By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Despite a rocky start, the car locator market may get a boost as big-name suppliers, including Directed and Audiovox, enter the segment.
Since Directed launched its GPS Tracking line in May a number of retailers say they will enter the category for the first time. Circuit City is expected to begin selling Directed locators in September and Seattle-based Car Toys said it will offer the line in the near future.
A host of other suppliers are also planning market entries. Audiovox said it will launch a line Oct. 1, and Code Alarm is also expected to begin offering a product. Montreal-based AutoStart says it will ship a car locator in the fourth quarter.
To date, locators have remained a small niche with a few players selling less than 12,000 units a year (excluding LoJack).
InterTrack, Frisco, Texas, estimates its sales at 5,000 to 10,000 units a year. Omega Research, Douglasville, Ga., said it sells 1,500 units per year and Crimestopper, which launched in March, claims sales of about 150 units thus far.
"It's baby steps right now, but it's picking up momentum," said Crimestopper president, Howard Miller. "We're getting more dealers to reorder. The idea is to get someone in the shop to put it in his vehicle to demonstrate it. I don't think it will set the world on fire, but I think it's a product that makes sense for people once they get an opportunity to see it demonstrated."
Directed said it is offering the new GPS Tracking line to its network of 6,000 dealers, but would not say how many dealers are expected to carry the product by the end of the year.
Dealer opinion on car locators is mixed. "It's a little pricey, but I think there are certain applications for it and certain customers who want it," said J.R. Stocks, 12-volt sales manager for Myer Emco, Gaithersburg, Md. "Mid-sized fleets will be a target. On the retail side, an $800 system to protect a $100,000 car is nothing."
Crutchfield says it is not in the market at present.
Freeman's Car Stereo, Charlotte, N.C., just began selling Directed products. "I think it will be a very viable category," noted VP/COO David Richardson. "Having gone through the teen-age period with my son and daughter, I can see how it could be attractive to people, or if you are worried about your spouse being car-jacked."
But, Steve LaPlante, general manager of Jo-Di's in Hartford, Conn., said the category is a "slow mover."
"We have a couple of trucking companies that are interested, but most customers are tapped out in monthly payments or yearly payments. They are not running in. Does the consumer really want to chase their kids around? I think it's a good idea for the car leasing company," he added.
Omega Research, which sells the GPS2000, said the fleet market is growing rapidly as car locators represent a simple way to keep track of vehicles. That market, in turn, may subsidize the slow-growth curve in consumer sales.
Marketing VP Barnett Fagel of InterTrak agrees. "Our philosophy is that you have to find a segment of the market that appreciates the product, such as the sub-prime market [for car buyers with less than stellar credit] and the fleet business. In this business there are two types of dealers and I can size up in 30 seconds if they are going to do well with this product. There are order takers and there are order makers," Fagel said.
Directed's new system is available under the Viper, Python, Clifford and Automate brands at a price of $699 for the transponder and $799 installed. The basic service fee is $89 per year, which includes a year of free stolen vehicle recovery, roadside assistance, two-way communication with the vehicle for door unlock and lock and other conveniences, car tracking by Internet or phone, geofencing and over-speed notification.
Audiovox's new CarLink system costs an estimated $699, with a basic theft notification package at $49.94 per year. For an additional $39.95, the customer receives 25 uses for car tracking via Internet and phone, geofencing and other services.
Crimestopper's Tracknet sells for approximately $795 plus installation, with service packages starting at $49.95 per year for theft coverage. Convenience feature services start at $39.95 for 25 uses.
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