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HarleyEarl

HIGH-TECH MUSCLE...

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Catching the Next Wave: Will High-Tech Muscle Squeeze Sport Compacts? BOB GRITZINGER and RICHARD S. CHANG Published Date: 11/28/05 Sport compact tuners are taking over the world. That’s the unmistakable conclusion you might reach after gazing upon miles of aisles of tricked-out tuner cars, over-the-top parts and wild accessories at the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas. There’s one problem: People with ears closest to the thrumming ground think you’re wrong. They think the wave of sport compact tuning that washed over America in the past decade may have crested and is receding from its high water mark. Yes, Honda is back. It is reclaiming lost ground with a new Civic that should help Honda secure it as the darling of the tuner world. But Volkswagen is in the mix, showing a full range of concept “R” tuner cars at SEMA, laying claim to its tuner birthright that predates the Japanese imports. Wasn’t the Beetle America’s original tuner import? But the distant—and growing—rumble that is drawing everyone’s attention is nothing less than the resurgence of modernized muscle cars. At SEMA, the wild $427,000 Baldwin-Motion Camaro Super Coupe, above, represented the extreme side of this trend. But one does not make a trend: Plenty of other mainstream examples were on hand, such as the latest Shelby Mustangs from Unique Performance, and manufacturer entries such as the Pontiac GTO and Solstice, Ford Mustang and GT500, and Dodge Charger that signal a return to muscle. “There’s definitely a swing back to ’60s-era muscle cars—with today’s technology,” says Clay Dean, General Motors director of small and midsize car design. A SEMA veteran, Dean has been trend-spotting at the tuner show since 1985 and witnessed the rise of sport trucks, the return of street rods and the upsurge of sport compact tuners. Each trend is marked by a similar search for a brand identity that carries emotion and power, says Dean. The swing to ’60s automotive icons is more of the same, he says. “People want to stand out, and their rediscovery of ’60s muscle is a return to a time when brands were strong—to when people knew what Chevy stood for,” Dean says. The trick, says trend spotter Rob Tregenza of Minneapolis-based Iconoculture, is to convince consumers to catch the wave, instead of pushing them into it. For North American automakers, steeped in selling in volume, cashing in on their natural advantage in muscle cars will depend on how well they emulate the sport compact manufacturers and supporting tuner companies of today. “Consumers want to go to niche—they want a ‘mom and pop’ brand that’s unique,” Tregenza says. Success for big automakers like GM may lie in establishing separate brands for enthusiasts, and giving brands free rein to create what the market demands. Performance-based entities, like GM Performance Division, Ford SVT and Chrysler Street and Racing Technology, may be seen as too cozy with the parent to win the battle for buyers. “The manufacturers are in, but do people buy it—is it authentic?” Iconoculture’s Tregenza asks. Chrysler, with its tuner-friendly and affordable 300C, Dodge Magnum and Dodge Charger, and its wildly successful Hemi engine, may have a leg up on the competition when it comes to latching on to the muscle movement. Ralph Gilles, designer of the 300, returned from SEMA and reported to his boss, Chrysler design chief Trevor Creed, that the show was loaded with tuned 300Cs and Chargers. “And we didn’t pay for any of them,” notes Creed, referring to the common industry practice of financing “dollar cars” for tuners. “The trend is happening on its own,” says Creed. “People are saying, ‘You’ve given us the traditional American car back—and it’s affordable.’” Does the rise of muscle mean the end of sport compacts? Judging by the preponderance of the latter represented in SEMA’s 2055 booths, along with the huge dollars all those tuner parts and accessories represent (a $31 billion industry) it’s more likely sport compacts will run side-by-side with muscle cars for the foreseeable future. Jarod DeAnda, youth marketing manager for Meguiar’s, the voice of Formula Drift, and PR man for Gumball 3000, says we’re living in a “mash-up” culture, where consumers demand creative control over products. The result, notes Tregenza, is a youth culture that can “mix and mash products before they even get into production.” Mash-up can best describe what’s going on in the tuner world right now, says DeAnda. “It’s a mash-up of different global influences, from drifting and JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) styles to California tuning style to motorsports to hip-hop to skateboard culture to graffiti art. It’s really all over the board right now, and young tuners are pulling from all sources.” Need proof? DeAnda’s drift car displayed at SEMA was painted by Kal Kustoms, a company known for airbrushing low riders and drag cars. “What’s funny is [my car] offends the core drift dudes,” says DeAnda, “but if it was a single color like a gray, it would be JDM, which is funny.” ON THE SEMA RADAR > Colored Wheels The days of big, crass chrome wheels are gone, says Ford designer Pat Schiavone. “I have seen a move away from chrome [on wheels] and using it just as an accent. There is also a move toward doing more OE-look [original equipment] wheels with colors. I’m going back to try that on a project.” > Digital Tunes Digital music moves beyond offering consumers an auxiliary port to plug in iPods. Sony makes a removable faceplate radio that provides up to a gigabyte of capacity with which to download tunes straight from your computer via USB port. Next up: to make all cars at any price fully Bluetooth compatible. > What are you smokin’? Kumho Ecsta MX-C tires don’t just screech and spew smoke when you light ’em up—these tires spew red or blue colored smoke. Initially made for use in Formula Drift racing, Kumho now sells the MX-C to the public in four sizes for road use. Pick your color and start smokin’. > Performance Parts ”SEMA used to be about parts to make your car go faster,” says Jack Roush, owner of Roush Racing and Roush Performance. “It evolved to a show for personalization: wheels, tires, [and] stickers. Now it is back to go-fast parts like superchargers and turbos. Personalization is still there, but [go-fast] parts are growing.”
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I'll be honest, I only skimmed the article when I got the magazine in the mail but I think it's obvious that RICE sucks and Detroit Muscle is on its way back. GM just needs to jump on the freekin bandwagon already!
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Good ol' American muscle, priced for the everyman....that's the ticket. Never did get the sport compact ricer thing. Ahhhh feels so good, a nice big brawny V8. GM show 'em how it's done.
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