Light truck and 4x4 aftermarket sales climb

Tires, wheels and suspension lead the way for industry growth as economy stabilizes

Diamond Bar, Calif.—Light truck, SUV, and 4x4 aftermarket parts and accessory sales continued to climb in 2014, according to the 2015 SEMA Market Report, which this year surveyed approximately 20,000 U.S. consumers.

Economic stability and the rising number of new-vehicles sales for the past several years have put the industry back on a growth trend, Gavin Knapp, SEMA market research director, said in the report.

This is the fifth consecutive year of increased sales for the specialty equipment market, with total volume exceeding $36 billion — 8-percent percent growth over the previous year.

“The new data is based on the consumer perspective of what they buy and where they buy, and provides insight into buyer shopping habits and vehicles for personal use,” Knapp said.

Steve Szakaly, chief economist for NADA, said in a press conference that part of the reason for the growth is the U.S. light-truck market share continues to grow, and he predicts it will reach 56 percent of total new vehicle sales this year, up a few percentage points from 2014.

“Americans like larger vehicles,” Szakaly said. “It’s unbelievable, the number of people who’ve come back to that market, and are trading in (smaller) vehicles for light trucks and utilities.”

Knapp said the light-truck niche includes a combination of pickups, SUVs, CUVs, and vans, which have shown steady improvements in recent years, jumping 9 percent in 2014.

The 4x4 and off-road market consists of products specifically designed for off-road use, even if used on-road. The report shows that niche was less affected by the recession as sales remained on a steady upward trend, reaching their highest level in more than a decade at nearly $1.7 billion.

Retail sales growth of light-truck products increased 9.2 percent over 2013, while 4x4 and off-road product sales increased 8.3 percent, according to the report.

Aftermarket product retail sales are represented by three product segments: accessory and appearance products, up 5.2 percent; performance products, up 8 percent; and wheels, tires, and suspension, up 11.7 percent.

The wheels, tires, and suspension segment includes specialty shocks, struts, lowering and lift kits, custom wheels, performance tires, and performance brakes, Knapp said.

“Each product segment showed improvement in 2014, with handling products displaying a particularly strong increase of almost 12 percent,” he said.

Of particular importance to the auto repair segment are the retail sales channels from which various products are purchased.

The report revealed that the largest share, 28.6 percent, is sold through specialty product/installation outlets. Mail-order sales represent 18.4 percent and automotive chains, 17.9 percent.

The balance is divided among all other retail outlets, including independent repair shops, which account for 1 percent.  

Each product segment has been on an upward trend since 2009. Accessory and appearance products remain the largest, but all three segments are fairly close in overall market share.

Search engines are the primary source for finding information on specialty equipment parts, at 45 percent, while word of mouth is 41 percent.

“Many consumers rely on advice from friends and family, and more than a third of ‘accessorizers’ visit stores, dealerships, or parts manufacturer websites,” Knapp said.

The report showed that the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado remain the two top-selling vehicles in the U.S., and have been for the past several years.

The Ford F-Series continues to be the unmistakable sales leader by a significant margin but the Chevy Silverado grew more than 10 percent, slowly closing the gap.

So many new products continue to be developed for the Jeep Wrangler JK that the majority of companies chose the Wrangler to showcase their products at the 2014 SEMA Show, Knapp said.

“The dominance of the Wrangler is so overwhelming it won the SEMA Award for ‘Hottest 4x4’ for the fifth year in a row, and was also honored as the most customizable vehicle in the 4x4-SUV category,” he said.

“Data indicates that the availability of a wide range of accessories has a strong influence on new-car sales,” SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting said. “By winning yet another SEMA Award for Hottest 4x4-SUV, the Jeep Wrangler reinforces its position as the off-road vehicle best suited to reflect consumers’ individuality.”

In an interview with Parts & People, Pietro Gorlier, president and CEO of Mopar Service, Parts, and Customer Care, agreed.

“The Jeep Wrangler is our most accessorized vehicle and to have it win the award for a fifth consecutive year demonstrates its popularity and the number of parts and accessories available for it,” he said.

“There have been drastic changes to truck chassis in recent years, with GM and Ford creating more aggressive trucks with larger axles, stronger frames, and better towing and hauling capacities,” Melanie White, marketing director at Hellwig Products, told Parts & People. “Yet there are still a lot of opportunities for companies to upgrade suspensions, especially for off-road.”

Tim Watts, president of Superlift Suspension Systems, said retailers can protect themselves by knowing what they’re selling and installing. “Support the brands you know and trust – brands that put the proper time and testing into the product development process,” he said.

Shops have weathered the changing economic climate, but the one challenge remaining is the online retailers versus the brick-and mortar-war, Michael Santa Cruz, director of marketing at Energy Suspension, said.

“Many ‘showroom’ shoppers gather all the info from the shop then buy the same product online,” he said. “The upside is that unilateral and MAP pricing allow shops to maintain profit margins and offer the kind of knowledge, customer service, and satisfaction buyers need to get the right product correctly installed the first time.”

Knapp said in the SEMA report that strong sales of new vehicles and general improvements in the economy leading to increased spending among consumers “bode well for continued growth in the light-truck and off-road specialty-equipment aftermarket.” 

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.