DETROIT – It may sometimes border on the bizarre, but “there’s a market for everything” in automotive aftermarket accessories, says Rob Richard, director-sales and service for Chrysler LLC’s Mopar Parts Div.

If a customer wants a vehicle interior done up in ostrich skin or crocodile-pattern leather, he says, “we can’t do that, but we can partner with people who do.”

That indicates a new direction for Mopar. It is trying to branch out from its performance-parts base by increasing business in other areas, such as customized accessories and off-road equipment.

To do that, Mopar is partnering with aftermarket firms it previously spurned, Richard says during a session at the Ward’s Auto Interiors Show.

In particular, Mopar is establishing a closer relationship with the Specialty Equipment Market Assn., representing 7,000 small to midsize aftermarket suppliers.

“We’re changing our attitude and getting closer to the aftermarket,” Richard says. “We pretty much pushed away (from aftermarket firms). Now we need help in customizing vehicles.”

Chrysler only gets about 20% of what Mopar could in potential aftermarket service and parts business, Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli said earlier this year, meaning “we have a huge opportunity for growth in this area.”

Chrysler has “big plans” in offering customization and personalization add-on equipment for the ’09 Dodge Ram pickup truck, Richard says. “We want to offer all possibilities through Mopar.”

Because there are so many niches, aftermarket does not lend itself to mass production. By its very nature, the vehicle-personalization business is relatively low volume.

That’s where small aftermarket companies play a role, says John Waraniak, SEMA vice president-vehicle technology.

Young consumers are more likely to customize their vehicles.

Twenty-seven percent of Dodge buyers are under age 35, “and that’s where the customization comes in,” Richard says.

Consumers ages 16-25 are most likely to customize their vehicles. Yet there are about 10 demographic and pyschographic subsets to that age group, Waraniak says.

Young vehicle buyers tend to be brand-oriented, he says. “So if you are selling to Generation X and Y, you want brand names like Kicker Electronics listed right on your vehicle Maroni sticker.”

Young buyers particularly are interested in outstanding sound systems, says Jeff Vogel, senior manager-sales and marketing for Alpine Electronics of America.

Replacing the audio system is one of the first things many 15 to 24 year olds do after buying a used vehicle, he says, adding that they frequently ask, “How do I make my sound system extremely loud?”

Alpine has 600-watt speakers for them, he says.

Despite all the offbeat accessory offerings, some of the most ordinary ones top the popularity list.

“Believe it or not, floor mats are very popular,” Richard says. “People throw out the originals and get customized ones from us.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com