Car-Care Market Update

SEMA News—July 2019


By Douglas McColloch

Car-Care Market Update

New Products and Applications for a Rapidly Evolving Marketplace

  Car Care UpdateThe North Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center is home to SEMA Show exhibitors representing the car-care, collision and restyling sectors.

Car-care products—the creams, coatings, polishes and waxes that provide luster and shine and help prolong the life of myriad interior and exterior components—are among the most ubiquitous in the automotive aftermarket. You need never set foot in an auto-parts store in your lifetime to come across them, as nearly every grocery store, drug store, convenience store and car wash in America stocks a respectable range of them. And it’s no wonder, considering that two-thirds of car-care product purchases are made at traditional brick-and-mortar outlets. Taken together, the disparate products of the car-care segment comprise a $1.76 billion market in annual sales, according to the “2018 SEMA Market Report.”

For this report, we surveyed close to a dozen experts in the car-care industry, representing manufacturers of car-care treatments and related products. The following is a compilation of their insights and observations on the state of the market.

Market Movers: Products and Trends

Nearly all of our experts agreed that the marketplace is experiencing technology-driven changes that are occurring at breakneck speed.

“The car-care industry is currently experiencing the greatest explosion in technology that we’ve ever seen,” said Mike Stoops, senior global product and training specialist for Meguiar’s. “Everything, from dual-action tool technology to compounds, pads and paint protection is evolving at a very hectic pace.”

Michael Starzman, director of global field quality at WD-40 Co., agreed: “Technology is advancing the things that were just dreams less than 10 years ago and are now available to the general consumer.”

Car Care Products   Car Care Products
Vehicle wraps allow enthusiasts to transform their vehicles into show-stopping projects with minimal downtime and at a fraction of the cost of a custom paint application. They’re also a reversible modification—meaning that the wrap can be removed without damaging the factory paint beneath it. On the other hand, they typically have a shelf life of five to 10 years, whereas a properly maintained top-quality paint job should last for the life of the vehicle.

  Matte finishes, such as seen on this trick ’73 Camaro that displayed at the Holley booth at the 2018 SEMA Show, have gained in popularity among enthusiasts in recent years, particularly among the rat-rod/restomod sector. Matte treatments are available in a wide variety of finishes and are good at hiding surface scratches, but once scratched themselves are difficult if not impossible to buff out—hence the popularity of paint-protection film as an added layer of protection.

Tunch Goren, founder and CEO of 3D International, noted that one of the consequences of those rapid changes is the fact that “the industry has become
much greener.”

Two trends that have driven the marketplace in recent years have been the continued popularity of vinyl wraps—which allow owners to make a statement at a fraction of the cost of a custom paint job—and the proliferation of silicon-based (e.g., ceramic) coatings and clear films as alternatives to traditional wax-based applications.

“Full vehicle wraps are increasing as people continue to learn about the value of paint-protection film,” said Katie Johnson, global marketing manager at 3M Automotive. “Matte-finish paint-protection film (PPF) has also been increasing in popularity. Ceramic coatings on top of PPF as an additional layer of paint protection is also a service that has increased awareness and interest.”

Goren noted the rise in popularity of water-based ceramic coating: “It’s not as durable, but it’s very easy to apply and wipe off, and it is a lot less expensive.”

Kyle Martin, project manager at Adam’s Polishes, put it succinctly: “Waxes and sealants are slowly becoming obsolete.”

Additionally, Goren saw increased interest in sandpaper products: “The product is much more refined and preps the surface in a much better way, so when you compound and polish the surface, you don’t have to work as hard.”

And Brush Hero founder Kevin Williams saw an uptick in the application of foam washes: “It’s huge and really very specific to the diehard car enthusiast. We see foam guns, cannons and chemicals everywhere now, where it wasn’t really a thing a few years back.”

Shifting weather patterns are also influencing consumer purchasing preferences, as large sections of the country become subject to prolonged droughts and potential water rationing.

“I see waterless wash systems becoming the newest detailing trend,” Martin said. “Housing options are pressuring that less water to be used, so more and more people have little access to a hose. As car-care professionals, we must provide the same premium results for any application, water or no water.”

Millennial Buyers: Reaching the Next Generation

Generational shifts are exerting a strong influence on the market, and our experts were unanimous in their assessment that the current (Gen Y or Millennial) and upcoming (Gen Z) enthusiast demographics differ noticeably from their predecessors, in particular their preference for products that are quick and easy to apply but yield superior results.

“Gone are the days of waiting for a custom paint job or pinstriping,” Stoop said, and Goren concurred, pointing out the proliferation of “quick-and-easy” products: “In the older days, you had to be very skilled to make a car look hologram-free—‘jeweling,’ they used to call it. Nowadays, any 15-year-old kid can polish his car and make it look great.”

The doctrine of “quick and easy” also applies to accessories, such as brushes, detailing tools and soap dispensers, where buyers are looking for everything they need in a single package. Williams noted that some of his company’s hottest sellers are combination kits, adding, “What the success of those sets tells me is that consumers are looking for added value—the complete package and an all-in-one solution to their car needs.”

As mentioned, car-care product sales are largely generated at conventional retail outlets, suggesting the limitations of a strictly online sales outreach. “Reaching the next generation through influencers is still a good thing,” Williams said. “But it’s met with more mistrust today than it was a year or two ago. Millennials still value that which feels authentic and experience-based,” adding that user-generated content and real reviews tend to resonate with them.

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