By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
After a sobering 2001, suppliers and retailers expect sales of remote start units to meet or exceed last year's sales.
Suppliers estimate last year's sales between 1.5 million and 2.5 million units — 3 million when including Canada. Many said 2001 proved to be a tougher year than originally expected as Sept. 11 hurt sales in the critical fourth quarter and price erosion cut into margins.
Heading into the busy season this year, many say that sales will ultimately depend on the weather, as a cold spell in Northern territories would boost sales. However, industry members are taking a proactive approach by aggressively promoting despite the weather. And many are pushing high-end products to boost margins, including new two-way LCD units that offer visual confirmation that an engine has started, and confirmation of other features such as remote door lock/unlock, as well as notification of triggered sensors.
To jump-start the season, Tim's Car Tunes, Indian Orchard, Mass., is promoting remote start this fall as a Christmas gift. It encourages consumers to "borrow your loved one's car" and bring it in for a remote start installation. The store then hides the antenna under the headliner so the car owner doesn't know he has remote start. The gift-giver presents the transmitter at Christmas for instant remote start, explained owner Tim Lavoie. "We set up a follow-up appointment to expose the antenna. It beats a gift certificate under the tree," he said.
Lavoie confirmed that price erosion has been a key issue recently. "It's because remote start can be sold uninstalled or installed. It's created so much confusion. We'll see remote start at BJ's for $30. Then someone sees it for $300 installed," he said. Lavoie is focusing on up-selling and upscale product as a result.
John Martin, sales manager for Black Widow noted, "When you see a $149 remote start, it does cut into margins. But with two-way coming out, it's given us a new category and put some spring back into things."
Almost every supplier contacted by TWICE said they are pushing two-way LCD models this year, including DEI, which just launched its first two-way confirmation units called the Responder. The FCC-compliant LCD models are combination security units that alert the user by beeping or vibrating when the siren is triggered. The system is available as the Viper 790XV, Python 880XP and Clifford Matrix RSIII at $599.
Montreal, Canada-based Autostart began shipping in October a remote start system with two-way confirmation and LCD that claims a 3,500 foot range. The transmitter comes in a silver case and vibrates and beeps for confirmation. It is available as a standalone remote start or a full combination alarm system, with the latter carrying a suggested retail price of $569 installed.
Autostart said it continues to expand into the United States and expects to distribute to 400 U.S. retailers by January 2003, compared to its current 100 retailers. The company says it plans to increase its U.S. manufacturer's representatives from three to 15 by Jan. 1, sales director Peter Fazi said.
Anchorage, Alaska-based Firstech claims to offer the only two-way LCD remote system based on 900MHz spread spectrum technology. The company's Compustar 2WSSAS operates on a full watt of power and claims a 1.25 mile range, compared to most remote starters, which offer only a ¼-mile range, said a spokesman. The combo system with security also comes with additional sensor inputs, a channel expander option for more outputs and a built-in turbo timer. The latter feature allows the engine to run for a period of time automatically after the key is removed from the ignition. The unit has a suggested retail price of $700, and the standalone remote start 2WSS-S has a suggested retail price of $600.
Firstech claims all of its Compustar systems are upgradeable, so users can buy a basic one-way remote start system at $300 and upgrade to digital spread spectrum model by simply going to the retailer who changes the antenna and reprograms the remote. All central brain modules are the same, said the spokesman.
Applied Security Technologies (AST) in Alberta, Canada, sells the Ultra Start brand, which includes a two-way color LCD standalone remote at $499 suggested retail price. It has a 4,000 foot range and is FCC approved. The model 3500 also has a flip cover on the remote to protect the user from accidentally starting his car. A combination alarm version, called the 4500, is also available at $599.
Black Widow introduced this month a new two-way LCD confirmation remote start/security combo unit. The BWFM7150 has five built-in relays, dual stage shock sensor and optional features including keyless entry, two programmable auxiliary outputs and illuminated entry. It also has a port, called the Spider Web Network, for system expansion and an interface for a PC or PDA for programming and software customization. The BWFM7150 carries a suggested retail price of $449.
Also new from Black Widow is the BW4150, a security system with the same Spider Web Network port. It offers multi-car compatibility and has the ability to become a two-way LCD system or remote start system with optional accessories.
Audiovox is also shipping a two-way LCD model called the APS-996. The five-button unit has a range of 1,400 ft. and offers a clock/alarm/parking meter timer function, as well as vehicle interior temperature indicator. It has selectable run times of 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes at a suggested retail price of $500 installed.
Clarion recently announced a new keyless entry/remote start model under the Ungo brand. The new unit has five onboard relays for easy installation. Called the RS251, it is expected to carry a suggested retail price of $199.
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.