Targeting the Muscle Enthusiast

SEMA News—March 2019


By Mike Imlay

Targeting the Muscle Enthusiast

SEMA Releases Its 2019 Musclecar Modifications Report

  Muscle Car Report

For a while, it seemed that American muscle had seen its heyday. By the ‘80s its so-called glory years had faded, displaced by growing consumer demand for compact fuel-sippers and practical sedans. But with recent advancements in turbocharging and other mileage-enhancing technologies, modern muscle is now ironically turning the tables on the traditional passenger car. (Witness Ford’s decision to purge all sedans but the Mustang pony car from its lineup.) Accordingly, aftermarket product developers and resellers seeking to boost sales in the resurgent category will find the new “SEMA Musclecar Modifications & Accessories Report” an essential tool for reaching the market.

“The truth is that right now those are the cars that are keeping cars—as opposed to trucks, SUVs and crossovers—alive in our industry,” said SEMA Market Research Director Gavin Knapp. “When choosing topics for market research, SEMA likes to focus on emerging opportunities and hot, important segments. In terms of new OEM sales, this category of vehicles is doing really well and, obviously, driving an exceptional amount of specialty parts sales in the process. In fact, next to pickups and Jeeps, those vehicles have the highest accessorization rates of anything we see in our surveys.”

The free, 125-page report zeros in on the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger.

“Those are the Big Three of the current era and three ‘perfect platforms’ for performance modification,” explained Knapp. “As you look at the SEMA Show and on the streets, those particular models are some of the most modified vehicles out there. Over the last decade or so since their reintroduction or revamping, they’ve fueled a lot of the growth in our industry and excitement among consumers.”

And the report captures that excitement in vivid detail, delivering wide-ranging insights into consumer demographics, vehicle usage, and the performance parts and appearance upgrades today’s musclecar owners are opting for.

After starting with an Executive Summary, the report offers a General Landscape section encompassing consumer modification rates and attitudes, and Motivations and Barrier sections outlining why they will or won’t modify their vehicles. The report next serves up a Research & Shopping section, including the sources consumers turn to, the information they seek, their purchasing channels and methods, and their ultimate installation preferences.

In-depth attention is also paid to common modifications and the money and time spent performing them, followed by accessorizers profiles that examine their social-media use, car-event attendance and other pertinent hobbies and pastimes. Although loaded with data, the report’s easy-to-understand graphs and snapshot text blocks keep it user-friendly and digestible.

“This report was designed to address the specific needs of aftermarket businesses in this category,” Knapp said. “Our aim is to convey to business people in this space what they need to know to sell to their consumers. The whole process of doing a comprehensive project like this takes about six months. Before we even began interviews with consumers, however, we interviewed a series of industry stakeholders—people who are in the business of supplying parts and accessories for modern musclecars—to really understand their perspectives on the industry and what their needs and interests would be from this research.”

For the next phase, SEMA contracted with a full-service research provider to conduct its consumer-focused studies.

“The agency handles a lot of the grunt work, but we remain heavily involved throughout every step of the process, since we’re the experts in terms of subject matter,” explained SEMA Research Manager Matthew Kennedy, the project’s lead. “Ultimately, our research surveyed approximately 300 vehicle owners for each model, for a total sample size of nearly 1,000. From that we came out with a sort of behavioral snapshot of what they’re buying, where they’re buying it, how they find the parts they need, what they care about, and what they want to get out of their vehicles.”

Key Findings

So what stands out about modern muscle consumers? “One of the more interesting findings—probably not too surprising—is that the owners of those three vehicles are really into their particular model,” Knapp said. “A full half of them say that they’re diehard fans of whichever model they own: Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. This is a really distinct group of owners in that respect—those cars elicit bragging rights.”

All Models Studied Had a generation Rollover or Redesign in Mid-2010s, Which Introduced New Options
RedesignThe report includes an exhaustive section of detailed statistics pertaining to the vehicles and their owners, including in-depth looks like this at popular modifications. Many of the charts address specific take rates for parts and accessories, from wheels and tires down to cleaning products. Source Experian 2018. Data current as of 9/30/18.

Beyond those staunch loyalties, however, Kennedy added that the three owner groups are very similar in terms of what they want and what they tend to do, even though they might not think of themselves that way as consumers.

“They’re often really gung-ho about the brand they choose to drive, but outside of that, a diehard Mustang guy and a diehard Camaro guy are probably going to be doing pretty similar things and going through a pretty similar process to find what they want,” he said.

“Another thing that popped out for us was younger consumers. Maybe the anxiety has waned a bit, but going back five years, there was a lot of concern that young people don’t care anymore. The truth is that we found 75%–80% of the people we engaged for this survey were under 50. But we see that pretty consistently. With auto customization in general, a lot of the heavy enthusiasm comes from younger people. If you think about it, they’re at an age where they have money to spend and not a lot of financial responsibilities besides their passions. So the enthusiast core of people under 30 is still very
much there.”

Another reason for lower modification rates among musclecar owners over age 50 may also stem from the better range of turnkey solutions that OEMs offer. At higher trim levels, older and more established and financially secure buyers can easily purchase fully equipped vehicle packages that are fine enough as they are, while younger buyers still have the energy and drive to customize.

“That’s something we encountered when we asked people why they haven’t done more customization—that they’re pretty good machines coming off the lot,” Kennedy noted. “When you think about it, most of these musclecars have different trim levels. If you’ve got the money to spend on a Hellcat, for instance, you can get the same performance boost as a younger guy going out and getting a base model and then adding an improved supercharger or exhaust system. For those doing the more extensive work, it’s because they want to, not because they feel they have to.”

Women also represent roughly a third of today’s musclecar modifiers but exhibit a slightly different approach when transforming their vehicles.

“On the whole, women tend to be a little more outcome oriented,” Kennedy said. “Their focus is on final results, versus men who are often more process oriented in terms of actually enjoying the wrenching and the physical aspects of changing their vehicles.”

Regardless of brand loyalties, age or gender, the majority of owners utilize their cars predominately as daily drivers. According to Kennedy, “It’s not that the vehicles aren’t also used for fun, but for most people, their musclecars are likely to be their only vehicles. They may be putting work into them and making them the vehicles they’ve always dreamed of having, but they’re still using them to get to work and run errands.”

There is one demographical curiosity that especially stands out, however: geography.

“Just about half of all musclecars in the United States are owned in the South, likely clustered in Texas and Florida,” Kennedy observed. “That’s not to say there’s no market outside the South, but it’s sort of the homeland for those cars. The West is the next strongest market for the vehicles, but suggesting the possible reasons behind that is beyond the scope of the report.”

Purchasing Habits

“Something that may or may not be surprising—but is certainly interesting—is how similarly the owners of each of those three models behave,” Knapp said. “While there were some differences between them, they’re very similar in terms of the types of parts they buy, the things they do with their cars, and so forth.”

For example, the report found mostly similar research habits among musclecar owners. Surprisingly, warranty information is not a top concern. Instead, modern-muscle purchasers are far more focused on finding the right parts for their cars, checking and comparing pricing, gleaning product specifications and performance information, and viewing how modifications look and perform in action. Older accessorizers tend to do more comprehensive research.

Accessorizers Want Fun, Function and Style
AccessorizersRegardless of brand loyalties, all musclecar owners are basically motivated by the same goals when choosing parts and accessories. The cars elicit bragging rights, and their owners begin modifying them step by step within a few months of purchase, taking great pride in their improvements.

“What is interesting is how people get information for the parts they need,” Knapp said. “As you look at younger people, the use of media such as Instagram and YouTube predominates as a way to find parts and learn how to install them. YouTube is big for DIY learning in general, but certainly when you start looking at the information-gathering process, young people really are using a lot more of it along with Snapchat and similar social media. So as much as everyone is doing research online, those channels represent a great opportunity for businesses to get their names out, build a ‘personality’ and draw people to them.

EnthusiastsLike other recent SEMA Market Research studies, the musclecar report breaks down consumers into easily identified categories based upon their attitudes toward accessorization. Knowing consumers’ levels of engagement with their vehicles helps aftermarket businesses better target product solutions to each group.

“That said, when you get down to the level of where people actually buy products, there is a strong skew toward actually buying things in-store, even among young people. The web offers so many more ways to gather information and is almost universal in terms of factoring into the product research and shopping processes. But in-store retail is still very much alive, and these people prefer to go in and buy their products in person.”

Reaching Consumers

The ultimate goal of the “SEMA Musclecar Modifications & Accessories Report” is to aid manufacturers and resellers in reaching consumers in that popular category. Knapp and Kennedy say that the data suggests a number of tactics.

The first is to recognize that accessorizers start modifying shortly after they purchase their cars, tend to be comfortable doing at least some of the work themselves, and prefer modifying their vehicles piece by piece rather than in big projects. Appealing to particular brand loyalties can be a strong strategy, as long as you balance it with the knowledge that—make and model aside—all of these vehicle owners seek basically the same products. Wheels and tires, appearance products, and intake and exhaust systems top the list of popular musclecar modifications across the board.

Musclecar Market Fast Facts
  • Wheels and tires, appearance products, and intake and exhaust systems top the list of popular musclecar modifications.
  • 50% of musclecar owners characterize themselves as diehard Mustang, Camaro or Challenger enthusiasts, with 68% saying that their cars are their lives.
  • 90% of owners say that they take their time shopping around, with 81% saying that they prefer the most reliable part for the job over something lower in cost.
  • 67% of owners agreed with the statement, “I am more likely to change one part at a time”; 49% begin doing so within just a couple of months after purchase.
  • 84% of musclecar owners say that they love working on their cars.
  • 82% of owners consult auto-enthusiast/specialty websites and forums to research potential modifications; 75% consult others at car shows or club meets.
  • 73% also consult search engines; 64% turn to online videos; and 60% visit brick-and-mortar stores to research products.
  • 48% of all the Big Three muscle vehicles sold are found in the southern region of the United States.

“Obviously we bundled the Mustang, the Camaro and the Challenger together because they form a class of vehicle, and the research bore that out,” Knapp said. “The takeaway for our specialty companies is that if you’re doing well with products for one of those vehicles, then there’s probably an opportunity for you to support the other vehicles with similar products as well.”

As for where to reach them, think socially—in both the virtual and real worlds.

“Most Important” Upgrades/Accessories—Top 25
  Total Mustang Camaro Challenger
Tires-Performance 15% 16% 14% 15%
Body kit (e.g. side skirts, front, rear lip, wing, spoiler, etc.) 12% 14% 13% 9%
Window tinting/lamination 11% 10% 11% 14%
Exhaust kit (e.g. pipes, muffler, etc.) 9% 12% 8% 7%
Tires–all-season 9% 8% 11% 9%
Aluminum or alloy wheels 8% 7% 9% 8%
Air intake–cold-air-intake conversion 7% 9% 7% 5%
Brake kit–performance 7% 8% 4% 12%
Performance motor oil/synthetic oil 7% 7% 8% 5%
Backup Camera 6% 6% 5% 7%
Brake pads 6% 5% 6% 7%
Racing stripes 6% 6% 4% 5%
Floor mats 5% 6% 4% 3%
Decals/graphics/emblems 5% 5% 5% 4%
Stereo–speakers/subwoofer/amplifier 5% 5% 4% 6%
GPS navigation system 5% 3% 6% 6%
Battery (performance/heavy duty) 5% 2% 7% 5%
Hood–custom (e.g. carbon fiber, hood scoop, etc.) 4% 6% 2% 4%
Air intake–performance air filter replacement 4% 4% 5% 3%
Grille (e.g. chrome, billet aluminum, stylized) 4% 3% 5% 3%
Exhaust headers 4% 3% 4% 3%
Alarm/remote start/keyless entry 4% 2% 5% 7%
Polish/wax 3% 4% 3% 1%
Window shades/vents 3% 4% 1% 3%
Driving/fog lights 3% 3% 3% 3%

“For all of these consumers, their musclecars are part of who they are, and there’s definitely a community at the consumer level,” Kennedy noted. “People don’t just love their cars; they love working on them and are into modifications. But they also tend to have other enthusiast friends, tend to go to auto-enthusiast events, and tend to get ideas through others in car clubs or enthusiast forums.

“Again, Instagram is also really a big deal for people under 30. Everybody uses Facebook, but Instagram is definitely a channel that aftermarket businesses should be putting time into. In addition, Pinterest is hugely popular with women owners, so if that’s a demographic you’re going after, you should probably be looking at it.

“From inspiration to installation, musclecar owners get ideas from the people they know and the modifications they see out in the wild. And since they tend to associate with other like-minded people, there’s always the opportunity for referrals.”

Get This and Other Reports

Obtaining the new “SEMA Musclecar Modifications & Accessories Report” is quick and easy, thanks to a new SEMA Market Research webpage featuring streamlined access to all of SEMA’s current research. Members no longer have to log in. To download a free copy of this and other SEMA Market Research studies, go to

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