It’s easy to wander around the SEMA show in Las Vegas sniggering at the outrageous creations on display. What cannot be sniggered at, though, is the show’s significance.
The accessory and performance parts market that the SEMA show is all about is worth a massive $70 billion globally each year, according to Mopar boss Pietro Gorlier. Some $30bn comes from North America, with the rest fairly evenly split around the world, including around $15bn in Europe.
The SEMA show is the shop window for that part of the industry. It is that opportunity to get the ball rolling for a new part or accessory. It’s less about the complete cars you see and more about the components that make them up.
Mopar is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ parts and servicing arm, and looks after anything aftermarket, from the accessories catalogue for your new car to servicing contracts.
Gorlier won’t put a figure on just how much money Mopar makes, but his relaxed demeanour and glint in his eye are of a man who’s happy with his lot. He did confirm, however, that Mopar’s sales grew 20% year-on-year in the 2014/15 financial year.
Being a manufacturer operation and with brand DNA to respect, Mopar’s show exhibits are at the more tasteful end of the SEMA spectrum, but the process behind their creation and purpose is the same as the more headline-grabbing creations.
“The show is an incredible opportunity to gather feedback,” Gorlier told me. “We test new products and solutions here. It is an ideal opportunity to bring something new, something different; a blue-sky project with no clear direction to gather feedback on certain features. If that feedback is positive, it can become an accessory or an entire production vehicle.
“We design accessories at the very beginning of development of a new vehicle with our dedicated design team. The main design teams have lots of ideas and not all can become production ones, so we can take some ideas that didn’t make it and offer them as accessories in time for a vehicle’s launch.”
Mopar offers more than 25,000 accessories across the entire FCA range, with every car having a minimum of 100. Mopar creates 1000-2000 new parts or accessories a year.
Customer spend averages around $400 per car around the world on Mopar-created accessories. On the Jeep Wrangler, SEMA’s most customised car, it’s higher at $700; some buyers spend more than $20,000 on accessories and aftermarket modifications to make their car unique. Some 98% of all Wranglers are modified in some way or another. It’s big business.
Indeed, Gorlier says that the availability of accessories and customisation is now one of the top five factors in a buyer deciding whether or not to buy a car. Its importance is increasing all the time.
“The need for personalisation is a phenomenon across every vehicle and every market," he says. "It’s one of the first five reasons why people choose to buy a car. It’s not just important for profits, but it drives sales of the car. After price and economy, it’s the ability to personalise the car.
“It’s a big part of the business, and a big part of selling cars. It’s about the customer driving something unique, not being the same as your friend or neighbour. Even if it’s just a stripe, a roof carrier or some wheels.”