“Dubs.” That's tuner slang for the big 20-in.-plus aftermarket wheels that are redefining the look of cars and trucks in every neighborhood in America.

When hip-hop artists and burgeoning movie stars such as Snoop Dog and Ice Cube talk about “dubs,” it's a trend.

When Gary Cowger, president-GM North America, mentions “dubs” — as he did when he introduced GM's new lineup of oversized aftermarket wheels at last November's Specialty Equipment Market Assn. (SEMA) show in Las Vegas — it's more than a trend.

It's a sign the world is changing.

It signals that it's time for button-down folks down in the engineering and design trenches to start getting jiggy with it and get used to hip-hop terms such as “dubs” and “bling bling” (shiny chrome parts).

Auto maker engineers and designers who haven't yet faced advanced engineering projects involving the custom aftermarket probably soon will.

Nowadays, the marketplace wants dubs and shiny bling bling to spice up ordinary rides.

General Motors Corp. is beefing up the traditional businesses of its Service Parts Organization to not only supply aftermarket wheels and repair equipment but a wider array of products aimed at the performance and appearance markets.

Although sales have sagged recently, the Hummer H2 is Detroit's biggest aftermarket success story. The typical $48,000 H2 is sold with about $5,000 of dealer add-ons. GM hopes some of that success will rub off on newcomers such as the Pontiac GTO and Chevrolet Cobalt.

What's more, SPO engineers now are engaged at the initial design phases of new vehicles to conceptualize new aftermarket opportunities.

“There's a big appetite out there, and there's a big market that somebody is getting a big piece of, and too often it's not GM or our dealer partners,” says Jim Moloney, director of marketing-GM Accessories and Performance Parts.

The entire business model of Toyota Motor Corp.'s new youth-oriented Scion Div. is based on customization. Base prices are low, but there's a huge menu of profitable dealer options.

Scion Vice President Jim Farley says a typical California Scion customer will buy $1,000 in dealer-installed options such as subwoofers and special illumination packages. The average Toyota is sold with about $200 worth of options.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. at the 2003 SEMA show unveiled 19 customized concept vehicles, most based on its new F-150 pickup. This year it will make a splash with the '05 Mustang.

Even Ford's Lincoln-Mercury Div. is tapping into the trend with tricked-out Mountaineer, Navigator and LS versions — even a Town Car with a nitrous-oxide injection system that boosts acceleration to 60 mph in less than six seconds.

The Chrysler Group also is making moves, and its tuner-oriented Neon SRT-4 has been a hit.

Not long ago, it appeared auto companies — especially Detroit's Big Three — had run out of ideas on how to make a profit.

They either had to introduce an endless string of home-run new products that didn't require big incentives to sell — an impossible goal — or they could keep asking their suppliers for more price cuts, a strategy that is running out of gas. Now virtually every major auto maker is latching onto the personalization and accessorization trend to add some bling bling to their bottom lines.

Drew Winter is editor of Ward's AutoWorld