Window To Profits

Dec 3, 2009

Sunroofs offer restylers a chance to present package upgrades to dealerships.

Imagine the sun shining and the wind in your hair as you hit the highway for the weekend-or commute to work. Now imagine being able to retreat to a warm, dry car if the weather turns sour.

That’s what sunroofs offer drivers-the freedom to enjoy nice weather, and at the same time escape from cold wind and rain.

Aftermarket sunroof sales are climbing, according to industry professionals, and with package deals appealing to dealerships, restylers are poised to cash in on the profits.

“We’ve seen a huge increase overall in our sunroof sales,” says Michael Griffin of Roadwire, Commerce, Calif., which has entered a marketing partnership with Inalfa Sunroofs, Wixom, Mich., to package the company’s roofs with Roadwire’s interiors.

Manufacturers offer sunroofs in several different styles, including in-built electric types, pop-up spoilers and manual sliding sunroofs. New styles such as panoramic roofs are also becoming popular. These two-panel glass roofs feature one fixed and one movable panel, allowing drivers a wide-open view of what’s above them.

“Currently, the trend is toward larger glass-panel sunroofs to get the maximum view from the roof,” says Greg Gusko of Webasto Product North America, Fenton, Mich.In-built sunroofs and larger panoramic sunroofs offer these kinds of features and benefits. Which type sells best is many times a factor of individual vehicle size and customer budget.”

In Line for Sales

Manufacturers say the in-built electric roofs-sometimes called moonroofs-have also become increasingly popular with drivers, offering an OEM-like appearance.

“In the highline cars that are the focus of our customers, in-built sunroofs are becoming more and more prevalent every year. [They are also showing up in] the smaller and less-expensive cars,” says Bob Maurer, a member of Inalfa’s sales crew.

Sunroofs in general appeal to buyers of nearly any late-model car, SUV or truck, and the list of what’s hot usually matches the most popular vehicles on the market at the time.

“Aftermarket sunroof installations follow the market sales trends,” says Gusko. “Some of the more popular vehicles currently are the Toyota Camry, Chrysler 300C, Chevy Tahoe, Dodge Ram, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Altima, Cadillac CTS and Ford Fusion.”

Inalfa lists the Ford Explorer, Chevy’s Tahoe and TrailBlazer and Ford Escape at the top of the hot SUV list, with Toyota’s FJ Cruiser ramping up as well. The Toyota Tacoma closely follows Ford, Chevy and Dodge full-sized pickups on the list of trucks that attract the most sunroof buyers. The top three cars Inalfa sells sunroofs for are the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Chrysler 300C, according to the company.

Sunroofs have been traditionally a seasonal sale, with warm, sunny weather spurring drivers to want something that allows them to experience fresh air.

“They do sell better in the summer, but certainly anytime you’ve got nice weather, that’s going to drive sales because what better way to drive around the mountains than with a sunroof open?” says Griffin.

Easier Installations

Spoiler-type sunroofs still have a place in the market, Maurer notes, offering a quicker, easier install and fitting on smaller rooflines. Meanwhile, the sunroof manufacturers are working on ways to reduce the amount of time and labor it takes to install the in-builts.

Installation of any sunroof can pose some hurdles, but for an experienced restyler, it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

“Every roof is going to have its own unique characteristics, but because you take down the headliner, you always know if there’s going to be an issue with cutting,” says Dave Edmondson, vice president of Roadwire. “For instance, the 2007 Volkswagen GTI is one that has a ribbon cable that has to be moved. When you take the headliner down, you see what type of installation it is.”

With model-specific trim rings available, installers can keep the OEM look; the sunroof doesn’t seem like an afterthought.

“A lot more roofs are coming with ribs, and that has become more and more challenging to installers,” says Edmondson. “When you use a rubber trim ring it just doesn’t look factory anymore.”

“We offer the pre-bent rings, so when an installer gets them, he can just slide it in, and doesn’t have to spend an hour or two bending the ring just right to set the ribs,” adds Maurer.

As with any aftermarket accessory, a thorough knowledge of the product and the market is necessary for successful sales. Manufacturers often provide sales training to help technicians get up to speed on installation and marketing.

“One of the most challenging aspects of our industry is dealership sales,” says Edmondson. “It’s difficult to sell successfully if you don’t know how to answer questions or know the product’s benefits. Roadwire is focused on educating and training the techniques of selling sunroofs at the dealership level to restyler sales representatives, which assists the restyler in being more successful and making more money.”

Blue Skies

What does it all mean to restylers? Primarily, that nearly any vehicle is a candidate for a sunroof, and new-car owners at dealerships are your best bets. If you work with a new-car dealer, sunroof makers suggest creating a package similar to an OE trim level to bring a plain-Jane coupe up a step or three to become a luxury ride.

“Restylers can package products like leather interiors and sunroofs together, along with any other accessories you can put in that package,” says Maurer. “That brings low trim-level vehicles up to a higher trim level for less money, increasing the profits for the dealer you’re working with.”

No driver wants a cookie-cutter vehicle, especially someone who’s bringing home a brand-new car, truck or SUV.

“The best market opportunities are when the installation of a sunroof can help to differentiate a vehicle in a dealer’s stock that was originally equipped without an OE roof,” says Gusko” By simply adding a sunroof to a dealer stock vehicle, the dealer can avoid trying to find that same vehicle with the same color, options, etc, from another dealer’s stock. Additionally, it helps the dealer’s floor plan and inventory overhead.”

Sunroof makers suggest leather interiors and electronics such as roof-mounted or headrest DVD systems and navigation as products that pair well with sunroofs.

“Strong restyler products are sunroofs and leather and electronics,” says Maurer.

The restyling industry thrives on making vehicles stand out, and sunroofs give customers a feeling of freedom and a controllable taste of fresh air. With options ranging from simple spoiler-type sunroofs to posh in-builts and wide-open panoramics, restylers can find a roof that fits the bill for nearly any customer.

Different right now seems to be the key phrase,” says Maurer.

Top Vehicles for Sunroof Installs
Courtesy Inalfa Sunroofs

Top 10 Trucks

1.  Ford F- Series
2.  Chevrolet Silverado
3.  Dodge Ram
4.  Toyota Tacoma
5.  GMC Sierra
6.  Toyota Tundra
7.  Ford Ranger
8.  Nissan Titan
9.  Nissan Frontier
10.  Chevrolet Colorado

Top 10 SUVs

1.  Ford Explorer
2.  Chevrolet Tahoe
3.  Chevrolet TrailBlazer
4.  Ford Escape
5.  Jeep Grand Cherokee
6.  Jeep Liberty
7.  Honda Pilot
8.  Toyota RAV4
9.  Chrysler PT Cruiser
10.  Honda CRV

Top 20 Vehicles

1.  Toyota Camry
2.  Nissan Altima
3.  Chrysler 300C
4. Jeep Grand Cherokee
5.  Toyota Corolla
6.  Cadillac CTS
7.  Jeep Liberty
8.  Toyota RAV4
9. Toyota Highlander
10.  Chevrolet Cobalt
11.  Ford Explorer
12.  Chevrolet Equinox
13.  Chevrolet TrailBlazer
14.  Saturn VUE
15.  Chevrolet Malibu
16.  Ford Escape
17.  Cadillac Deville
18.  Toyota 4-Runner
19.  Chrysler Pacifica
20.  Lincoln Town Car