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Following one of the worst years in car audio history, the Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA) is calling for action in the form of a grassroots campaign to educate members, and later consumers, about their rights and options to alter their vehicles.
CEA estimated aftermarket car audio sales fell as much as 13.9 percent last year, marking the steepest decline in many years. It forecasts another 1.2 percent decline this year.
Chris Cook, CEA staff director for mobile electronics, and Alpine marketing VP Stephen Witt, presented reasons for the industry decline at the MERA Knowledgefest held here this week.
According to Cook, design changes in cars will "lock out" the ability for the aftermarket to replace radios in 22.4 percent of the top 60 vehicles, or over 15 million vehicles, by 2008. The radios will no longer fit due to size changes in the radio opening. In other vehicles, replacing the radio causes loss of functions, such as door chimes or seat belt chimes. Cook said this is now true in 13 percent of total new vehicles and 22 percent of the top selling vehicles.
MERA, said Witt, claims the decline in aftermarket sales is due not only to physical design changes in cars but also to several factors, such as the products becoming commodities. Other negative factors include: maturity of the industry, shifting demand, the economy, transshipping, the Internet, manufacturer practices and the lack of emotional engagement on the part of consumers.
The OEM Task Force committee of MERA is starting a campaign to tackle some of the problems occurring at the new-car level.
The initiative, called REV IT UP, is a campaign to teach industry members, and eventually consumers, about current car-company policies that do not allow consumers to repair their cars, including their car stereos, at aftermarket shops. "Consumers are completely unaware that this is about to happen to them," said MERA president Vicky Scrivner. "If you buy an '01 vehicle and then in '05 or '06 have a problem with it, you can't get it repaired in any aftermarket repair or entertainment shop, so you have to pay more."
Added MERA board trustee, Joe Cavanaugh, "People are not aware of the repercussions of these closed-end and proprietary complex systems now in cars. If five years later, you need to spend all this money to repair your car, you are getting five-year-old technology. The infrastructure of cars is not being designed with an upgrade approach. But if you don't educate consumers, they won't think it's a big deal." He noted that, in some cases, if a radio is broken, the consumer must repair it through the car dealer or void the car warranty. Some high-end radios can cost over $1,000 to replace because of a small malfunction.
MERA is currently asking members to finance the campaign. "Right now, we're not thinking legislatively, but we want to create a consumer groundswell through education. If every dealer talks to every customer ... if he has literature he can hand out, then these consumers can communicate this to the car dealers," Cavanaugh said.
MERA is also calling on all retailers to document every time a customer cannot get the stereo he wanted because of design-out or other OEM issues. MERA will then assemble a database.
MERA executive director Rick Mathies explained that MERA is not attacking the car companies. "We're not saying the auto manufacturers are doing this intentionally. But the consumer doesn't realize this is going on."
Cavanaugh noted that the only areas of growth in car audio last year were in products that do not require in-dash integration, including add-on changers, mobile multimedia and satellite-radio tuners. He claimed consumer awareness through REV IT UP should benefit all parties, including the car makers who will have unhappy customers four years down the line when their cars are out of warranty.
Scrivner said that the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer's Association is interested in getting involved in the REV IT UP campaign.
Another design-out issue revolves around MOST technology — a new fiberoptic data bus now being employed in upscale cars that affects the radio. The aftermarket is looking for car makers to include an open portal in MOST systems so that aftermarket companies can build products to plug into the system. As MOST migrates to more cars, the issue will become more critical to the aftermarket.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.