So, what exactly is going on in the world of tuning? That's just we have set out to find with out latest discussion piece.
We've gathered a few personalities who are well-versed in tuning trends and the scene as a whole. We've asked them their thoughts on the highs and lows of today's tuning market, the spread of knock-off parts, stance, drifting, time attack, the future, and a lot more.
The participants we've rounded up include John Naderi, former Super Street Magazine editor and current big wig at Global Time Attack.
Mark Arcenal doesn't need much of introduction. Fatlace, Hellaflush, Slammed Society- these are household names among this crowd.
Our friend Peter Tarach also jumped in, bringing his experience as the editor of Modified Magazine.
Lastly, we wanted to add a "Speedhunters" voice to the discussion, so I've contributed with my two cents.
There's a lot to talk about, so let's get started.
Speedhunters: It’s the year 2011 and the automotive tuning world is in a state of change. What is your overall view of the global tuning scene at the moment? Is it growing? Is it in decline? Has it matured?
Peter: These days I find it more and more difficult to get a grasp of where the tuning scene is at, whether it’s growing, shrinking, or stagnant. I think it comes down to how you perceive it. If you’re my age ( early 30’s) then you’ve seen the scene shrink from its hey day in the early 2000’s. Before the big Fast and Furious movies came along, the scene was full of legitimate gear heads, building and racing cars for the love of it. Then the F&F era exploded and despite injecting a lot of money into the industry, those movies brought tuning and modifying cars to the mainstream. All of a sudden everyone had a big wing, neon lights, and a body kit on their car. That’s when it turned ugly and a lot of the legitimate enthusiasts left or parked their cars. When the F&F fad became dated and lost popularity, the market began to shrink. For me, that’s been a good thing. It’s brought the scene back to its core audience, the true enthusiasts, no more band wagon jumpers. So in a way, yes the market has shrunk but it has done so in a good way.
Mark: My personal view of todays tuning scene has definitely evolved from when I first started tuning in the 90's, but as for the past 5 years, tuning hasn't really evolved. If we're talking Japan then tuning has definitely declined but dressing up has grown. Gone are the days of crazy tuned motors as it was very absent at the last Autosalon. Even Osaka's Auto Messe was half full when usually its full of tuned cars. More people are just dressing their cars up and adjusting to the decline in economy.
Nads: As much as it pains me to say it the tuning industry is a shadow of its former self. Media, as well as the traffic and advertisers are way down, as are the variety of events. Even TAS, the pinnacle of all “tuning” shows is down in terms of exhibitors and attendance. But as this market continues to evolve I think we will see a cyclical resurgence in certain niche segments within the tuner space of certain appealing trends as BBS mesh wheels for instance. Let’s just hope for more of the former and hopefully less of highlighter comebacks (I’m looking at you, Matt Powers – JK, JK, I heart you and your Mattley Crue).
Mike: While the traditional tuning industry might be hurting at the moment as far as sales and product development goes, I have noticed an increase in high quality, serious builds from around the world. Even if you can't order it from a catalog, people are going out to their garages and making it happen. It also seems that we are seeing more cross-pollination between the traditional tuner market and other automotive scenes, be it Hot Rodding, motorsport, or something else. That's a good thing.
Speedhunters: Recently we’ve seen a number of big names fall as a result of the changing market – particularly in regards to Japanese companies. What do you think the primary cause of this is? Is it the soft economy and poor exchange rate? A change in consumer tastes? Loss of sales due to knock off parts makers? Something else?
Peter: I think all those factors have contributed to the fall of the big Japanese companies. The fact is that due to the poor economy there are far fewer people with dispensable incomes that spend big money on aftermarket products, especially premium priced JDM parts. Then add the growing ease of producing cheap/knock-off parts in China and an influx of consumers who care less about quality and more about price and you have the situation we are facing today.
I’ve also heard that there’s a very strong push for being green and eco friendly in Japan, where modifying your car is looked down upon and against the norm. I’m sure that hasn’t helped the Japanese manufacturers much. Look at the top car manufacturers in Japan, most of them are building cars that are all about gas mileage and emissions versus being performance oriented. This must trickle down to the JDM aftermarket.
Mark: As long as the Japanese Yen continues to be strong, nobody except the wealthy can afford to continue and buy these parts. The parts that are for specific applications, that is. It's also the reason why Japanese Brands now manufacture and have opened shop in China. It's cheaper for them to run and manufacture and since it's to their standard. Nothing changes but production costs because manufacturing in Japan has also become very costly. Also, being a distributor and a wholesaler isn't how it used to be with so many online retailers cutting each other to make the smallest margins. So many distributors and wholesalers have stopped importing these products.
Nads: This is a direct result of the shrinkage in our market (maybe we were all in the pool). Less teenagers are getting their licenses than ever before – a phenomena first identified in Japan. Less new drivers mean less of an audience. And while I can go off on an old man rant about how this is due to cell phones and the Internet making it easier to socialize without being in the same place I won’t (but I will tell you kids to STAY OFF MY LAWN!)
Mike: The combination of a poor economy, and a shift towards fuel effciency are a double blow to the tuning market across the world. The strong yen has hurt profits of all Japanese companies, especially ones that deal in luxury and hobby items like tuning parts. These are always the first things that people cut out of their budget when times get tough. Still, there are lots of people in Japan who live and breathe for cars, and the market will survive – even if we never return to the glory days of the '90s and '00s.
Speedhunters: Speaking of knock offs. This is always a hot topic among our commenters. How big of a threat do you think cheap knock offs and replicas pose to the industry as a whole?
Peter: Working in the magazine business, I deal with this issue more than I’d like. No matter which side you take, the truth is knock offs and counterfeits have hurt this industry in a big way. Less and less companies want to innovate in this market because of fear of having their products being copied and if you look at the track record of consumers these days, they are willing to buy whatever is cheapest despite the lackluster quality or fitment issues associated with knock off parts. Sadly, I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. The best way to fight the problem is with awareness. As a consumer, think long and hard before buying a knock off product. What you may be saving initially will more than likely cost you in the future. It’s no secret that cheap parts don’t last as long, or that they need to be modified to work or fit (which costs money). Plus, think of the company that spent the time and money to actually design the product. That should count for something.
Mark: I think cheap knock offs definitely hurt name brands and is a threat, but brand name wheel manufacturers have hit back and have dropped a lot of wheels to go head to head with these knock off companies. Manufacturing in China has helped brand name companies battle knock offs by knocking off their own high end wheel and creating a similar wheel in cast. Why buy a knockoff brand when you can buy a name brand at a price close to the knockoff price?
Nads: While knockoffs obviously don’t help sales what is it they say about imitation? Look at a company like Louis Vuitton – probably one of the most counterfeited brands in the world (yes, even more than HKS). This brand piracy doesn’t stop LV from posting up $7 billion in annual sales. Although it could be argued that the knockoff syndrome is more of a commentary on the sorry state of our dear tuner consumer. Defend authenticity! I learned that from JDMEGO.
Mike: Most of us aren't rich, and who doesn't want to save money? But the way I see it, tuning is a hobby. Are knock off companies doing anything to further the hobby? No. The purchases we make for our cars are emotional, and it's hard to feel good about settling for a cheap replica part. At the same time, quality and affordability ARE achievable in the same product. Look at the Enkei RPF1 wheel for example, it's extremely light, it's high quality, and it doesn't break the bank. Perhaps other companies can find this balance to fight back at the knock offs?
Speedhunters: The fitment and stance movement is another topic that always results in heated debate. Is it here to stay? Will people continue to push the boundaries of crazy offsets and wild camber in the name of one-upping each other and internet fame? Will functional setups become the new thing? A happy medium in between maybe?
Peter: The stance movement is a love-hate ordeal for me. I love it when cars are low and have properly flush wheels but I absolutely hate it when wheels are poking out far beyond the fender (that is beat to hell to make them fit) or if the offset is so ridiculous that the inner lip is practically touching the ground. To me, the aggressive wheel trend is here to stay. People will always want to fill out the fenders and go for that race car look but slamming a car with ridiculously stretched tires that cant make it out of your driveway for the sake of posting photos on the internet is a fad that I’ll be happy to see gone. It doesn’t take much skill slamming a ride and bashing fenders to fit big wheels and tires. Doing so while maintaining a clean look is where the skill lies in my books.
Mark: In 2004, Hellaflush was about looks and how it worked well with our drift cars. It's definitely taken a life on its own and people have definitely pushed the boundaries, but if you look back in history people have always looked down at anything new. There will always be groups that like the more functional side of things and there will always be groups that live for super crazy oni camber. It's just a style of tuning, but it has to be done right. No Mickey Mouse sh*t.
Nads: I would hardly call it a movement since this flushness is a fad. Nothing more. Nothing less. Like Lambo doors or Supra taillight conversions. And much like those mods history will probably not be kind to these cars when we look back on them (see parachute pants and stunna shades for reference). However, I don’t see why there are so many stance haters. These cars are slammed to look good not improve performance. And while it’s not my style I can appreciate a solid stance. One element that will remain is that of the poke and stretch technique. It started with the lowriders and later the mini truckers of the eighties and it will live on long after Hella Flush hella fades. I’ve always favored function over form and it would be nice to see people use these performance mods in the manner in which they’re intended.
Mike: I'm pretty amazed at just how fast the fitment thing blew up. In just a few years it's gone from a select few to almost being the standard. I don't think that the "sunken battleship" look is ever going to come back, but I can't see the "how low and wide can you go?" thing lasting a whole lot longer. An aggressive stance can look great for sure, but I think a good car should be known for more than just its wheel offsets and ride height.
Speedhunters: Time Attack originally began as a battle for bragging rights between tuning shops in Japan. Today’s time attack cars are faster than ever, but some think that the large budget teams have pushed the sport too far from its roots. What are your thoughts on this and what’s in store for the future of Time Attack?
Peter: Time Attack has never really risen to what I consider a major motorsport. It has tried to become prime time in the US but has yet to do so. The problem is, from a live spectator perspective it’s boring to watch. There are no crashes, no passing, no last minute finish line battles, it’s all about the clock. Because of that, you’ll never see a massive influx of big budgeted teams competing. The big players that are in Time Attack are in it for the bragging rights and to be the best. Their cars are hardly taking away from the sport, despite the level of modifications done. If anything, they are great platforms for the grassroots guys to get ideas from and use on their cars.
Mark: Time Attack, just like Drag Racing, will be won with the most money. Money = R&D and without it you're slower than the rest.
Nads: Now this is a debate that’s been raging for years. It all began with the HKS Track Attack Altezza (TRB-01) that crushed the Tsukuba record by some two seconds in 2000 with a 55.8 (and reduced the entire TA tuner field to hack status). Because of its sequential gearbox and cantilever suspension the Altezza was deemed too hot for time attack and the public outcry prompted HKS to quietly mothball the $300,000 project after only one outing. Today, some purists may find the Garage Revolution RX-7 and WORLD Racing’s AWD tC too wild but these cars are only pushing the pre-conceived boundaries of our acceptance. There still remain many “unlimited” class cars such as the Scorch S15 and GST Motorsports Impreza that strongly maintain the tuner ethos while still running world-class times. Evolution is a necessary part of any motorsport and without it you’re left with stagnation and complacency.
Mike: I don't think Time Attack was ever meant to be a big time specator sport. It was meant to be a battle between tuners for bragging rights and to prove their products. Whether you are driving your car tor the track, or showing up with a NASCAR style transporter and support crew, the premise is the same. The only thing that worries is me is the lack of competitors these days. There's really only a handful of top level teams out there.You can build a car that is fast as hell, but if there's no one to compete against, where's the motivation?
Speedhunters: Drifting. Like Time Attack, drifting is a sport that’s much different today than when it started. What are your thoughts on the current state of drifting at both the pro and grassroots levels?
Peter: Drifting brings the excitement and carnage that can make it a top-tier motorsport in the US. There’s a great grassroots movement all over the country, which will only help the sport grow as more and more people get into it. If drifting can grow in a poor economy then it’s got a great future when things improve.
Mark: On the pro side having a V8 in all cars in the series has leveled the playing field. Look at this year for example, almost all cars are running V8s and the guys with the less budget are going for it. Why wouldn't they though? They really have nothing to lose and are fighting for a top spot on a paying team. I think also having the new tire rule has helped the slower cars out and I'm very glad they did it. It's not like previous years when you knew who were going to make the top 8 every event. I think the V8 is American and it was eventually going to be the norm cause there were American cars in the series. Grassroots on the other hand is where it's at. Lots more groups have started their own events and tracks like Infineon Raceway have even started their own weekly drift series. It isn't about winning a trophy, its about chilling with your friends and perfecting your line. Soul drifting if you will.
Nads: I’m a JDM weenie but I don’t have anything against the invasion of the Eights (Forsberg’s Titan’d Z and Dai’s NASCAR’d S13 do make the gray hairs on the back of my neck stand on end). But for my money I prefer the engine notes of Ueo’s Revolver 4AG, Tezuka’s Bee*R’d RB (with anti-lag!) or even the shriek of Mad Mike’s Bad Bull’d “26B” just to name a few un-V8s. Drifting, if it can even be defined as such, is a motorsport unlike any other on Earth with nothing more – save a speed gun – to determine a winner than a panel of judges. Why not impress them with the frenetic style and compressed fury of the engines we’ve all grown to love! I wrote of evolution in terms of time attack and drifting is no different. In today’s torque-laden FD field drivers who could have had a V8 will struggle to keep pace. And I do understand how difficult it is to wring 600 reliable horses from an SR compared to the relative ease of achieving the same with an LS. The bottom line is that V8s may be good for drifting but not the tuner market as a whole.
Mike: Pro drifting today is more competitive than ever. I know of lot of people think that Formula D has strayed too far from the roots of drifting, but if you compare today's tandem battles to ones from 2005 or 2006, the progression is immense. The driving is insane, and I think that's what fans want to see more than anything else. When it comes to grassroots, it's all about fun and there will always be people out there simply to enjoy themselves. I love a slammed, gangster looking drift car as much as anyone else, but to expect that to carry over into the ultra-competitive world of pro drifting is pretty unrealistic at this point.
Speedhunters: What about the cars? The performance offerings from Japan have become stagnant recently with the iconic Honda Civic being removed from the Japanese market and thus the hands of JDM tuners, the uncertain future of the Lancer Evo, and the overall move towards green cars. Will Japanese car fans move on to European, Korean, and American models? Will they reinvest in older cars that can’t be had in today’s market?
Peter: We are headed into uncertain times with the Japanese auto manufacturers in terms of them building performance oriented automobiles. Once again, I blame the ailing economy on this. With less consumers being able to splurge on sports cars, the need to have fuel efficient vehicles has become a priority and the Japanese OEM’s seem to be leading that front. That’s not to say that they can’t build fast, fun, exciting and fuel efficient cars. I just don’t think they see a need for it right now. The Germans are doing a great job filling the void, even American cars, like the new Mustang are very capable. But if you are a true Japanese sports car fan it's hard to make the jump to those vehicles considering how good the Japanese cars are bang for the buck.
Mark: After visiting Tokyo Autosalon earlier this year I noticed it isn't about high horsepower, like you mentioned. It's all about going green and cosmetically tuning your cars. Wheels, Body, Suspension was the primary focus while tuning was left alone.
Nads: I would love to see our tuner movement shift to accept new platforms. In terms of Euros there’s the MINI (although more campy than cool) and the Fiat 500 is intriguing. Ken Block is single-handedly forcing us to take notice of the Focus and I’ve been hearing some positively tasty tuner rumors about Chevy’s new Sonic (dare I say groundbreaking). And because I’m an old fool I am partial to the old school. The Honda heads are hot for the EG hatch as of late and So Cal shows like TORC and JCCS further support the strength of this scene.
Mike: While it can be disappointing as car enthusiast to see this huge shift towards eco-friendly cars, it's not all bad news. Carmakers around the world are planning to introduce lighter cars and turbochargers to increase efficiency – both of these things can mean great fun to tuners. Also, there will always be those who live for the classics – whether your definition classic means a 1999 Civic or a Datsun 510.
Speedhunters: There is one beacon of light when it comes to Japanese cars and that’s the Toyota/Subaru FR coupe. If priced right, this car has the potential to reinvigorate the tuning scene. What are your thoughts about this car?
Peter: This is the car that will make or break our market. If it’s a success then other manufacturers will take note and follow Toyota/Subaru’s lead in building light, sporty, RWD sports cars.
Based on what I have seen and read, the FR-S will deliver what most of us have been waiting for. A nimble, light, RWD sports car, with lots of aftermarket potential. It’s been a long time since we have had a car such as this available to us and I am hoping the market embraces it with open arms.
Mark: I think it'll be priced fair and definitely below a new 370Z so there might be a chance to ignite a new group of tuners. I think the car has a lot of potential.
Nads: You hit it on the head in regards to pricing. Toyota’s been out of this game for far too long (and no, the current Scion lineup most definitely does not count) and with an EJ-based mill the Subie tuners will have a jump on R&D. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the FR platform. Hello, drifters! The big question is, will an LS fit? Ha! JK, LOL and all that.
Mike: Unless Toyota/Subaru seriously mess up this car before it hits dealers, I can't see it being anytihng but a smashing success. Like Peter says, if this car does succeed it will send the message to other car makers to get going on their own projects (cough new Silvia cough). This car can't come out soon enough.
Speedhunters: So, what’s next? Is there a certain tuning style or movement that you see gaining momentum? What will the tuning world look like two or three years from now?
Peter: To me, the tuning scene will continue to evolve but with less emphasis on hardcore modifications. ECU tuning and bolt-on’s will become the predominant performance modifications whereas stance and unique wheels will be the focus for simple exterior modifications. Because of the reduced popularity in tuning cars, the police will loosen up on enforcing regulations and give us some breathing room to do as we please with the way we modify our rides…wishful thinking right? The next five years will be a pivotal time for the modified car
market. With cars becoming more and more integrated into their
electronics systems and the green movement surging forward, we are left
with fewer new platforms to modify. Will this mean we turn towards older
vehicles as our go-to cars and become the next ‘Hod Rod’ generation or
will cars like the new Scion FR-S be a smashing hit and OEM’s will begin
building the kinds of vehicles we want to modify for years to come?
Mark: Japanese & European classic car tuning will get hot & Time attack will be on television and Valentino Rossi will be in WRC kicking ass.
Nads: Put down the glow sticks and turn on the lights because the age of the mega show is over. I think the niche shows like the Eibach Meet and Wekfest have huge potential (but doesn’t that go against everything they stand for?). And what about the east coast’s Honda Day? 10,000-plus H-car fanatics – how’s that for momentum? On the motorsport side Formula Drift is going strong although the mass exodus of Tanner, Rhys and Samuel – and their collective sponsors – doesn’t bode well the series should continue to flourish. Time attack is growing into a strong halo sport for the tuner market as well as a compelling entry point into W2W racing. Drag racing is even coming back on a grassroots level. And what is this we hear about Rado v. Gardella v. Bergenholtz at E-town later this year? Now there’s a yummy bowl of rice with awesome sauce. I also like how the tuner market is turning to alternative venues like the standing mile, land speed racing and Pikes Peak (and big ups to you Speedhunters for opening our eyes to these events). With all due apologies to the that guy with pink DA Integra complete with combat kit the tuner market will live to rice another day just not in same old way.
Mike: The tuning scene might not be what it once was, but it's not all doom and gloom. There's lots of good out there still – whether it's new automotive technology, the reintroduction of the affordable FR coupe, awesome grassroots builds, or the continued revival of classics. People will also begin to realize that cars like the Civic and S13 aren't as disposable as we once thought, leading to more high quality, tasteful cars out there. I think there's still plenty to look forward to.
That wraps it up.
Big thanks to Peter, Mark and Nads for taking part in this.