Auto Buyers Rack Up $34 Billion On Personal Touches

With the growth of personalization as a feature of car buying, the yearly SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) trade show in Las Vegas has become as big an event for automakers and auto dealers as it is for SEMA members--those who make and sell after-market accessories for cars and trucks.

The after-market business will generate $34 billion in the U.S. this year, up 9 percent from 2005, said Peter MacGillivray, vice president of marketing and communications for Diamond Bar, Calif-based SEMA. It has been registering year-over-year increases of 8 percent for the past decade.

"We are seeing a change in consumers," said MacGillivray. "Consumers used to only accessorize second- or third-hand vehicles. Now we are seeing more and more new car buyers wanting to accessorize at point of purchase."

Much of that activity is being driven by the automakers themselves. This year's 40th anniversary SEMA show drew 14 automakers representing 31 brands.

Toyota's Scion division, which sold 12,344 vehicles last month, made point-of-purchase customizing a central tenet of the brand. Mazda has done likewise both with its line of Mazdaspeed aftermarket parts and its Retail Revolution showroom theme, meant to appeal to younger, digital-savvy buyers who might be inclined to make their ride look like a Mazda in-video games. Kia used the show to announce that it, too, will expand its line of aftermarket accessories with things like cold-air intakes and short-throw shifters for its Rio and Spectra cars. The Mini has also made personalization central to its brand.



Chrysler promoted its own Mopar accessories brand by unveiling the Dodge Challenger Super Stock Concept complete with a 392 Mopar HEMI. Ford, whose F-150 pickup and Mustang are popular auto canvases for accessorizing unveiled a modified version of its new Edge crossover, as well as a modified Mustang and F-150. Ford used the show to tout both its Genuine and Licensed accessory lines and, which lets consumers accessorize their vehicles in virtual space and buy parts.

General Motors showed 27 modified GM cars and trucks at its booth, and used the show to display, among other things, new aftermarket electronics packages, like noise-cancelling headphones and a portable overhead DVD entertainment system.

"There is a confluence of things going on," said MacGillivray. "Automakers are publicizing the accessories that are available for vehicles, and they are producing vehicles that can be easily accessorized. And," he added, "There are more and more dealers looking at the SEMA industry as a new revenue stream."

Five years ago, MacGillivray said, about 1,000 dealers attended the SEMA industry show. "This year, we have gotten over 5,000 dealers." Total show attendance came in at around 125,000. The general public is excluded.

According to SEMA, sport compact brands like Scion are the fastest-growing segment of the market, not surprising, given the market's appeal to customizing-crazy gen-Y consumers. Compacts constitute about $5 billion in aftermarket accessories sales, according to SEMA.

"That's a big piece of the pie in light of the fact that five years ago it wasn't even on the radar screen," said MacGillivray. The lion's share of the market is trucks and SUVs--roughly 30 percent of the market.

MacGillivray said another phenomenon is the globalization of what used to be a uniquely American cultural phenomenon. He said 20 percent of this year's show attendees come from more than 100 countries outside the U.S. "It wasn't that long ago that it was under 10 percent; and it's a long way from 40 years ago, when the show first started under the bleachers of Dodger stadium, and all the attendees were from the L.A. ZIP code."

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