GM Targets Customization Trend as Important Opportunity for Growth

For General Motors, the aftermarket is no longer an afterthought. By integrating accessory development early in the vehicle development process and by working more closely with specialty equipment manufacturers, GM is ensuring a full lineup of high-quality accessories throughout the lifecycles of its products.

“The specialty equipment industry is growing fast,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s executive director of concept and special vehicles. “GM has targeted the growing customization trend as an important opportunity for growth as well as a way to enhance the image of GM vehicle brands.”

The customization trend is being driven by consumers’ increased desires to personalize what they drive. The trend extends not only to cars but also to trucks and crossovers, whose versatility makes them a natural for customization. GMC has responded with a lineup of Professional Grade specialty vehicles that expand their capabilities, whether at the work site or carrying the family.

Individuality is especially important to young customers, who want to stand out from the crowd. GM’s existing small-car lineup – especially the Chevrolet Cavalier, Pontiac Sunfire and Saturn coupe – provides “canvasses” for customization. GM is responding by creating “look fast” and “go fast” accessories that allow customers to make personal statements.

“Look fast” initiatives include exterior graphics, custom wheels, fascias and spoilers. Among the “go fast” initiatives are explorations of the performance potential of GM’s global four-cylinder engine, the DOHC, 16-valve 2.2-liter Ecotec. The lightweight engine delivers smooth, quiet and reliable power, and its modular design accommodates various technologies, such as turbocharging and supercharging.

GM also is targeting the entry-level market with new vehicles such as the Saturn VUE and Pontiac Vibe, which provide increased opportunities for customization for both GM as well as specialty equipment manufacturers. A wide range of accessories will be available at the November launch of the 2002 Saturn VUE compact sport-utility and the early 2003 introduction of the Vibe, Pontiac’s all-new active lifestyle vehicle.

“As we plan our future products, we’re mapping out how concept and special vehicles will drive the portfolio. At the same time, we’re integrating the accessory strategy and the performance enhancement possibilities,” Reuss said.

“For example, as we develop a future Pontiac Grand Am, we’re looking at the opportunities right from the get-go,” Reuss said. “It’s a different mindset. We’re able to really influence the production program, rather than just retrofit a vehicle after it’s in the market.”

A long-term strategy for customization and limited-run production vehicles also can play an important role in keeping a brand fresh during its entire lifecycle.

“Traditionally, automakers spend a lot of money to launch a vehicle. Then, a couple of years later, they support it with incentives,” Reuss said. “We’re embracing a new business model, one that puts the emphasis on investments to enhance the equipment and the image of the brand. This sort of investment is good for customers because it helps the resale value of their vehicles, and it provides long-term benefits for GM that carry over to the next time we launch the brand.”

While most specialty vehicles in the past were “one-off” exercises, GM is moving increasingly toward bringing concepts to reality. Recent examples include the GMC Sierra Professional and the GMC Savana Pro. Both were unveiled in recent years at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) show.

To expand GM’s opportunities in the customization market, GM Service Parts Operations (SPO) recently formed GM Accessories. In addition, GM is working closely with customizers to develop new accessories. For example, GM made 140 discounted vehicles – including entry-level cars, performance cars, and trucks and crossovers – available to SEMA members who used them to display their accessories at the 2001 SEMA show.

“We’re working with specialty equipment makers even before vehicles are introduced to the public,” Reuss said. “We’re providing them the same math data that is being used in the design and manufacture of our vehicles, so they have the vehicle dimensions and technical specifications they need to develop accessories that will fit the vehicle and fit the brand.”

Ultimately, GM’s efforts to make its products the preferred platform for customization – both by consumers and also by specialty equipment makers – is gaining ground because of the company’s major improvements in product innovation and quality.

Proof of these improvements can be found in GM’s successful new truck entries – its mid-size SUVs (Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada), the Buick Rendezvous crossover and the segment-busting Chevrolet Avalanche with its breakthrough Midgate. The Saturn VUE and Pontiac Vibe will add to this momentum and provide even more reasons for customizers to leverage GM vehicles.

Specialty vehicles play an important role in gauging reaction from the public, the media and accessory producers. “We’re focused more than ever on how our production vehicles potentially can be used by people who want to do incremental fun things,” Reuss said. “GM is going to have a growing presence in the customization market.”

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