Car Toys positioned itself as a forerunner in the mobile multimedia category earlier this year when it was one of three retailers launching Clarion's AutoPC. Sales for the AutoPC, which carries a $1,299 price tag, have been brisk, Brettler noted, and he expects the same for the DVD mobile theater products.
"DVD, we believe, is one of the most exciting components in this category," he maintained. "It has already proved successful on the home side."
Gene Kelsey, Panasonic Audio Group's VP and general manager, said the manufacturer is moving west to east with its DVD mobile theater launch with the majority of introductions taking place this month.
"We chose Car Toys for the initial launch because of the strong relationship we have developed with them and because the chain is one of the premier car audio retailers in the country," he detailed.
The launch, Kelsey continued, is complemented by full-page ads that run now through June in car audio enthusiast magazines.
Panasonic's car theater concept includes a DIN-size DVD player, the CX-DV1500, with suggested $1,400 retail, which delivers video and audio benefits of the DVD format in addition to serving as a CD player.
Like Panasonic's home and portable DVD players, the CX-DV1500 lets users easily navigate disc menus and make playback choices with a wireless remote control. The metallic silver remote, which matches the DVD player, has fewer, larger buttons than its stay-at-home counterparts. The remote also lights up with each button press for better visibility during night trips.
The CX-DV1500 is connected to the CY-AC300 Dolby Digital/DTS processor, $800 suggested retail, which can be mounted in the trunk or other hidden spot, along with three amps to drive front and rear, center and subwoofer speakers.
Video is delivered on a flat 7-inch LCD monitor, the CY-VM1500, $1,000 suggested retail.
A CD changer and changer-controlling CD head unit with AM/FM receiver, like the CQ-DF88, round out the custom installation.
Although the components of the DVD mobile theater package bear steep price tags, Kelsey said retailers are not intimidated.
"If you look at what retailers carry now, they're already stocking products like VCPs [video cassette players] and LCD screens, which are not inexpensive," he said. "Even price points on some of the double-DIN head units can run from $800 to $1,500."
Kelsey also pointed out that DVD mobile theater will first attract early adapters and innovators, most likely consumers who have custom installs already in their cars or who have a custom theater set up in their homes.
"This system is targeting a different customer than those who would buy the Audiovox all-in-one console entertainment system," he explained. "Our system is geared to families who have some experience with custom autosound situations."
Brettler confirmed he's comfortable with the expensive price points, but pointed out that marketing is a challenge. The presentation and demonstration of mobile theater, he emphasized, will be the key to moving this type of product out of the store.
Projections call for selling 40 to 50 units of mobile theater packages -- including sound processor, screen and in-dash player -- this month.
"We'll have product on the boards and readily available in each store," he continued. "This is not going to be a special-order product."
To make sure DVD mobile theater is a hit with consumers, each of the 21 Car Toys locations is being outfitted to handle this specific product category. At each store location the "exotic room" where high-end audio/video is displayed is being renamed the mobile multimedia room.
"People are now realizing they can have video in their cars, and this is something that needs to be demonstrated," said Brettler. "They also need to see there are affordable ways to put this in their cars."
Panasonic's Kelsey said he expects retailers will merchandise DVD mobile theater in sound rooms and in show cars that the vendor is making available to dealers. "We're also exploring other display possibilities for retailers," Kelsey said. "Dealers, no doubt, will want to show this to its best capability."
Although these are Panasonic's first DVD mobile products, Kelsey hinted that plans are already in the works for next-generation models. "We won't sit still with this. There's no reason to watch this that long."
Looking further ahead, Kelsey said he expects DVD audio for the car, although availability is uncertain, to be another major opportunity for the 12-volt industry. "It's happening in the home, and the next logical place is the car," he said.
For now, though, the rollout of the DVD mobile theater products sends an important message to those in the mobile electronics industry.
"Panasonic car audio has not been given its due," Kelsey emphasized. "But we've proved just the opposite in the past two years, especially now by bringing a product like this to market. This confirms we are a player in the car audio market."