.com) and tell Restyling what folks are buying to dress up their rides.