The Word(s) on Truck Performance

May 8, 2013

Big, bad trucks just won’t back down.

New or used, gas or diesel, the performance pickup market just keeps truckin’. High fuel prices, tighter emissions standards-nothing seems to slow the roll when it comes to truck performance.

On the street, in the hills or at the track, pickups stand tall as the vehicle of choice for an important segment of the performance aftermarket. Add in utility, economy and luxury items, and it’s easy to see an exciting potential for profit.

Product manufacturers are predicting big things for trucks this summer, as adventure-seekers and weekend warriors use their pickups to work hard and play harder.

To get shops ready, here’s the word-actually seven words-on the current state of truck performance, and where shops can make the greatest inroads in this high-riding market.

1.  Versatile

Unlike a race car or street rod that has a single purpose, it’s the versatility of performance trucks that make them so attractive.

“The truck you have fun with on the weekends also has to make sense (for driving) around town and on the commute,” says Richard Waitas, senior manager for MagnaFlow. He notes the company’s stainless steel 15588 performance exhaust system for 2010-’13 Ford SVT Raptor applications is a prime example of a product that combines a performance sound and cruising comfort.

“We see trucks continuing along their current path, providing more than utility but adding convenience and practicality. Horsepower and capacity are at all-time highs, and that is still the case even in today’s market, where we have the tightest emissions regulations ever experienced in both gas and diesel,” he notes. “With DI (direct injection) diesel and DI gas models on the market, coupled with turbochargers and a greater awareness of the truck buyer of these technologies, we can see a place for the workhorses and weekend warriors that we call trucks.”

2.  Unique

Similar to race cars and street rods, however, each truck has its own story to tell and tasks to accomplish. That makes a shop’s professional knowledge vital to drivers looking to meet their own unique requirements.

“The best thing that retailers can do to better-serve their customers is to better-educate themselves about the products that are on the market, so that they can make better recommendations to their customers,” says Trent McGee, marketing, for Phoenix-based Airaid Filter Co.

He notes that the company’s intake systems are much like other segments of the market in that there are many different products to choose from, such as the company’s late-model Tacoma/FJ Cruiser kit that offers not only increased performance, but protection for off-roaders as well.

“Some of the features and benefits of one product line might make more sense for a customer’s individual priorities than another,” McGee explains. “Take the time to listen to the customer and find out what’s important to them, and then make solid recommendations about products that best serve those needs. This leads to better customer satisfaction and more repeat customers, which in turn is better for the bottom line.”

It’s advice that Waitas seconds.

“Qualify customers and understand all of their needs, rather than just addressing the easy ones,” he says.

3.  Professional

Customers love their trucks, and want any work that’s done to them to be professional-grade. That pride of ownership works to a shop’s advantage, because drivers want to know they can trust the parts and the people who install them.

For instance, “we’ve found that more and more customers are hesitant about modifying their truck’s suspension for fear of voiding their factory powertrain warranty,” notes Mark Mathews, marketing manager for Pro Comp, Compton, Calif., who notes that the company’s lift kits and Pro Runner monotube shocks are current hot sellers.

To address those fears, the company has introduced a Lift Shield 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty and also offers an authorized Pro Comp installer program-a pair of tools that help put truck owners’ minds at ease when they visit an aftermarket shop for upgrades.

“Once enrolled in the program, the business will be able to give customers confidence in purchasing a lift and having it installed at their facility because their vehicle will be protected,” he says.

4.  Premium

High in the hills, far out in the desert or away at the worksite, truck owners don’t need the cheapest product-they want a quality part that’s going to last and get them home.

“Don’t under-sell or be afraid to sell the premium products,” advises Scott MacDonald, director, marketing and product management, for BILSTEIN Shock Absorbers, Poway, Calif.

“Become educated in the premium products in order to become an expert that can offer invaluable advice,” he says. “Today’s consumer is very focused on quality and what will provide the best value for them in the long run.”

MacDonald cites the company’s #5160 series direct-fit remote reservoir shock combined with 60mm front ride height adjustable shocks as an example, noting it has a high-pressure gas seamless monotube designwith front shocks that allow for setting the ride height or leveling the truck.

Pro Comp’s Mathews agrees that suspension components are an excellent example of an area where truck owners will pay more for quality.

“As new truck sales have been improving over the last couple of years, we are seeing increased demand for high-quality suspension systems in the 2- to 4-inch height range,” he notes. “Customers are looking for more features and better performance without having to take the big step of installing a taller suspension system.”

5.  Efficient

Truck owners expect their vehicles to do it all. But can performance shops increase both power andefficiency?

“Fuel economy seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The utility that trucks offer isn’t going away any time soon, so addressing fuel mileage is increasingly important,” says Tracylee Anderson, marketing coordinator for Pulstar Pulse Plugs, Albuquerque. “This is why we feel that extracting as much as possible out of each gallon of fuel is so important.”

Pulstar’s Generation 4 Pulse Plugs provide better efficiency in energy management by increasing the amount of electrical energy coupled to the fuel charge, she says, which creates more power from the same amount of fuel-”something the market expects now and in the future.

6.  Complex

Asked to describe the current state of the truck market, Anderson replies, “bigger and more powerful offerings with complex and sophisticated powertrains from the factory.”

This advanced market “calls for higher-technology aftermarket parts that offer noticeable and repeatable improvements to justify the consumer’s investment,” she believes. “Be educated on emerging technologies that serve your customers’ needs, and be willing to educate your customers about these technologies.”

The advancements will be the cornerstone of the market’s drive for increased power and efficiency moving forward.

“Smaller, more heavily loaded powertrains using multi-speed transmissions will require more power-per-liter than ever before,” she explains. “Every component will be required to pull its own weight in the combustion process, so we expect that traditional spark plug technology is going to have to evolve or step aside for new technologies.”

New developments may be what ultimately drive a pickup renaissance.

“With tighter emissions resulting in alternative powertrains that are already in the works, the OEs are working hard to bring new technologies to every platform that still deliver utility with some increased practicality,” says MagnaFlow’s Waitas. “Once the king of the hill, the truck market may be on its way back.”

7.  Nontraditional

Calling the Jeep JK and full-size pickup markets “hot, hot, hot!,” BILSTEIN’s MacDonald says there’s also room for smaller crossover utility vehicles in the truck performance market.

“Fuel costs continue to put pressure on the traditional truck/SUV market. As a result, the CUV segment growth is significant,” he says, predicting that it “will redefine the truck market going forward, creating challenges between today’s hardcore traditional truck enthusiast and the more economical CUV.”

Airaid’s McGee adds that another breakthrough could come in the form of lighter-duty diesel pickups.

“One trend on the horizon that has the potential for a big impact is the emergence of diesels in the 1/2-ton market segment. Having a smaller diesel option makes sense to many truck owners that don’t really have the need for a big, heavy 3/4- or 1-ton truck, but can benefit from the extra mileage and towing capacity offered by a lighter-weight diesel,” he says. “Depending on what kind of premium a diesel option will have over a gas version, this could be the next big thing in the truck market.”