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Dealer Add-Ons for Customizing Your Car

By: · August 17, 2009

Personalizing a plain-vanilla production vehicle with all sorts of eye-catching toppings is more popular than ever. About $27 billion worth of accessory items were sold last year to vehicle owners, according to SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association. The range of products available to vehicle owners is astounding, including everything from roof racks to custom wheels, front bumper bars to taillight guards. You can add performance parts under the hood and entertainment systems for the interior, whatever you want to enhance the performance and appearance of your vehicle…

Roof Racks

Although these components are available from a wide variety of sources, one of the easiest ways to add them is at the dealership when you buy your car. Virtually every major auto manufacturer offers an assortment of modifications. Noting the increasing interest in customizing, automakers are making it simpler than ever to put them on before your new vehicle leaves the showroom.

As a prime example of personalizing a production vehicle, take a look at what’s already available for the brazen new Hummer H2. Even though the H2 is a high-profile (literally and figuratively) example, it does serve as an apt model for consumers looking for ways to enhance their vehicles, be they SUVs or sub-compact cars. Since its launch in 2002, the Hummer H2 has surprised people with more than just its distinctive design. Besides capturing the rugged, go-anywhere character of its military cousin the Hummvee, the H2 has succeeded in attracting a far more affluent buyer with a penchant for performance and appearance parts.

Custom Seats

“The H2 had become the darling of the high-end accessory market,” observes Bill Johnson, Rancho’s vice president of Engineering. “Very few people have left them stock. This vehicle enjoys a very high level of personalization.” Some of the more popular items ordered for the H2 include custom wheels, embroidered floormats, and roof racks. That high-demand list also extends to in-car entertainment (both audio and video) and hard performance parts such as superchargers and exhaust systems.

High-Output Audio

What’s interesting is that GM integrated this potential for customization into the design from the outset. Ken Lindensmith, Vehicle Line Designer for the H2, points out that, “Our in-house design staff wanted to have some options available right off the bat, plus some outside enablers as well, so there would be accessories available for dealers to sell through the whole chain.” To facilitate this accessorizing process, GM made some changes in the customer purchasing process at the dealer level. Jeff Beitzel of Tecstar, which developed about two dozen H2 accessories for both GM and the aftermarket, points out that there’s a new program for H2 dealers called RPA (Regular Production Accessories). This innovative system allows customers to add dealer-installed items to the vehicle order form. “It’s a great way to do business, to get products out faster and to get more customers to personalize their vehicles,” notes Beitzel. “We initially expected about a 10 percent penetration in accessories for the H2, but we’ve been surprised to find an 85 percent penetration on several items for the H2.”

On-Board DVD

Pricing of some accessory items may start as low as a few hundred dollars and run up to tens of thousands for a complete package-so there are products to suit any budget. Items may be added individually, or as a complete package. As an example of the latter approach, more than 80 Cadillac dealers offer a special supercharged edition of the Escalade called the XS-500, developed by Dyno-Proven Products, Inc. With 500-plus horses pulling at the reins (compared to the stock 345 hp), the XS-500 is aptly named for its abundance of power. It’s more than just a hot-rodded SUV, though. It’s also up-fitted (to use an industry term) with a brake, suspension, and custom wheel/tire package.

Obviously the H2 and Escalade are for the high-end consumer, but similar option packages are available for more economical vehicles. Toyota’s affordable new Scion models, for example, were designed with modifications in mind. A lengthy list of accessories can be selected at the time of purchase, or your car can be ordered from a centralized location with the equipment you specify.

Custom Lights

What sorts of components should you consider as dealer add-ons? And how can you be sure you’re getting a fair price for accessories? Starting out small, the most dramatic enhancement you can make is in the wheel and tire package. It requires no modifications, and can be done in an hour or so for that “immediate gratification factor.” No matter what else you do to your vehicle, your eye goes straight to those custom wheels.

The great thing about personalizing your car or truck with bolt-on parts is that it can be done in stages, so you can pay as you go. However, it’s better to buy a complete package, a design concept, so the vehicle has the right result. You don’t have to do it all at once, as long as you keep the overall goal in mind.

Interior Trim

As for getting the best price, note that some dealers actually obtain accessories, not from the original manufacturer of the vehicle, but at a discount from aftermarket sources. So it’s useful to compare prices of similar products beforehand to see if the dealer is padding the price of some chromed wheels, or simply passing along his discounted price in order to make a sale.

One thing is certain: both dealers and manufacturers will continue adding parts for personalization. “Accessorizing is one of the ways we want to keep the design fresh and remain fashionable,” says Lindensmith. And that’s exactly what consumers want as well.

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