Back in January, team Engine Block published a feature about the expansion of modern sport compact. What began as an exclusive import performance scene heavily inspired by the Datsun 510/240Z/280Z of the 70’s and 80’s and the Toyota Celica/Supra or Honda Civic during the early 90’s started to inch across the median.
“There’s a rich history in sport compact with a fast rise to the top and then a sharp decline that actually created a broader category with even broader appeal. There’s been a rebirth of sport compact. Both the market and the overall segment have matured. The industry as a whole became more educated as a result of the recession and brought a new generation of suppliers into our industry,” said Ahad Mirza, Category Manager of Sport Compact at Keystone.
We caught up with highly-respected industry specialists across North America. And they gave us a pulse on the sport compact market post SEMA 2016. Here’s what the experts have to say!
Growth of Retro Builds & Continued Segmentation of the Category
“There was a bigger mix of import cars at SEMA this year, whereas before it leaned toward a couple models. There was a good variety of old and current—GTRs, BMWs, RWBs, 997s, 991s, R-dubs, 240Zs and 280Zs. Surprisingly, I didn’t see a lot of traditional Euro tuner rides (even though we know this is a growing part of the category),” said RJ DeVera, an early tuner pioneer, consultant on the Fast & Furious series and famous TV personality.
“It feels like there’s a big resurgence in classic Japanese cars, such as the Hako. (It was great to see) a lot of first-generation Nissan Skylines and customized base conversions of popular replica cars. Rare Japanese rides seem to be popping up and are becoming a little easier to attain (if you’ve got the cashflow to afford them),” he added.
A true GTS Hako, and there are only two known in the US, go for roughly a quarter million at auction. “They are hiking these vehicle prices in Japan because they know they are getting shipped out to other parts of the world. It’s going to cost about $40,000-$65,000 (at least) to get a Japanese import shipped into the US. A few years ago that same car was worth about $10,000 to bring in. So there’s been appreciation. And it’s not a daily driver,” said Jonathan Wong, an early adopter of the import performance movement and former Editor in Chief at Driving Line.
Carey Lam’s retail shop Full Throttle in Queens, NY has been specializing in Honda Civics since 1999. What started as a personal hobby years ago morphed into a business venture. And although business is good, he recognized the broadening of not only the sport compact segment, but also the industry at large while visiting SEMA this year. His takeaway? It’s time to diversify and secure a bigger piece of the pie.
Customization and Acute Attention to Detail
“There are a lot more people doing full restorations and one-offs. They’re taking the extra steps to build the car with craftsmanship and attention to detail. I appreciate that people are putting a lot of thought into their cars and making it their own. That’s what this category is all about, creating something that makes a car really yours by choosing different platforms, styling, etc. People are really spreading their wings,” said Wong.
“Build and They Will Come.”
Household industry name “Big Mike” recently finished a Honda Prelude build. The car has undergone three iterations and its 2016 SEMA debut was all the buzz among enthusiasts in every camp. “People are taking notice. Not just Honda or import-centric people, but people in general. That’s major when just footsteps away are American classics, cutting edge technology packed supercars and questionable models with even more questionable personas all vying for show-goer attention,” said Super Street Magazine.
“It seems like the trend now in all segments—domestic, import and Euro—is modify the vehicle but keep it as simple as possible. A lot more people are going for the clean, sleek look as opposed to full-out builds. This makes it easier to be able to have it for everyday use instead of needing two vehicles, a toy and a daily driver,” said Victor Nogueira, a Keystone sales associate located at the Toronto, Canada call center.
We’re seeing a lot of fender flares. “Fortunately or unfortunately depending on what side of the fence you’re on—rounded, bolted, boxed, you name it. Wide wheels (for an aggressive stance), engine transplants and souped up engines (with general performance upgrades such as intake, exhaust, turbos, etc.); that doesn’t seem to have died down from the tuner side of the biz. The multi-piece wheels, two-step look is still hot, especially on wide bodies. I notice more experimentation on the exotic side of the business with finishes and designs. Variations of mesh are making their way back. And I saw a lot more rear-wheel drive stuff,” explained DeVera.
It All Comes Full Circle
In a joint interview with DeVera and Wong, they chatted how the aftermarket is a fashion business and everything comes full circle, from lowered suspension and exhaust fads to wings. Some European cars are even taking on Japanese styling. As a general rule of thumb, a majority of people want upgrades that let them perform and function well.
“Still, we see how important aesthetics are in this category and even though it’s not as overdone as it was, style is still important. Stance, stretched tires, color choices. Crazy, wide and in your face. The bright colors were super hot and then people reverted to grays, blacks and whites. (Now we see bright-colored cars and shocking-colored wheels back on the road.) That idea of ‘I don’t want to have what everyone else has’ essentially proliferated the market. So we see a movement back to the retro days,” they discussed collectively.
Increased Crossover Production
Mirza discussed how traditional Japanese performance companies are migrating into the domestic world and collaborating with other brands. “It’s a good thing for these companies to be manufacturing products for vehicles outside of their wheelhouse and get exposure from another side of the business. Companies (like GReddy Performance) have proven parts that we trust; it’s certainly good enough for a domestic car,” continued Wong. After all, American companies have made products for the FRS.
“They all have the right to play in other people’s sandboxes, so long as the quality is there. GReddy makes some of the best performance parts on the market. This is their next frontier, being able to grow outside their niche even though that niche is pretty big,” said DeVera. “Categories like modern muscle, that’s just a huge chunk of volume. They definitely have a right to play (in new spaces) with the research and development they command, but they need to build awareness (in a new market). It’s really difficult (to make a name for yourself) in a competitive category. You’re up against many others for brand recognition,” he concluded.
Hold on tight–it’s going to be an exciting year full of crazy cars and even crazier builds. And we’ll be covering the very best the aftermarket has to offer!