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Remote Starters Fizzle With Warmer Winter

3/18/2002 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Despite upbeat predictions for a banner winter in remote starters, a TWICE poll of retailers found most said sales were flat due to warm weather.

Most retailers contacted, however, said they expected to see the growth rebound next year, provided a more typical winter climate.

John Gunther, VP of Great Northern Stereo, S. Burlington, Vt. said, "The State of Vermont had the mildest winter it's had in recorded history, which goes back to 1802. Typically we have 20 to 28 days at zero [degrees] or below. This year we haven't had one and there hasn't been much snow."

Similarly, Lee Steiner, owner of Alarms on the Move, Stratford, Conn., said, "Sales are flat, maybe a little down. It's the warm weather. There have been very few days where people had to scrape the snow or ice off their windshields. If the weather gets cold, it should get better next year."

Other companies reporting generally flat remote starter sales include Ovation Audio, Indianapolis, Live Wires, Fairfield, Conn., Pirate Radio, Manchester, Conn., and Audio Unlimited, Jonesville, N.C. Car Audio Masters, Pineville, N.C, said sales were flat or slightly above last year.

However, some suppliers, such as DEI, said sales continued to grow this year because more dealers in warmer climates are carrying combination remote starter/security units, and suppliers are promoting them more heavily in warmer regions. Discount Auto Sound, Virginia Beach, Va., for example, said it installs hundreds of remote starters during the Christmas season and Car Audio Masters says it installs a dozen per month. Dealers in colder climates, such as Pirate Radio, report much higher winter sales, claiming it sold about 1,000 units this winter.

Said DEI marketing director of emerging technology Jim Jardin, "Overall we saw a big growth in remote starters because of the trend to hybrid [remote/security] units. These are increasing in sales year-round and they are also expanding to different areas of the country." Audiovox said sales were running about 20 percent ahead of last year while Code-Alarm said sales were slightly up. "Whenever the weather broke and there was some cold, sales popped," said Code-Alarm VP sales Joe Dentamoro, noting he expected a return to 20 percent growth rates next winter.

Jeff Pitts, general manager for Mickey Shorr, Pontiac, Mich., said remote starter sales doubled this year because the chain picked up the DEI line.

At least one dealer expressed concern that car companies will begin offering remote starters as factory equipment. Through an agreement with Code-Alarm, Ford car dealers offer remote start as an option although Ford does not include it as factory equipment. A spokesman for General Motors said that remote start is not available on any GM product.

"It's a feature we're well aware of in the aftermarket, and we've studied it as an available feature but we cannot discuss future products. And I'm not aware of it being a feature for any of our primary competitors," said a GM spokesman.

Noted DEI's Jardin, "I think there's a lot of issues with OEMs jumping into this in the near future. OEMs are more conscious about product safety issues with remote start. We're trying to make people aware that there are no safety issues if it's done right. But I think its going to continue to be a very profitable segment for the aftermarket."

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