Jeff Hess wants to give his customers a kick.
It's not that Hess, parts manager at Performance Nissan in Duarte, Calif., doesn't like the people who come to his dealership to check out the assortment of Nissan's Nismo brand of high-performance parts. He just doesn't want them to leave without getting a feel for what's possible.
Such as the kick of extra horsepower.
So Hess has outfitted his own 350Z sports car with Nismo parts. And he encourages customers to drive the car around the block so they can see for themselves how much power they can expect by bolting up Nissan's brand of factory-designed parts.
It's one reason that sales of Nismo parts at Performance Nissan have gone from next to nothing early this year to an average of nearly $20,000 per month. It also reflects how dealers are capitalizing on enthusiasts' thirst for horsepower and performance.
Touch and feel
"People are impulsive," Hess observes. "They like to touch and feel things."
Offering performance-enhancing products and other aftermarket parts made business sense for Performance Nissan.
"Salesmen sell cars, not accessories," Hess says. "But you have to offer them. For the 350Z people, I know it works - having the products in your store."
Of the $27 billion U.S. consumers spent on aftermarket parts in 2002, nearly $5 billion went for horsepower-increasing parts, says Jim Spoonhower, spokesman for the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
New-car buyers who modify their vehicles spend an average on $1,400 on extras. Popular items include computer chips and forced-air induction systems, as well as the usual popular aftermarket accessories such as custom wheels.
But for many drivers, brute horsepower reigns supreme. And dealers and automakers are answering the call.
Evidence of that will be on display this week at the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas.
Ford's Racing Parts division will introduce two 5.0-liter or 302-cubic-inch V-8s at the show. But they are not based on the push-rod engine that powered Mustangs and other sporty cars from the 1960s to the late 1990s.
The new engines are punched-out versions of Ford's 4.6-liter overhead-cam modular V-8. Unlike the old push-rod engine, which could be coaxed to deliver around 300 hp, the supercharged version of the new 302 is expected to crank out 600 hp.
General Motors plans to introduce two 9.3-liter, or 572-cubic-inch, crate motors at the show. One makes 620 hp and is for street use. The other is a 720-hp monster for drag racers.
GM also plans to introduce a crate version of its four-cylinder 2.2-liter Ecotech engine. It's a supercharged motor with about 220 hp.
PHOTO: MIKE DITZ
Jeff Hess' 350Z is equipped with Nismo engine and suspension parts that boost acceleration, sharpen handling and improve stopping perfomance. People, Hess says, "like to touch and feel things."
Complete with computer
Hot rodders and performance enthusiasts who want the added power, driveability and reliability of a modern high-tech engine in their older cars and trucks now can buy ready-to-bolt-up fuel injected crate engines with integrated electronic ignitions. These engines come from the factory fully assembled and are complete with a computer that only needs to be wired into the car's electrical system.
GM's big and small block Ram Jet and LS1 fuel injected V-8s have sold well since their introduction last year, says Will Handzel, GM's program manager for performance.
"Carburetors are not going anywhere anytime soon," he says. "But fuel injection has become less of a mystery. And now more people are headed in that direction."
GM engineers have developed fuel injected crate motors for hot rodders who are not computer programmers. For instance, each wire in the engine harness for the LS1 engine is tagged and labeled so that the do-it-yourself installer can more easily connect it to an older vehicle's electrical system.
Ford has done the same thing with its overhead-cam modular V-8 engines.
Those electronic controls are one reason for the large increases in horsepower.
Hank Dertian, engineering supervisor of Ford Racing Performance Parts, says horsepower is likely to go higher. "Six hundred is not the limit of useable street horsepower," he says. "The trick is to have balance, too."
Crate motors are subjected to the same testing and validation as regular production engines, Dertian says.
But Ford is expanding its crate engine offerings to include some retro engineering for those who want a simpler powertrain. A version of the 5.0-liter overhead-cam engine will be available with a distributor and carburetors. At the SEMA show, Ford plans to show a 1965 Mustang 2+2 with the engine.
Koreans jump in
Even drivers of economy cars have not been immune to the trend toward more performance. Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co. plans to make a line of performance parts available through its dealers next year.
Tuners have taken a liking to the Hyundai Tiburon sports coupe. At this year's Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise in Detroit, 23 hopped up Tiburons from six states were on display. Several drivers spent more than $10,000 adding superchargers, big wheels and funky paint jobs to their cars. Now many of those same parts, sourced from specialty manufacturers but with a unique Hyundai brand, will be available through the parts departments at Hyundai dealerships.
Because automakers want a shot at the money consumers are spending on performance-increasing parts and appearance items, they are encouraging dealers to display factory-designed or -approved parts, either on vehicles in the showroom or in dedicated, branded displays in the parts department.
Jerome Duncan Ford in Sterling Heights, Mich., is adding a separate tuner and performance parts business called JD Speedtuners.
The outfit will be housed in a new 1,500-square-foot building next to the dealership showroom. The dealership will be able to outfit a new car any way a buyer wants it, from adding a supercharger and headers to offering funky paint jobs, big wheels and full body kits.
Scott Rease, Jerome Duncan's general manager, views the new parts and accessories business as a way to appeal to customers who want to upgrade their cars using factory parts as well as to differentiate his vehicles from competitive dealers who sell the same brands. The dealership sells Ford, Mazda, Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
To learn the market and spot trends, Rease says dealership personnel have been attending events that attract sport compact cars, muscle car fanatics and hot rodders. The dealership has had displays at the Woodward Dream Cruise in suburban Detroit and Hot Import Nights, a nationwide travelling show for owners of sport compact cars.
Rease says the Mazda store tested the market by customizing the new Mazda6 sedan and displaying three different models on the showroom floor. Several cars were sold with as much as $8,000 worth of add-ons.
How much the new tuner parts business will add to the dealership's bottom line is unknown, Rease says.
"Traditionally, dealers haven't gotten very heavily into looking for substantial increases (in revenue) from parts sales," he says. "It's hard to forecast what kind of sales you can do. But we've obviously looked into it and plan to make a profit."
Back at Performance Nissan, the dealership is preparing to add a parts display in the showroom and give Hess an office closer to salespeople so that he can assist potential customers with modifying their cars.
Nissan hopes other dealers follow Performance Nissan's lead and aggressively market factory high-performance parts.
"All Nissan dealers can get Nismo parts," says Dean Case, Nissan's product public relations manager. "The cost of entry is low enough for dealers to participate."