Forecasting Trends: What Will Be Hot in 2017?
Insights From the SEMA Show Floor
Incorporating virtual-reality films into marketing efforts can help companies curate powerful brand experiences for their customers.
Exhibits at the annual SEMA Show can offer some useful indications of what is trending in the automotive aftermarket in a given year. For those who weren’t able to attend and see for themselves, media coverage following the Show often points to some hot items as well. In surveying these sources and conversing with exhibitors, SEMA News observed a few trends worth mentioning for 2017. The following is a brief look at what the editorial team discovered.
Virtual Reality in Marketing
In the past months, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies have grown in popularity in the electronics and gaming realms, suggesting that the technology will spread rapidly. And this technology is no longer just fun and games. Although there is no exact SEMA Show data on adoption of VR marketing techniques, it’s clear that exhibitors are beginning to discover powerful marketing opportunities. (The Consumer Technology Association predicted in its recent semi-annual report that VR headsets will reach 2.5 million units—growth of 79% from last year—and drive $660 million in sales in 2017.)
VR hardware is now accessible to the general population, with price points ranging anywhere from $15 (Google Cardboard headset) to $799 (Vive, from HTC). Both Google and Samsung headsets are designed for use with smartphones and an ever-widening variety of free and paid apps. Sony’s headset is compatible with the PlayStation 4, and a quick survey of electronics stores identifies many other options as well. Cameras that shoot 360 degrees now allow users to create their own content for use with these devices.
SEMA Showgoers participated in a series of automotive-themed experiential demonstrations at the SEMA VR Experience in SEMA Central, which showcased how the technology can be applied to product sales, marketing and development. The area featured live VR broadcasting and fully immersive VR and AR experiences, including a 360-degree video tour of the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, California, and an augmented-reality demonstration that brought a parts catalog to life with 3D holograms of parts floating off the pages.
Arctic Cat was one of a handful of exhibitors to make use of the technology in its own marketing efforts. The company currently has three VR films, allowing visitors to snowmobile with Arctic Cat’s own professional riders, rock crawl through Moab with Tony Stewart, or race alongside Robby Gordon.
Jason Craigen, Arctic Cat event marketing manager, said that the videos have been used at many events over the last year and have proven hugely successful in branding efforts—allowing a broader audience to try out the products.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re five years old or 60 years old, if you put those goggles on and hit play, it puts that person on the seat of an Arctic Cat product and gives them a real-life experience,” he said. “You can just see the excitement from consumers who have an opportunity to test it out.”
Craigen added that Arctic Cat is already thinking about what other films it can add to the collection over the next year. For other companies considering a similar investment, his advice was simple: “It’s all about making sure that you use your product, your personalities—like our riders that we have partnerships with—taking all that together and obviously finding the right camera crews to make sure you get the best experience.”
Markforged Inc. entered its Mark X printer in the 2016 SEMA Show’s New Products Showcase. The machine offers an in-process inspection feature to ensure dimensional accuracy while printing carbon-fiber parts that are strong enough for end use.
Additive manufacturing (more commonly referred to as 3D printing) is a technology that has been around for more than two decades and is commonly used by medical and aerospace professionals. It’s a helpful process for product development, as manufacturers can either scan a product or create something new in a computer-aided design program and then print a replica or prototype. It was evident from the growing number of manufacturers offering 3D printers at the 2016 SEMA Show that the technology is continuing to change the way the automotive aftermarket develops products.
An ever-wider range of materials is available for use with 3D printing, making it an effective way for auto parts manufacturers to conduct testing and development. Stratasys, which manufactured the SEMA Garage’s 3D printer, uses both fused deposition modeling (FDM) and PolyJet technology. FDM creates parts in the types of thermoplastics traditionally used in manufacturing, while PolyJet can create flexible, rubber-like parts in many finishes and textures.
“One of the reasons that a lot of people go with FDM technology is because you’re using a real thermoplastic,” explained Chas Sullivan, Stratasys application engineer. “Acrylonitirle styrene acrylate gives the best aesthetics, and it’s also our least expensive material. If you wanted to get up to something much stronger, we have Ultem materials, we have polycarbonate, we have flexible materials such as Nylon 12, so depending on what your application is, you have a lot of different options.”
Some 3D printed parts are functional prototypes that can actually run in a vehicle for testing. Other parts need post processing: painting, plating, stitching and so on.
“Depending on what your application is, you might want to assemble multiple materials together,” Sullivan said. “If you need something that is light in one particular area but strong in another, you can put multiple materials together.”
In 2016, other exhibitors offering 3D printers or scanning services included Airwolf 3D, EnvisionTec, FARO Technologies, Formlabs, HV3D, Markforged and Rapid Scan 3D. A growing list of others marketed customized products manufactured with such equipment, and increasing numbers of parts manufacturers are using the technology in-house for research and development.
Custom wheels are available in every color imaginable and offer a glimpse at where other segments of the market may be heading as well. The emphasis at this year’s Show seemed to be on choices for the consumer.
The wheel industry is heavily design-driven, making it one of the fastest-moving leading-edge segments of the aftermarket. Rapid changes within the segment also tend to drive broader design trends, such as the use of color. For instance, demand for colors has been growing in wheels for some time. This past year, MSD Performance—long known for its trademark red ignition boxes and distributors—also capitalized on the trend.
“Black is the new chrome,” said Joe Pando, MSD engine builder and drag-race manager. “Everybody wants black products.”
After careful consideration and ongoing requests, the company made it happen.
“The sales reflect what the customers wanted,” Pando said. “Our sister companies, such as Holley, are doing the same thing, and their sales numbers show growth as well in the black products.”
SEMA Show wheel exhibitors were leaders with this trend, showcasing a wide variety of finishes along with multi-color patterns. Powdercoating is commonly accepted as the more durable coloring process, although some looks still require paint or anodizing.
Forgestar Wheels President and CEO Vincent Wong explained some of the changes he’s seen in finish demands lately. Along with the company’s color-matching service, certain finishes top the list of requests.
“You’re going to still get the consumer who wants something pretty tame,” said Wong. “I would have to say that our top two finishes are always going to be gunmetal and matte black. We do quite a bit of what we call a brush with the charcoal tip; it’s a brushed wheel, and then you spray it with a charcoal, so it has this multi-dimensional finish to it. It’s not something you can get with just painting or powdercoating; it’s because of the aluminum underneath. That’s been popular for a while. After those, I would say that we do a lot of the reds and blues. We do those almost textured velvet powdercoatings that really pop and define the lines of the wheel really well.”
The rapid evolution of coatings for custom wheels has opened a niche for car-care manufacturers. Increasingly, brands such as Mothers, Megiuar’s and Sonax are offering more gentle formulas specifically for use on brightly colored wheels—some even pH balanced for use with more finishes.
“The matte powdercoating has a matte clear on it so it doesn’t get tarnished unless you use harsh chemicals,” Wong said. “We just recommend soap and water or Simple Green and water, and you treat the wheel like you would treat your paint. You wouldn’t pour an acidic cleaner on your paint, and I wouldn’t recommend you doing that to your wheels.”
Car-care product supplier Autogeek advised choosing a cleaner that is appropriate for the wheel type.
“Roughcast aluminum and chrome can withstand stronger cleaners than coated, painted or anodized wheels,” the company said. “The cleaner will say what it is suited for on the label. For example, Mother’s Foaming Wheel & Tire Cleaner can be used on any type of coated wheel, but its Chrome/Wire Wheel Cleaner is not safe for coated wheels. If you are not sure what kind of wheels you have, use a cleaner that is safe for all wheels.”
The UTV market represents an area of growth and opportunity for automotive specialty-equipment manufacturers looking to widen their product lines and customer base.
There’s quite a bit of buzz around the powersports market, and more UTVs can be seen around the Las Vegas Convention Center each year. For many companies that already offer Jeep and truck accessories, UTV parts may represent a natural area of expansion.
“UTV is the fastest growing segment in powersports,” according to K&N Brand Manager Ross Berlanga. “If you’re looking for a new revenue source, that’s something that might not be top of mind, but it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of something that might already be in your wheelhouse.”
Popular parts depend on just how consumers use their vehicles—accessories differ for work or sport. From a custom wheel manufacturer’s viewpoint, Forgestar’s Wong asserted that ATVs and UTVs represent the next big segment.
“It’s growing at a rapid pace, and that’s the next scene I feel like you’re going to see a lot more,” he said. “They’re pretty much like mini Jeeps at this point. The segment has really been underserved. It’s been limited to wheel choices with one or two colors, and that’s going to change too.”
A survey of the SEMA Show’s New Products Showcase entries indicated that many companies are actively widening their product lines to include offerings for the segment. Batteries, radios and lighting were among the common entries. Mobile electronics and connected technology are becoming hot in powersports as well.
Hellwig Products turned its attention to powersports a few years ago after receiving requests from UTV racers who wanted to upgrade their factory suspensions. Working with the racers, Hellwig developed a line of swaybars for Polaris models that are now used in a variety of race events.
Mike Hallmark, Hellwig’s West Coast and international sales manager, confirmed that the current trend he sees at events is toward side-by-sides. This shift away from custom sand rails has helped to standardize the segment and made it easier for manufacturers to enter the scene.
“People love them,” Hallmark said. “They’re an easy platform, and people can put them in their toy haulers or flatbeds. Parts for them are readily available; they’re not one-off customs like they used to be.”
Berlanga sees the UTV side continuing to grow, especially with the number of stores that continue to carry them and finance them.
“The UTV scene has quickly crushed the traditional sand-rail customer,” he said. “Those businesses have gone away, or the companies that were agile enough—and had the wherewithal to see the transition of the industry—moved to make themselves more relevant by embracing the UTV side of the industry. UTV truly has grown by leaps and bounds.”
Vehicle wraps can be used to create textures, complex designs and colors with depth beyond what paint allows. There was an increase in the number of color-shifting options available from exhibitors at the 2016 SEMA Show, and self-healing materials as well.
Wraps have been visible on the Show floor as an alternative to paint for quite some time, but notable shifts in popular looks can be identified each year. Window Film magazine surveyed many of the restyling and car-care exhibitors about their most popular wraps and found that last year’s demand for matte wraps has given way to color-shifting films.
Wrap activity was highly visible at the 2016 SEMA Show. Avery Dennison hosts an annual wrapping contest that identifies eight “wrap kings” from regions worldwide before naming an overall winner at the Show. Among the metallic finishes, the North America Midwest wrap king—Brand Installers, based in Canal Fulton, Ohio—incorporated one of Avery Dennison’s ColorFlow wraps, showcasing the customization possibilities that wraps offer above and beyond paint finishes.
A similar contest is held by 3M for professional installers of the 3M Wrap Film Series 1080 product line, which includes three ColorFlip finishes. In 2016, Wrap2Wrap winners Chad Monroe of Get Graphic and Jeremy Conners of Who Did That!?! teamed up at the SEMA Show to wrap the musical instruments of an Eagles cover band for use at a House of Blues show.
Orafol also took the opportunity to feature a new Sunset Shift color in its Shift Effect wrap line. It shifts from red to gold and was developed in partnership with Will Castro.
“Ever since we released our Shift Effect films last year, we’ve had a tremendous amount of attention because that hasn’t been done in wrapping films,” Orafol’s Graphic Products Market Manager Craig Campbell told Window Film.
Window Film also identified the paint protection film market as a growing segment within the wrap world.
“New trends for paint protection film right now are basically steering toward self-healing,” Jamie Werner of PremiumShield told the publication. “But we’re seeing more new people coming into the business from other different industries. The first industry that’s had a huge amount of growth is the detailing industry. They’re touching a lot of cars; they see the upsell potential; and they could definitely get high-dollar amounts for it.