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Fast, furious business for ‘tuner cars’

/ Source: CNBC

The “tuner car” aftermarket is a $1.5 billion a year business and growing. And it’s filled with music, lights, wheels — and skimpy outfits.

You haven't lived until you’ve spent the day with 90,000 young people between 16 and 30, all with car stereos blasting and all looking to add even more power: To themselves, to their cars, and to their lifestyles.

It’s called the NOPI Nationals, and it’s the hottest spot to be in the automobile business. (Don’t forget to bring your ear plugs.)

It is the fastest growing segment of the automobile business — and the loudest.

“It’s the Indy 500 of tuner car shows,” said Toyota spokesman William Reilly.

Welcome to the Toyota NOPI Nationals Motorsports Supershow, one of the largest yearly outdoor events in Atlanta that draws 100,000 people to Atlanta Motor Speedway — all looking for ways to spruce up, or goose up, their cars. At this show, they’ve got 6,000 cars to check out.

Tuner cars are mostly imports, the compact sporty models brought to general attention by Hollywood in movies like The Fast and the Furious” and pushed weekly on the cable television show “Tunervision.”

But they are cars the 16- to 30-year-old set has been driving and pouring big money into for half a decade.

“It’s a new generation,” said Michael Myers, president of NOPI Motorsports. “It’s a new breed of speed. They’re into cars, but they’re also into electronics.”

The company on the front end of this revved-up market is NOPI: Atlanta’s Number One Parts, Inc. — a $40 million parts distributor that caught the wave when it first started in the late 1990’s.

“It used to be they had to get the stereo first,” said Myers. “But now they have to get the body kit, the wings — and you have to have wheels.”

Once the market exploded, the manufacturers (including Toyota, which became a title sponsor this year) and other major parts distributors (there were 300 of them with their wares on display in Atlanta) smelled the money in all those exhaust fumes.

Want to talk to this demographic? This is the place. Just ask Microsoft: It’s Xbox game platform is a major sponsor — and growing car option. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

“You can rip music to the hard drive and you can set up you own music in your car,” said Xbox brand manager Bill Nielsen. “Put in a play list, up to 500 CD’s onto an Xbox, and create your own play list.”

“There certainly is an appeal and one that will appeal to a lot of other large companies,” said BF Goodrich vice president Thom Peebles. “And that’s young, young, young.”

Of course once the cars get tricked out, they’ve got to burn out — somewhere. NOPI also sponsors a national, multi-city drag racing series, including one in Pennsylvania. It’s a legal alternative to illegal street racing — and another venue for sales.

“We’re building up drag racing around them,” said Myers. “So our message is to change drag racing as it’s known, to create a lifestyle event around stuff that they’re into.”

The finals of the NOPI drag racing series will be held in Fortuna, Calif on Oct. 18th and 19th. The winner goes home with $140,000.