Echo Booming – Rolling on Dubs (for now)

This edition of Echo Booming is in a different format. We here at Sorgenfrei posed a few questions about aftermarket customization to our resident Echo Boomer – Dan Sherman.

Heavily modified Toyota Supra

Q. A lot of research has been done into the fact that your generation wants to make everything unique, is there truth to this and how does apply to vehicles?

Dan: We were raised to think that “we’re each special”, but the running joke among Echo Boomers is that “we’re all special and unique, just like everybody else.” With the advent of the internet, blogosphere, and social networking, my generation is very intent on making the uniqueness of their opinions known. However, we also easily succumb to peer pressure and we rampantly plagiarize our supposedly unique opinions; the majority of our drive for uniqueness is not truly original. This carries into the automotive sphere–we want something different from the beige Camrys on the road everywhere, but not at the risk of being unrecognizable. For instance, Gen Y used to buy “spinners” when they were hip because spinners were new, attention-grabbing and different from most wheels. However, when spinners became less popular on the road my peers became less likely to purchase. We love to follow the peaks and troughs of trends (much like fashion), and we prefer to follow customization paths that others have already undertaken.

Q. How do Echo Boomers differ (if at all) from other generations when it comes to modifying their cars?

Dan: There’s an obvious difference in demand due to age. Aftermarket accessories are expensive and high-maintenance, and older folk generally have more imperative and responsible uses for their time and money (spouses, children, etc.). I would say that we are certainly less likely to work on our own cars. Other generations grew up with carbureators and easy-access American cars, but my generation loves to modify complicated Japanese cars with turbos and heavy electronics. All generations are dynamic, however–whereas a few years ago Gen Y was obsessed with the heavy performance modifications characteristic of import tuner culture, we now shy towards appearance items.

And as stated before, the computerization of our world means that peer pressure is the new buyer’s guide. What our peers think is “cool” and “unique” is what we prefer. Other generations are more immune to the thoughts of others.

Q. What are the primary influencers for the people that modify their rides (movies, TV, video games etc.)

All of the above. The super popular video game series Gran Turismo essentially jumpstarted the “JDM” trend, and made people much more aware of the myriad modification options available (you can modify cars in-game). Then came along The Fast & The Furious movie series, which made import tuner culture totally mainstream…this had a MAJOR impact on every Gen Yer thinking of customizing a car. It made import tuning not only cool but much more accessible, as if not restricted to a niche. And then came Pimp My Ride, which focused on the “bling-bling” factor (20 TVs in a car? Really?!). These three media are not merely influencers; they take 100% credit for shaping people’s preferences in, and penchant for, vehicle modifications. Then peer pressure takes over and determines when these trends rise and when they die.

Q. Are there sub groups within this segment? If so, who are they and how do they differ from each other?

Dan: Import tuners, driven by The Fast and the Furious, LOVE the aftermarket. Some modify for “show” and some for “go”. Those who have the means have shops install expensive performance items like turbos, ECU chips, etc. Others will pine for body kits, paint jobs and sweet sound systems. However, factory tuners (Subaru WRX STI, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, etc.) provide a lot of this from the factory. I’m sure they’ve eroded much the aftermarket Import Tuner market; many people get factory tuners and call it quits on customization.
Those who don’t have the cash but hope to emulate The Fast and the Furious are Wannabe Import Tuners. They go what they can get at Pep Boys, such as DIY bolt-on performance and unpainted wings/bodykits.
Bling Blingers, inspired by Pimp My Ride, love biiiig chrome rims, tinted windows, and excessively loud sound systems. They are all about image and wouldn’t dare look to the aftermarket for performance.

Q. What is the best way for a car company to appeal to these consumers? (ex: make cars that are easy to modify, TRD-like aftermarket that doesn’t void the warranty etc.)

Dan: There are a few feasible approaches, depending on the type of car:
1. The factory tuner method. My generation loves Evos because they’re different from Lancers and a lot of other cars on the road, but there are other Evos around–they fit Echo Boomers’ desire for “uniqueness” perfectly. There’s less hassle and less risk when everything is factory installed and factory insured.
2. The TRD method. We are scared to death of working on our cars and voiding warranties, especially because if we have the money to purchase a new car it’s likely coming from our parents. Getting aftermarket parts from a company that won’t void the warranty is VERY attractive approach.
3. The Scion method. It has the advantages of the TRD method, and then some. By tying in aftermarket parts with the new car purchase, it lessens our inhibitions. However, the timing issue is involved–we like to modify our cars later on when we get bored of stock condition.
4. Make cars easier to modify. Not likely from a performance standpoint, due to the packaging, power, and fuel economy restrictions placed upon manufacturers today. However, when combined with the TRD method, manufacturers would be smart to make their pre-approved (or self-manufactured) parts easier to install than other aftermarket parts.

Dan: Do you think this trend continue as Gen Y consumers get older?

A. For the most part, no. Our trends tend to die out fairly quickly, especially as we become more “mature.” We will associate car customization with immaturity and shy away from it. Part of the death of the trend will be strictly due to age; as we get older we will develop more important uses for our money and time. If we desire “uniqueness,” we will look to the automaker to provide it.

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