John Thomas borrows a catch line from the “Seinfeld” TV series to describe one of the qualities of his company’s new sunroof.
“Because of the reduction in wind noise, it’s a story about nothing,” Thomas, Webasto Product North America Inc.’s vice president-marketing, says of the TVS (Twin Vent Sunroof) 900.
He calls it the first major change in aftermarket sunroof design in a decade. Webasto is making a special effort to promote it to consumers through auto dealerships.
The add-on consists of two glass panels in tandem. Both can tilt in union, or the front panel can be adjusted separately.
When vented, the front panel acts as a wind deflector, diverting the air flow over the larger opening behind and cutting down on intrusive wind whooshing, a nuisance to many motorists.
“When a lot of drivers get up to 40 mph (64 km/h), they close their sunroofs because of the noise,” Thomas says. “The TVS 900 minimizes wind noise better than any other sunroof in the marketplace to date, even at freeway speeds.”
If the double-vent feature is about nothing, Webasto’s effort to market the sunroof through auto dealers is something else.
Thomas calls it “an unparalleled push to support car retail dealers’ efforts with a comprehensive marketing campaign.”
That includes urging dealers to promote, display and sell the product. Webasto also is spurring its 300 authorized installers to work more closely with dealers.
The sunroof’s suggested retail price is $1,695, including installation. “There is room for different parties to make good margins,” Thomas says. “The highest level of profit is at retail.”
He foresees dealers of different vehicle brands charging different prices, based on perceived value. For instance, the sunroof price might be higher for a Cadillac Escalade than a Saturn Aura.
After convincing dealers profit margins are worth it, “step two is educating the dealership sales force to make sure they understand how to sell a product such as this,” says Michael Bacon, marketing manager-light duty vehicles for Webasto North America, a subsidiary of Germany-based Webasto AG.
The Netherlands-made TVS 900 comes in four different sizes, fitting 90% of passenger vehicles on the U.S. market. There are three trim levels. The top one includes a rain sensor that automatically closes the panels when the weather turns.
Webasto is pitching the sunroof’s quality, noting that some aftermarket products are perceived as second-rate. “They sometimes have a stigma, Bacon says. “We wanted to make sure this one has a perfect fit and a professional look.”
Citing independent studies but stopping short of claiming nine out of 10 doctors recommend the TVS 900, Webasto also touts “improved passenger health” achieved from better circulation of fresh air when both panels are in the vent position.
Aftermarket sunroofs are under appreciated – and undersold compared with their factory-installed counterparts. Auto maker-installed sunroofs outpace aftermarket versions by a 25 to 1 margin.
“So there is a lot of opportunity for growth on the aftermarket side,” Thomas says, noting that factory-installed sunroof options are unavailable for certain models, such as the Saturn Vue and some hybrid-electric vehicles.
Webasto supplies factory-installed sunroofs, too, as do competitors such as ASC Inc., Karmann GmbH andInternational Inc.
Factory-installed sunroofs were on 27% of ’07 cars produced through January of 2007, according to Ward’s data. Topping the list with the highest installation rate was the Cadillac STS (76.8%). At the bottom was the Mercury Marquis (2.1%).