RJ de Vera's auto industry resume is as free-form and hard to read as a graffiti wall in urban L.A.
His job title -- "leader of the customer engagement group" at the car-care brand Meguiar's Inc. -- doesn't come close to explaining the man, who helped bring Southern California's Japanese import tuner craze into auto industry business plans in the 2000s.
De Vera, 37, has been a trend predictor and under-the-radar consultant since his 20s, editing street-racing magazines, forming car clubs and creating special-edition one-off vehicles that have unofficially influenced automakers on matters as small as accessories and edgy paint color options.
He began buying and selling trending car parts as a kid, working part time and blowing his entire paycheck to fill his baffled mother's condo with high-end wheels and sets of racing tires before he had a car to put them on -- or a driver's license.
He has consulted on programs at Honda, Acura, Scion, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Mazda. He also was the street-cred consultant on Hollywood's The Fast and the Furious. He recently broke away from the SEMA show in Las Vegas to talk with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell.
Did The Fast and the Furious get the L.A. tuner scene right, or did you wince when you saw the film?
I winced at a couple of parts. I felt like some of the car colors and graphics weren't right. Most of it was OK. But for example, they had four cars drag racing side by side. Nobody does that. I'm not sure they really listened to me. Although, since the movie came out, we've seen the rise of four-car drag racing.
The auto industry is afraid that young people are losing interest in cars. They're more into their cellphones.
Yeah, I see that. But I also see something more promising. Younger kids -- and I mean little kids, like 10 and 12 years old -- they're really into cars. I'm seeing it. I go to car shows and clubs all the time. I might pull up in a limited-edition Lamborghini, and there will be five or six kids who rush over and start taking pictures on their iPads and iPhones. They know exactly, specifically, what car it is and they know the specs. It's crazy. It's happening all the time.
You're right: Young adults -- 18, 20, 25 years old -- have lost some of their interest, for whatever reasons. The economy maybe. But the little kids coming up behind them -- watch out.
What should we call that wave?
I don't think there's a good name for them yet. It's the touch-screen generation. Gen Z.
How can automakers capitalize on that?
Don't blow it. Reach out to them on their own terms. These kids want to know everything about every car. Gaming is going to play a huge role.
These kids want more information. They want to experience them on video games. They want to see cool cars in action. Just give 'em what they want.
It will be interesting to see if the car companies can keep them interested over the next 10 years.