Industry retailers and professionals predict future growth with key products and categories
The aftermarket floats on seasonal trends, but 2016 suggested a shift within the industry. Short-
lived, stylish items will always have their place; however, integrated LED lighting, blacked-out
wheels and functional bed protection are a few of numerous trends that have long-term potential — all
of which arguably begin and end with the success of popular vehicle platforms. Diesel and full-size
truck segments continued to swell during 2016, making powered steps, tonneau covers, truck caps, and
towing products consistently big sellers for Casey Meints, owner of Campway’s Truck Accessory World in
Sacramento, Calif. “Hitches, adjustable ball mounts, accessories—I get them in stock, and two days
later they’re gone,” he said.
Decades of R&D have resulted in sophisticated platform advancements for mid-size trucks, ideal
utility or recreational vehicles prime for accessorizing. “The modern mid-size truck is the old full
size,” said Ryan Osborne, FX Products product manager. Consider the revamped 2016 Tacoma and award-
winning Colorado, which not only generated industrywide buzz, but also opened doors for the newly
designed 2017 GMC Canyon Denali, 2017 Honda Ridgeline, and, perhaps, a new Ford Ranger. “That’s more
tonneaus, more steps, more wheels, more tires, more suspension kits, and more performance product
sales for all of us,” said Richard Villar, owner of Truck Toyz in Rocky Hill, Conn.
SUV and crossover accessory sales also remained steady, according to Keystone Automotive Operations
Category Manager Nick Geiger. “Many car owners are shifting to these vehicle options, taking advantage
of comparable size, safety and fuel economy,” he said. Manufacturers like Westin, Thule, Yakima and Go
Rhino have responded with increased applications of bull bars, running boards, side steps, and cargo
management. Example: TrailFX’s new bull bar with integrated LEDs in the crossbar gained ground.
But Jeep® remains the star of the show, garnering unwavering and ever-growing brand loyalty that is
the foundation of ongoing expansion within the off-road segment. “Brands like Fox Shocks, JW Speaker
and Rugged Ridge were big for us this year, as was LED lighting across the board,” said Mike Street,
owner of Mike’s Off Road in Haltom City, Tex. “The platform remains very strong, probably the
strongest for nearly everyone the past five years. I think it’s outperformed the truck market— just
crazy growth,” he added.
Keystone Automotive Operations, the leading and largest wholesale distributor of aftermarket parts
in North America, offers the most impressive selection of inventory across the industry. Keystone
teamed up with industry professionals to recap a few of the many influential market segments, brands
and products of 2016. See what they had to say!
Truck-Bed Options Lead The Way
“Truck bed rules the roost,” said George Lathouris, Keystone’s director of U.S. sales, “because
millions of pickup trucks are sold every year. The acceptance of the tonneau cover to carry, protect
and personalize continues to gain steam.” For Campway’s Meints, folding tonneau covers were especially
popular, something he expects to continue into 2017.
Andy Morgan, Keystone’s category director of truck accessories, wheels and tires, has watched the
tonneau market adapt to and drive trends. “If you look at the last five to10 years, the cover options
have expanded exponentially, lower-profile designs, shaped or painted hard covers, and trendy, matte-
black finishes. The functional expansion is really incredible — everything from water resistance,
security, and cargo storage/management to ancillary
lighting and multiple position options. Even automatic retractable covers are now available,” said
Morgan.“Brands like BAK, Undercover, Extang, Truxedo, Retrax, Roll-n-Lock, and Pace Edwards continue
to listen to the consumer and design new products using new materials to help offer new solutions. BAK
MX4 and Undercover Ultra Flex will continue momentum in 2017,” he added.
Vehicle Protection: A Growth Segment
The rise of vehicle-protection products is simply unprecedented, noted Lathouris. “The vehicle-
protection market is riding on the heels of the highly successful national advertising efforts of
manufacturers like WeatherTech. They have grown the consumer base, opening up the funnel by
advertising all over the place. Their efforts, and those of others, such as Husky Liners and
Covercraft, have expanded the business for all.”
Commercial Applications Spur Sales
Growth on top of growth in the professional segment can be attributed to a variety of manufacturers
and product categories. “The professional/upfitting market catering to the commercial customer has
been a growth platform for many retailers,” said Lathouris. “The introduction of the smaller vans like
Sprinters and Transits into that market has rejuvenated consumer interest in them, and that’s
something we haven’t seen since the 1980s.” DECKED experienced a positive year, offering consumers a
full line of innovative cargo solutions for work trucks and vans.
“There’s always a need to store goods safely and securely, whether for professional or personal
use,” said Lathouris. Weather Guard released its new Defender Series, while Westin HDX and TrailFX
heavy-duty bumpers, grille guards and steps like the Trapezoid continue to gain notoriety.
“In 2015, we made some adjustments to the professional segment and expanded to even deeper and
broader inventory coverage. (Consequently), our Weather Guard and Kargo Master business was through
the roof in the Southeast during 2016,” including tool boxes, ladder racks, van shelving, full van
configurations and BOLT locks, said Kelli Kenyon, a Keystone sales team leader in Greensboro, N.C. “We
can talk to our customers with confidence, educating them about fleet deals and encouraging them not
leave anything on the table, because we have them covered,” she added.
What to look for in 2017?
The Ford Super Duty reigns commander in chief of the fullsize truck market. “The 2017 Ford Super
Duty will help propel additional growth in the professional segment, as municipalities look to upgrade
their fleets,” which means an increase in tool boxes, tanks, ladder racks, work lights and front-end
protection, said Lathouris.
Jeep®, Off-Road Go Mainstream
“The segment went from niche to mainstream. The demand for off-road accessories didn’t diminish in
any way, shape, or form,” said Lathouris. According to Truck Toyz’s Villar, conventional off-road
products, such as Warn and Smittybilt recovery items, experienced another healthy year. “Jeep/off-road
is becoming a bigger pie, but that also means it’s more split up, since larger, more traditional
retailers are acknowledging the space,” said Lathouris. The market continues to be flooded with new
brands and products, all attempting to make their mark.
Innovation in quality designs also deserved a standing ovation. TrailFX released its new front and
rear bumpers, receiving a warm welcome at consumer events, such as Daytona Jeep Beach. Bestop
introduced its groundbreaking Sunrider for hardtop, while the popularity of Fab Fours Grumper and
Rugged Ridge Spartan grilles spawned a fashionable movement, including aggressive-looking hoods,
fender flares, and body armor for Jeeps.
What’s undeniable is an ever-growing divide among off-road purists and mall-crawler modifiers.
“It’s less about function and more about individualizing appearance,” said Dan Guyer, outside sales
for Keystone in the Northeast. It’s become THE look, one so futuristic tit barely resembles a Jeep, a
turn-off to many traditionalists but bringing retailers and restylers hordes of new business
opportunity. Keep an eye on complementary markets during 2017, including outlander and camping items,
such as ARB awnings, fridge/freezers and roof racks.
Consumer Demand Lifts Suspension Sales
The lift experience is a complete turnaround from years past. “Back then, many (consumers) were
part of an off-road club. You grabbed a case of beer with your buddies and did the lift in the
driveway together,” said Guyer. “But it’s not the same consumers anymore. They don’t want to do it
themselves and prefer the convenience of aftermarket installers,” he added.
The team at Truck Toyz knows its bread and butter, pushing out lifts, leveling kits, and wheels and
tires. And Villar noticed an uptick in premium brands, “They are spending a little more to have better
quality. It’s our job to up-sell those features and benefits.” But he also noted that budget kits are
still popular. “They have no intention to take it off-road but want the look,” he added. The
aftermarket unleashed some serious shock technology in 2016. “There’s tremendous innovation in the
creation of the Old Man Emu BP-51 shock absorbers. They provide the ultimate in comfort and control,”
He explained the BP-51 range allows on-vehicle, independent adjustability of both rebound and
compression to offer class-leading ride customization that can be tailored to individual vehicle or
trip requirements. “And the Bilstein B8 6112 provides consumers with superior ride characteristics and
quality. The kit optimizes off-road and on-road capabilities with a 60 mm digressive piston for
increased damping control,” he added.
Another hot-ticket item in 2016: “Leveling kits are incredibly popular. For about $300-$400, a
consumer can give their truck an entirely different look — a minimal amount of money to achieve much
better appearances (and) that small adjustment means they can get more tire underneath,” said
Wheels And Tires Keep Rolling Along
Mickey Thompson, Dick Cepek and Toyo consistently deliver dependable tires. This year was no
exception, as these lines were well received by jobbers and consumers alike.
The new norm in the world of wheels: “Black has overtaken bling,” said Marc Pugh, Ultra Wheels
marketing manager. “The biggest trend in 2016 wasn’t necessarily the wheels themselves as much as how
rapidly they were coming out. The styles were out and then evolved or died before they could even be
knocked off overseas,” said Keystone’s Guyer.
Lighting Has A Bright Future
Another mainstay is LED lighting, and this past year placement proved to be as important as
function. “Rigid Industries takes the cake,” with quality and aesthetics, said Villar at Truck Toyz.
“But the placement has gone crazy. Integrated into bumpers, on top and underneath hoods, interiors,
undercarriages,” he said. Not to mention enormous 50-inch-plus mounted light bars that mall crawlers
likely will never use, but need to have.
Expect an increase in utility in 2017. “The trend seems to be shying away from vanity applications
and toward increased utility focus. Hardcore off-roaders have always been prime customers, but more
snow plowers and contractors are getting into the game, while the for-show-only crowd might soften,”
said Keystone Northeast sales manager Erich Ross.
Performance Products Keep Up The Pace
Name brands like aFe POWER and Magnaflow recorded big years with Keystone, confirming that Jeep and
truck owners are demanding higher performance from their vehicles. “Diesel performance (BD Diesel,
MBRP, etc.) just keeps getting bigger. Guys are competing more and more. They may drive them during
the week, but they’re building them to run at the track,” said Villar.
Darron Shubin, Magnaflow national sales director, added, “Nearly half of all Magnaflow exhaust system
sales are in the truck segment, and six of the top 10 SKUs are truck applications. Specifically, the
Ram 1500 dual rear exit and the Ford Raptor cat-back systems maintained year-over-year pace. The GM
and Chevy 2500 and 3500 series Duramax-equipped trucks are trending. Another exciting observation
would be the rapid growth from the young 1500 series pickups equipped with diesel motors.”
The year 2017 appears promising in the aftermarket, no matter the ride of choice. Capitalize on
new-vehicle platform releases by partnering with Keystone. Order the latest brands, products and
applications today, receive it tomorrow.