A 2013 Mustang rolls through the city as pedestrians picture it decked out to match their personalities. In the final scene of the recent Ford Motor Co. TV spot, a shy little girl in a pink ballerina costume imagines it as a vicious black Cobra with a growling throttle.
"Everyone has an inner Mustang," the commercial cajoles. "Unleash yours."
Consumers have signed onto Ford's online Mustang customizer Web site, ford.com/cars/mustang/customizer, and created more than 4 million versions of the car since last year. But in the real world, the business of customizing or personalizing vehicles -- estimated by the Specialty Equipment Market Association to be worth $30 billion a year in the United States -- is up for grabs.
Manufacturers from Audi to Subaru want to capture the consumer spirit for personalization. The aftermarket is booming with business for custom wheels, tinted windows, electronics, lighting and interiors.
But the natural link between the two -- the new-vehicle dealer -- isn't quite so zealous about it.
"The Mustang is one of the most customized cars on the planet," says Jim Owens, the car's marketing manager. "But a lot of the work gets done by 'I know a guy.' The owner knows somebody at a local shop. They know somebody down the street.
"It's a huge business for the aftermarket."
Where are the dealers? In most retail sales, salespeople never pitch personalization.
A recent survey of more than 7,800 new-vehicle buyers around the country found that 65 percent of their purchases occurred without any mention of accessories. That is higher than a year ago, when 61 percent of the sales occurred without a mention of customization, according to the report by Foresight Research in suburban Detroit.
The survey found that nearly 60 percent of the dealers involved did not have an accessorized vehicle on display, says Ron Hein, Foresight executive vice president. That's despite Foresight's finding that buyers spend $1,662 on average to accessorize vehicles. Apparently consumers are getting the work done somewhere other than the dealership.
"It's a little puzzling," Hein says. "We're in this new age of individualization. And most of the accessorizing and customization work gets done within two years of the vehicle purchase -- which ought to be the dealer's domain. But car dealers are stepping away from it."