By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Although there are no industry numbers to support their claims, suppliers say laser blocker sales will gain this year due to increased use of laser vs. radar guns by police, and some new entrants in the market.
German based Blinder, which just opened a United States sales division in January, said its U.S. sales are ahead 4,000 units year to date and the company is planning to introduce two new products later this year. Escort and Beltronics, which just began selling their first laser blockers, said sales are off to a promising start.
Beltronics, which began shipping its LaserPro 904 in April, said it is exceeding forecasts and that Circuit City is its first major customer.
According to Blinder USA sales VP Leon Gruner, sales of laser blockers are expected to gain because "thirty percent more laser tickets were given out this year than radar tickets. Two years ago the split was about 50-50. This year, radar use has gone down by about 30 percent. Radar is not as accurate. The officer doesn't know which vehicle he shot and he doesn't know if the vehicle is coming or going. A laser beam is only 18 inches wide."
K-40, which says it was the first company to offer a laser blocker in 1995, estimates that 15 to 30 percent of the speed measurement devices used by police are laser guns.
While the growing use of laser has prompted Escort and Beltronics to enter the market, Cobra says it will steer clear of laser blocker sales. "We believe interfering with the signal is interference with the law. It's a constitutional right to know when you are under surveillance [as in radar detectors] but not to disturb the signal," said Toni Mirabelli, senior VP.
Beltronics national sales manager Donal Rich disagrees claiming that laser blockers are regulated by the FDA, rather than the FCC, and where the FCC prohibits jamming of radar, "the FDA, which regulates laser emissions, has no regulation on jamming a laser."
Whistler director of product development, Steve Boyle, however, said that laser blockers are outlawed in California and Utah and there are laws that place it in a gray area in Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia. Radar detectors are illegal in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
Among the new laser blocker products shipping this season in addition to Escort's Shifter ZR3 and Beltronics LaserPro 904 (TWICE, 2/11/2002, p. 42) are two new models from Blinder. This fall, the company plans to debut the M-50, a single rear unit intended for mounting on a license plate and the M-40 — the first laser blocker designed for use with a motorcycle. The M-40 offers both front and rear protection of the motorcycle. Both units are expected to sell in the $300 range.
K-40 recently debuted an optional warning display pod upgrade to its Laser Diffuser Plus. The new pod is about the size of a quarter and sends both audio and visual warnings when the Diffuser Plus senses targeting by a laser gun. K-40 is also offering a new mounting bracket for use when a car does not have a front license plate.
In the general radar detector market, suppliers say early sales are a pointing to a slightly better year than last. Cobra said its sales are running at "close to double-digit increases" over last year and its biggest challenge, right now, is keeping up with demand. "The reception of the [new] line has surprised us," Mirabelli said.
Cobra's new line adds a Smart Mute feature and also offers 10-band vs. 9-band protection. Sales in general run approximately 2 million annually for the industry, Mirabelli added.
Whistler also said it sees sales gaining this year. "For a long time, people assumed radar detectors were illegal. I think people who don't live in Washington and Virginia now realize it doesn't apply to them and they accept it more. Some of the efforts done in the Safety Warning program has done a good job of promoting the positive benefits of radar detectors. There's a slight growth trend, especially after last year where there was a fourth quarter hiccup in sales," Boyle said.
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.