Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – What happens when the worlds of car customization, high oil prices and environmental awareness collide?

No one is sure just yet, but panelists at Tuesday’s “Profitable Personalization: OEM-Aftermarket Collaboration” session at the Management Briefing Seminars think opportunities beyond Escalades exist.

Myles Kovacs, co-founder and president of DUB magazine, says because of their technology, hybrids are inherently cool, but there remains ways to trick them out in an eco-friendly way.

However, in this case, the content of the materials used is of more concern than their bling factor.

“We’ve been customizing a lot of hybrids lately, adding a Patagonia interior,” Kovacs says by way of one example, referring to a trendy brand of outdoor clothing. “We’re doing some stuff with recycled metals (for wheels); we’re looking at (using) recycled rubber.”

Elaine Matsuda, vice president-corporate accessories for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., says the auto maker currently is exploring eco-friendly materials for accessories for its Prius hybrid-electric vehicle.

“We’re looking at different products that are very eco-friendly; they might be made out of recycled materials or have the ability to be recycled,” she says, adding Toyota is getting a lot of requests for Prius accessories.

Kovacs says DUB, which also customizes vehicles, recently has worked over a Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid for rapper Ludacris that he will drive on a new “green” reality show for cable channel HGTV.

“Having (Ludacris) have that car and putting it on TV, it’s going to drive visibility to consumers that are not as hybrid savvy,” he says.

Matsuda says Toyota not only is developing more accessories for the Prius hybrid, it is looking to expand aftermarket offerings for many of its passenger cars as gas prices drive buyers away from larger vehicles.

“We really need a lot of help in that area,” she says. “We know we have the small-car movement, and we are the small-car leaders, but we also have built a lot of our accessories around trucks and SUVs.”

Toyota research shows that as buyers downsize away from more expensive trucks and SUVs they have extra money to spend on accessorizing smaller cars.

And well-accessorized models move off dealer lots at a faster rate, Matsuda says, so Toyota is focusing on aftermarket accessories as a way to boost business for dealers during the current new-car sales slump.

As such, the auto maker is looking to reinvigorate its lately neglected supplier brand offerings program, which it started in 2000 with parts such as a center stack applique for its now-defunct Celica sports coupe.

“If someone is well-known in the industry and they’re the leaders in that particular segment or that particular product…we’ll partner with them and sell (the part) under their name,” Matsuda says of the program.

Parts that would make sense to carry a third-party brand include a sport pedal or shift knob, she says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com