Charlie Van Cleve thinks big. As the incoming chairman of the Specialty Equipment Market Association, Van Cleve is simultaneously planning an expansion of her association overseas and a marketing campaign aimed at soccer moms and other consumers who aren't typical car enthusiasts.
Van Cleve - who is vice president of sales for Hedman Headers and TD Performance of Cerritos, Calif. - also is overseeing negotiations with automakers to ensure that they produce vehicles that would allow plug-and-play electronic add-ons. Her next two years should be busy. Here are edited excerpts of her interview with Industry Editor David Sedgwick.
What's the status of your negotiations with automakers to help your members gain access to automakers' OBD II coding? (OBD II refers to new emissions standards issued by federal and California regulators. SEMA wants to make sure that the aftermarke t can produce parts that do not degrade vehicle performance.)
We have a lot of work to do on that. The technology is getting even more advanced. We are working very closely with a couple of manufacturers. There will be some announ cements, but I don't want to step on anybody's toes. (Ford Chairman) Jac Nasser will make some announcements. Chrysler is interested in working with us as well. We are on the right path.
You dropped a lawsuit against the automakers, right?
It is always better to work with someone than against them.
SEMA has lobbied state governments to drop cash rewards offered to motorists to scrap old vehicles. You managed to kill a vehicle scrappage program in Ari zona. How much success have you had elsewhere?
We've had a lot of success throughout the U.S. The SEMA Action Network based in Washington, D.C., is communicating with car clubs throughout the U.S., drawing them into action throug h their membership. We can reach a couple of million people, and have them take action in their states.
What are you doing to expand consumer demand for aftermarket products?
One area we are working on is our consumer awarenes s division. For years, we were preaching to the choir by advertising in automotive-related magazines.
Now we are trying to market products to mainstream America - soccer moms, and SUV buyers. There is an array of things we manuf acture.
Dashboards, running boards, truck mats - there is a whole array of things available to the average person who doesn't read Hot Rod or Car Craft magazine.
We are looking at women's magazines and lifestyle magazines. We'd l ike the customization we do to become standard household products.
Cars are getting more complicated; the typical car owner isn't going to reprogram an engine control unit. Is the performance enthusiast an endangered species?
No. There is a new generation of enthusiasts who like compact sports cars. If we can catch those young people, and show them some performance gains, that will stay with them forever.
When they can afford a 5.0-liter Mustang, they will buy it. I want to have parts for them. If a man can tinker on his car, he is going to do it. Men love speed. We love to go fast. We love to have a car handle beautifully.
What impact has the Internet had on aftermarket sales and distribution?
It's still so new. Down the road, it will be a big factor. It will drastically change the distribution network.
We'll have a huge shakeout in our distribution. There will be a whole influx of e-commerce marke ters, just like mail-order companies. Nobody quite knows how to handle the Web. It will take one of our larger distributors to get into it seriously. Who ships parts? Who keeps the inventory? Who handles the money? That has to be s ettled.
Is SEMA trying to expand into overseas markets?
It's important that SEMA expand the marketplace. The only way to do that is to look overseas. We are kicking off a new show in Australia in May. It will be similar to Vegas.
We are looking at a show in England. Haymarket, the automotive publishing house, will produce it. It will sponsor a consumer trade show in January.
Has SEMA had any success expanding into the Japanese market?
We'd love to break into the Japanese market. We are seeing some changes, but it is a very slow process. We had hoped to organize a show in Japan in 2001, but it doesn't look real good.
The auto industry has been negotiating common standards to allow plug-and-play electronics in vehicle instrument panels. Are you helping to set those standards?
SEMA will get involved in that. Detroit needs to understand the needs of our members so they can produce cars with (plug an d play), so we are not cutting and splicing wires and destroying the integrity of the vehicle. They are anxious to work with us. They would rather supply us.