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Customized at Car Company near You

Automakers are gearing up for a war.

The spoils of victory are a set of customers who follow the trends toward personal vehicle customization.  Automakers like Scion, GM and Daimler Chrysler are fighting against aftermarket retailers to win business from the tuner crowd. The aftermarket is a $29 billion industry that encompasses manufacturers of everything from floor mats to fire-breathing exhaust systems.  To retaliate, car companies have begun offering models that feature common aftermarket modifications, right off of the factory line, effectively eliminating the need to customize after purchase. This means aftermarket-savvy consumers are not just those with the Fast and the Furious on repeat in the DVD player. Despite the fact that sport compact cars like the Civic and Integra have traditionally dominated most of the aftermarket business, Trucks, SUV’s and luxury sedans are also being modified heavily.

Car companies are bringing the aftermarket to the customer.

This trend challenges automakers to win business with truly exciting cars. Since customized cars should fit the needs and tastes of their owners, there are all kinds of these “factory customs”.  If you are ready to tackle the track, maybe the Acura RL with the optional A-SPEC package is for you. If unabashed luxury is on the brain, look no further than a “Platinum Edition” Escalade rollin’ on factory dubs. Both of these cars offer features that cannot commonly be had on a factory stock car.  In the case of the Escalade, Cadillac offers 20” wheels as an option at the time of purchase.  The Acura has a similar strategy except offers options like a sport-tuned suspension and cat-back exhaust system.  The best part is that all of these cars are that they come with a full factory warranty.

If you customize your own ride after purchase and something should go wrong, think the warrantee will cover the charges? Probably not. Large custom wheels can be troublesome when they are exceedingly heavy or stray from the manufacturer’s specification for size, load-bearing capacity, or width.  Vehicle dynamics can be negatively affected, essentially voiding the manufacturer’s warranty if a safety risk exists for the driver.  Additionally, the “factory custom” will fetch top dollar when it is time to trade it in.  Dealers will value the options these cars have.  The same cannot be said if you try to trade in a car that has been loaded with aftermarket equipment.  You could even end up losing money if the dealer thinks the car would be hard to sell.

Jeri Yoshizu, Scion Sales and Promotions Manager, says “The annual SEMA [Specialty Equipment Market Association] show in Las Vegas is a crucial place for automakers to pay attention as trends, and trend-setters show up every year in the form of wild car creations from custom tuner shops and major car companies.” Over 2,000 featured vehicles attracted over 120,000 attendees to the 2004 SEMA Show, each one customized and modified with exhibitor aftermarket products. From Bentley to Kia, the 2004 featured nameplates were diverse. Those interested in tricking out their Ford Mustangs, for instance, have always turned to aftermarket tuners like Saleen. Ford Motor Company made a showing at SEMA this year, vying for some of that business. J Mays, the Vice President of Design at Ford Motor Company, said “the Mustang is the most accessorized cars in the aftermarket because we continue to supply owners with exciting parts and accessories to improve style and performance.”

A major component of the General Motors aftermarket strategy is wheel and tire development. Recognizing that custom wheels account for more than $3.2 billion in annual sales, by the end of 2005, GM will offer 53 wheels on 35 different vehicle lines.  Each of these wheel and tire systems is developed, tested and validated by the GM Accessories engineering team and adheres to GM’s “Tire Performance Criteria”.

The 2004 Cadillac Escalade ESV (long wheelbase) “Platinum Edition” is a good example of aftermarket integration right out of the box.   This SUV demands attention while allowing its occupants to travel in supreme comfort and style.  The special edition package includes a set of 20″ Dubs along with heated/cooled cup holders and a rear seat dual video screen entertainment system. The $11,000 “Platinum” package signifies that Cadillac understands their buyers.

The Acura RL A-SPEC package enhances the already crisp handling and aggressive styling of the 2005 RL luxury sedan. Those Fast and Furious fans will appreciate the performance goodies on this car; track-tuned suspension package that lowers the car by approximately 3/4 inch, 18-inch alloy wheels equipped with Michelin Pilot Sport tires, an underbody kit, and a deck lid spoiler. The RL A-SPEC kit will be priced at approximately $5,500 plus dealer installation and covered under a factory warranty. A-SPEC packages are also available for RSX, TSX and TL models.

The DUB Edition 300C, an interesting vehicle spawned from a partnership between Chrysler and DUB, does all the customizing work for you.  The DUB Edition 300C features “scissor doors”, a custom sport suspension that provides greater stability and a low to the ground stance.  The “Blingified” Chrysler sits on 22″ wheels and low profile tires.

The pulse of American car culture is at hand; Modern day hot rods do exist, and it seems as if customizing your ride doesn’t have to be such a hassle anymore.

By: Stuart Schwartzapfel

LAJ_April 2005 Vol. 12

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