Who’s afraid of an OEM?

Jul 13, 2012

Is competition from the OEM automaker and the new-vehicle dealer going to put you in a squeeze? It hasn’t happened yet, but with what one carmaker has been doing, could it a be prelude to what other OEMS and their dealers might do?

An example. Dodge’s newest compact, the Dart, keeps getting kudos on everything from being U.S.-made, basing it on the Italian Alfa Romeo (like Dodge, also part of Fiat-Chrysler), to having a sport car feel and design in a small family car and, says the Dart’s maker, offering thousands of customization configurations inside and out aimed to appeal to the 20- and 30-somethings.

While those Dart customizations are coming from the manufacturer, the marketing people at every other carmaker are watching closely to see whether this “mass customization” blueprint will be a profitable venture – early indications say yes, as Dart parent Chrysler’s sales have soared and dealers selling the Dart are getting “sold orders,” that is, consumer custom-ordered Darts, something one dealer said he hadn’t experienced. Developing, creating, marketing and selling branded, single-vehicle products are an expensive proposition, so the automaker has a lot at stake.

This OEM mass customization plan is both a blessing and a curse for restyling customizers. A blessing in that it heightens awareness for customization/personalization of new and late-model used vehicles; a curse in that, if successful, car dealers could capture more of the customization business before it makes it to restylers. That, though, could be years away…if it comes to fruition beyond the Dart’s current phenomenon.

The newest growth market is the Millennials, the 20- to 30-somethings who are all about personalization in their lives — and the marketing folks at the automakers know this. And they know how to reach them, to woo them: social media.

Even if OEM-branded mass customization is a few years off, local restylers should prepare themselves. Some might get the contract-install business, much as they do today – but not all of you will. What else can you do? Get your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other social media connections active; then actively – aggressively – pursue the “connected” generation of buyers of today and tomorrow. Remember, OE-branded products may catch on, but you have even more “mass customization” products available.