Bob Schuetz, President of KW Suspensions North America, talks candidly about the current state of the performance market and discusses how classics like the Datsun are influencing the modern sport compact movement at large. Additionally, Schuetz addresses the topic of an industry-wide paradigm shift head on. He explains that independent specialty shops are coming to a crossroads, and their survival is directly linked to their willingness and ability to adapt.
Q: Last year, well-respected industry professional RJ DeVera of Meguiar’s pointed out that SEMA was full of classics like the Datsun and other examples of old-school Japanese performance. What was the vibe at this year’s SEMA show, and what vehicle platforms do you expect to weigh heavily on new-age sport compact performance during 2018/2019?
SCHUETZ: The Datsun is a great example. In fact, we had a classic 260Z in our booth. We see a continued rise in what we call the classics and have developed bolt-on suspension systems for many of these vehicles. This enables the consumer to integrate new technology in their classic ride and make it a more enjoyable experience. We have the Datsun along with G-body Porsche and E30 BMW’s.
Q: Any shifts in market trends that you saw present at SEMA?
SCHUETZ: I didn’t really see any major new trends. In general, the performance section was very busy but talking to customers they said it was more of the same. (Status quo is validation for performance shops to continue investing in the areas that are driving their business.)
Q: Speaking of modernization, the Euro Tuner market, though always popular for brands like KW Suspensions, has become more mainstream in recent years. These vehicles seem to be a natural progression for once-classic Japanese tuners who now have some deeper pockets and can afford a more luxurious performance ride. What are the most common aftermarket upgrades for this crowd, and what does KW Suspensions specifically have planned for the Euro Tuner market in 2018?
SCHUETZ: Well, the Euro Tuner has been a market segment we have catered to during our 25-year history and with our German connection, it’s a natural influence. We are seeing new car owners also getting into [upgraded] performance suspension. BMW, VW, and Porsche seem to be the strongest platforms. KW offers a range of products for these vehicles, from entry-level performance systems to top-of-the-line plug-and-play integrated suspension systems that can be operated by a smartphone app.
Q: Everyone is preparing for an electric/autonomous future. It may be a little off-beat question as it applies to the current sport compact segment, but it’s important nonetheless because as more pressure is applied at the automaker level, that trickles down to the aftermarket. What are your views about such technology? And how is KW preparing for such a large-scale industry shift?
SCHUETZ: This is true. As vehicles become more sophisticated, it creates more challenges for aftermarket manufactures. Fortunately for KW Automotive, we are ahead of the curve and have invested heavily in integration systems. We have many applications where our shock absorbers integrate directly into the OE’s electronic suspension system. This offers the consumer an instant upgrade in ride performance, while affording them the opportunity to continue to use all of their integrated electronic settings that they paid a lot of money for.
Q: Given all the uncertainty within the automotive industry, what do you foresee as the next “big thing,” or the next great hurdle, within the sport compact market?
SCHUETZ: The challenge, especially in suspension, is the quality of new vehicles from the automakers. The product is getting better and better with each passing generation, and that makes it more difficult (not impossible) for the aftermarket to improve upon an already strong OE platform.
Q: Any kind of change is unnerving. What is your advice to traditional shop owners as we approach this paradigm shift within the automotive industry? What areas do you believe they will still be able to capitalize on in an electric/autonomous future?
SCHUETZ: It’s critical for independent specialty shops to continue investing in technology, testing equipment, and using modern diagnostics. Jobber education and industry-wide communication is going to be paramount (to remaining in business). It’s the only way to be better prepared to work on the next wave of vehicles. Lean on the manufacturers for continued education, such as tech seminars. For example, here at KW Suspensions, we fly a select group of dealers to Germany each year so they can see exactly what we’re doing and get hands-on experience.