WASHINGTON-The Specialty Equipment Market Association, for the record, condemns the dangerous, irresponsible drag racing shown in the current hit movie, ``The Fast and the Furious.''
But the success of that movie handily demonstrates both the burgeoning growth and the increasing youth of the specialty automotive equipment market, according to Rosemarie Kitchin, director of consumer affairs and public relations for the Diamond Bar, Calif.-based association.
Ms. Kitchin was in Washington to address a July 19 meeting of the Washington Automotive Press Association.
SEMA, which for the past several years has held its annual Las Vegas trade show in tandem with that of the Tire Association of North America (TANA), is well-positioned to help its more than 4,600 members-as well as others in the automotive aftermarket-accommodate themselves to changes in the specialty market.
The rapid growth in the market for specialty automotive equipment is demonstrated in the sales figures SEMA has tracked between 1995 and 2000, Ms. Kitchin noted. In 1995, total sales in the area were $16.7 billion. Annual sales increases ranged from nearly 6 percent to nearly 10 percent in the ensuing years, reaching $24.9 billion in 2000.
Low-profile tires and custom wheels comprise a significant portion of that market, she said. Custom wheel sales figures for 1999-the last year for which figures are available-totaled $969.1 million retail, up 11.9 percent from 1998. Whereas the total specialty automotive equipment industry grew 29.3 percent between 1996 and 1999, the custom wheel category rose 67.3 percent.
In performance tires-including but not limited to low-profile tires-retail sales were $1.07 billion, up 8.7 percent against a total industry increase of 9.37 percent.
It is no surprise that the largest segment of the market is light truck accessories. This very traditional market tends to be male, middle-aged and middle-class, Ms. Kitchin said. Motorists aged 35 to 59 represent 59.4 percent of the market, with 83.5 percent of them male and about 65 percent earning $35,000 or more.
But the compact performance market, which is dominated by young people, grew 152 percent between 1997 and 1999, she noted. Sixty-two percent of the drivers in that market are 18 to 25 years old; the majority of the vehicles are imports; and nearly 65 percent of the drivers chose their car for its looks.
``The compact performance market is ethnically diverse,'' she said. ``And though the market was 87.1-percent male in 2000, by 2003 we expect it to be one-quarter female.''
Through its various educational programs, research projects and publications, as well as its annual trade show, SEMA strives to give its members the information they need to respond to market demand and changing conditions, Ms. Kitchin said. But the program the association has started with Ford Motor Co.-and which it is negotiating to extend to other auto manufacturers, such as General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler A.G.-has the promise to be the most useful and exciting of all.
This is the Technology Transfer Program, through which SEMA members can go to the association's Web site, type in a password and have access to engineering specs and diagrams on nine different Ford models. ``This gives our members all the information they need on these vehicles, the better with which to modify them,'' she said.
Aside from the trade show with TANA and attending or supporting other tire industry events such as the Clemson Tire Conference, SEMA has no current cooperative programs with the tire industry, Ms. Kitchin said. ``But there are our OE Tech Talks, which we develop,'' she said. ``These are in-depth consultations and meetings with top OE execs.''