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Radar Detector Biz Rebounds After Difficult 2002

1/27/2003 02:00:00 AM Eastern

After a rocky year, marked by a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clear certain radar detectors off store shelves in only three months, most suppliers are rebounding and expect 2003 sales to remain at least even with last year's performance.

Suppliers Cobra, Whistler and Rocky Mountain Radar are introducing the first radar detectors to detect the new POP radar guns and nearly every supplier said they improved radar sensitivity in their 2003 lineups.

Last year, they said, was one of the most challenging years in the history of the market.

"Many people say the FCC really caused the industry to falter a little bit," said Donal Rich, national sales manager for Beltronics. He claimed that three vendors were forced to run fire sales of 60 percent to 70 percent off non-FCC compliant products in order to clear through inventory. Also Uniden announced in the fourth quarter that it expects to leave the radar detector market by spring.

The economy was also a challenge. "This year has been an unusual year. We've not faced a year like this in a while. Consumer confidence was weak and people just didn't seem to respond to advertising," said Rich. He reported Bel sales were up, although industry dollar sales were down.

Escort executive VP Gary Oppito noted, "I really believe the FCC ruling had a more negative impact on our industry than any single event in the industry's history. It was felt by manufacturers, retailers and consumers. The inconvenience of dealing with compliant and non-compliant products in such a narrow time window created an unnecessary burden on our retail partners, and the consumer became concerned that the product was not legal."

On July 19, the FCC ruled that certain radar detectors were interfering with credit card terminals in gas stations and other terminals known as VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminals). The FCC required suppliers to reduce emissions in the 11.7 GHz to 12.2 GHz band and gave suppliers and retailers only 30 and 60 days, respectively, from the publication of the FCC ruling in the Federal Register to comply. Then the FCC granted a 30-day extension to retailers, still resulting in the shortest compliance deadline in the history of such FCC rulings, said suppliers.

Cobra sales and marketing VP, Tony Mirabelli, said the FCC went so far as to cite certain retailers who still had non-compliant product on the shelves after the Oct. 27 deadline. "The FCC was actually visiting retailers and checking products and citing retailers for selling non-compliant product that they forgot about, or that remained in inventory in the confusion of the switchover. It was disappointing. I knew that the satellite industry has a strong lobby group and is influential in D.C. compared to the radar detector industry, but I never realized how strong they really are."

As a result of the large clearance sales last year, industry unit sales were up but dollar volume was down from the year prior, said Rich.

This year, expect sales to remain flat or slightly down from 2002, said Mirabelli, noting that the exit of Uniden, and its selection of leader products, may cause the loss of some low-end sales. Beltronics said it expects sales to remain flat.

In new products for 2003, Escort is shipping a cordless detector that claims to improve range by more than 400 percent. The Escort Solo S2 has a new high-resolution graphic display and improved power management, the company said. The S2 uses two AA batteries, which last 35 to 40 hours, and it can also operate with the Escort SmartCord. It is expected to ship this month at $329.95.

Also from Escort are the Passport 7500S and the Passport SR7. The 7500 improves performance by up to 100 percent on the KA band, and it is expected to ship in March at a suggested retail price of $229.95, said Escort. The Passport SR7 replaces the SR1 and claims easier installation and improved performance. The installed price for the SR7 is approximately $1,099.

Cobra showed at International CES 11 new models, including two new high-end units with 11-band detection, which can detect POP guns. The company also introduced a SmartPower feature that automatically shuts off the detector if it senses the car has been off for over 30 minutes.

Beltronics is offering three new Express models with added features at lower prices. The company also said it will announce a new venture next month at the MERA Knowledgefest. The new Express models include the 910 at $99.95, the 920 at $139.95, and the 930 at $169.95.

Whistler's new high-end model is the 1793SE, which offers increased performance in the X, K, KA and laser bands and can detect the new POP guns. The unit has a digital compass and memo recorder with voice alert and a power-saver function. The 1793SE is expected to ship in May at a suggested retail price of $249.94.

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