Wheels, wheels, wheels
Let’s face it, with gas prices at more than $3 a gallon and the economy struggling, we all have had to make adjustments in our lifestyles. The effects of the poor economy have affected aftermarket wheel sales as well.
It used to be that bigger was better when it came to custom wheel trends, but there is an ongoing shift in what people seem to be buying today. Who would have ever thought that smaller would be better in the custom wheel industry?
Industry experts in the manufacturing and distribution of custom wheels say the demand for smaller sizes is increasing at the expense of plus sizes.
Stewart Mawyer, sales manager for Rev Wheel LLC, says 20-inch wheels are a dying breed. “Our biggest sellers right now are 16- to 17-inch wheels.
“The slow economy and the fact people are buying smaller vehicles have had a huge impact in the wheel industry.”
Manufacturers are forced to stay on top of current trends so they are able to produce what is desired by the consumer. It also is important for distributors and independent dealers to know what people are buying so they can maintain proper inventory.
Dave Schardt, president of Forgeline Motorsports, has seen a steady drop in plus size wheel purchasing. He says the company’s most popular wheel size is 19 inches. His best sellers over the last few years have been 22 inches or higher.
“As a manufacturer, it is very important for us to keep up with current trends,” says Schardt.
“We have to make sure we are making wheels that are not only high quality, but are also safe for our consumers. We monitor the car industry to keep up with the industry standards.”
“There is a major shift occurring in the aftermarket wheel industry,” says Gene Howald, CEO of Custom Wheel Solutions LLC. “People are more willing to buy wheels that fit their OE tires, and right now the 15-, 16- and 17-inch markets are doing really well.”
Howald says the market dictates what is being bought and sold, and as a manufacturer, he must provide what wheel buyers want. It appears size really does matter in the custom wheel world; people are buying smaller rims.
In lieu of larger wheel sizes, wheel finishes remain an exciting way to jazz up a ride. While chrome will always have its niche in the aftermarket wheel market, some experts are saying certain color finishes are moving in as the new trend.
Bob Klippel, new products manager for Excalibur Wheel Accessories, says he has seen an increase in the popularity of painted finishes, especially black finishes.
“Black wheels are coming on strong,” he says. “Black painted finishes have quickly become the newest trend in custom wheels.”
Michael Zegans, owner of New York, N.Y.-based Wheel Works Corp., says chrome wheels have always been popular because of their bright finish, but black finishes have become one of the biggest trends in the industry.
He says matte (lusterless) black finishes seem to be very popular. So are color schemes that match the vehicle’s color.
“All black wheels with custom color lips have become very popular,” says Zegans. “Manufacturers and consumers are always looking for ways to be unique.” Another trend is the machined painted wheel, which has a glossy finish that has been machined down in some places.
Out with the old
California continues to be the pioneering area for new trends in the domestic aftermarket wheel industry. Trends often start in California and spread across the nation.
By the time the Midwest and East Coast adapt to these new trends, new ones have already started on the West Coast.
Schardt says he has seen many trends come and go, but attributes how long trends stay around to how big they are and how quickly they grow.
“The bigger the trend, the faster it dies,” he says. He cites spinning wheels as an example. Spinning wheels became a trend very quickly a few years back, and were a must-have for wheel enthusiasts. You still see some of these “spinners” around today, but for the most part, the spinning wheel craze has died.
Trends seem to lose their lustre when “everyone is doing it,” according to wheel manufacturers and marketers.
This may be why some wheel experts feel color trends may be here to stay. Though the trend is growing quickly, there are plenty of different options available to customers to make their wheels stand apart from those owned by other wheel enthusiasts.
An executive with Cragar Inc. who requested anonymity says the color trend will be around awhile because of the continued proliferation of import enthusiasts.
The influence of imports coming from Japan, especially in the tuner market, will feed the trend and keep it alive for some time to come, he explains.
The color trend has been around in other segments, such as the hot rod market, for many years and has done very well. However, there is a downside, he cautions.
“It’s difficult for manufacturers and distributors to inventory a trend like this properly.”
The aftermarket wheel industry is a multi-million dollar market. It has always found ways to provide what customers want while anticipating their future desires.
In addition to staying on top of what is hot at the aftermarket level, wheel manufacturers and other companies, including tire dealerships, have to keep abreast of what vehicle manufacturers are doing at the original equipment level.
For instance, car companies have changed bolt patterns over time. And government-mandated tire pressure monitoring systems differ from make and model.
If you follow wheel trends plus the vehicle trends like these that affect wheel service, you will be able to provide your customers with wheels that are not only good-looking but also safe and reliable.