But why doesn’t it exist for my 4X4? Or my car?
Settle down. There’s no conspiracy theory in the aftermaket industry.
You don’t have to be around 4X4s long to realise that all of them can easily be bettered by adding a few aftermarket accessories. That may be a snorkel, cargo barrier, long-range tank, dual battery, locking differential or whatever fits your needs and budget. For the mainstream 4WDs this isn’t a problem, and by mainstream I mean one of the usual tourers like a Patrol, Pajero, 200 Series, ute or Discovery. In fact, for those vehicles not only do you have one of everything you could need but often there’s even competition, driving down prices and offering multiple choices for any given product.
If you don’t own a mainstream 4X4 then you may be out of luck. I’m talking here of the likes of the Range Rover Vogue, Volkswagen Touraeg, BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, Hyundai Santa Fe, Terracan and previous-model Kia Sorento to name just a few examples from across the board, all excellent 4X4s and quite capable as tourers given half a chance. Accessories for these will be few and far between, so short of a vehicle change what can you do? Why don’t accessory manufacturers produce kit for these vehicles?
The simple answer is keeping the company in business. The aftermarket industry is there to make a buck, just like the company you own or that employs you, or the ones you own shares in. Given the fact that it’ll take just as much effort to create say a long-range tank for a Touraeg as for a 200 Series you need to decide which you’ll do based on sales and it’s pretty clear there’s no contest, anything in the ‘mainstream’ list is going to be used offroad and accessory sales will follow. In fact, it’ll probably cost more to develop for a marque or model you’ve never touched before than a new version of an existing product you already know. Development costs are ever-increasing too, as regulations become tighter, the market becomes more demanding of style as well as function, and vehicles become more complex with extra electronics, safety features and packed engine bays all of which are engineering hurdles to clear at some expense. The days are long gone when a bullbar was just a bit of tubing knocked up in an afternoon by a handy welder, so every accessory now represents a pretty big commitment on behalf of the company concerned which is why they need to be sure they can sell enough to make it worthwhile.
Just to be clear, the industry looks at total potential sales of their product, which is not directly related to volumes of vehicles sold. For example, there are far fewer Land Rover Defenders sold than say Toyota Klugers, but the percentage of Defender owners wanting snorkels and bullbars is going to be much bigger than that for the Kluger and so total sales would be greater, therefore the Defender would get the priority.
Now you could argue that there’s not a new 200 Series or Pajero every day, and that’s true, so what about all that extra engineering capacity? The thing is, engineering teams aren’t very big but are expensive to operate – they can’t be ramped up and down as easily as say a team of welders so you have a run a slightly smaller operation and keep them busy all the time. Which means just about keeping up with the mainstream such as new Toyotas, Nissans, utes and the like and across all manufacturers that’s pretty much a full-time commitment. When they finish those it’ll be time to look at the niche players – if they ever get time – and that’s where you can make a difference.
The aftermarket companies do react to market demand. The more they hear and see about a product people want, say a snorkel for a Touraeg, the more likely they are to produce one. So a few politely-worded letters or emails do help, as does research. A simple “please make this” is one thing, but if you’ve gone to the trouble of figuring out the diff centre for one model is re-used across several others thereby broadening the product’s appeal or investigated similar overseas models then you are increasing the chances of something happening. A good way to show some willing is to simply offer your own car as a test vehicle, which also shows some commitment beyond a mere promise. Not even the largest aftermarket companies can afford a fleet of every new vehicle on the market, so they get by with borrowing vehicles in and return the customer gets a free or heavily discounted product plus the knowledge they’ve helped move things on for their fellow drivers.
Organising your mates to help increase demand helps, but to a point. If you’re on a forum and say 50 people express interest in a product them it’ll be an inverted iceberg – of those 50, 20 will say they’ll buy, 10 will say they’ll put in a deposit and in the end there may be 2-3 actual sales, if that. Aftermarket companies tend to be very sceptical of such forum-organised efforts, so consider that before you go charging in. Speaking of forums, I wouldn’t have thought to make the next point, but after reading a few web discussions, I must.
None of the aftermarket companies ‘hate’ you, or your vehicle, or the country in which it is made. They do not have any vendetta, feud, dislike or any other emotional reason for not supplying the accessories you want. Conversely, they do not love other vehicles, countries, or people more than yours. The real reasons for which accessories are produced when are described above and they are basic business decisions. Of course, the tinfoil hat brigade will accuse me of being a paid shill of the industry (that’s if they read this far without covering the screen in righteous spittle) and it being a free world they’re permitted to hold that view and others such as the earth being flat.
Back in the real world, if you really want an accessory and need it regardless of whether it will be mass-produced or not, then have a look overseas for similar models, even if they are from different brands or have different bodyshells, and consider importing although you’ll need to check ADR compliance yourself. All this takes careful research, but you may get there. Chances are it won’t be exactly the right fit, but this is where your local 4WD mechanical shop comes in to play, and by this I absolutely do not mean a factory dealership. The sort of shop you want will be relatively small and have considerable experience in modifying 4WDs, fabricating components and generally being inventive about solving problems. Even here you can help; be very specific about what you want and don’t want, do the research of the options, check out the road laws and so on. Don’t expect mass-produced finish and style, or that the kit may work perfectly first time without some rework which you’ll need to fund, and typically these shops take a fairly loose view of roadworthy regulations. Depending on your point of view this is an exciting process you can’t wait to start, or a complete nightmare. Your choice, I’m just explaining the options, as if what you want isn’t available then you either get it built, do without, or change cars. Whining is not an option.
Now this accessory problem does mean a vicious circle. If Joe Average wants a touring 4WD and he listens to people like me he won’t be buying anything that he can’t accessorise, which in turn reduces demand for non-mainstream accessories. That’s the way of the world, and in fact I predict the problem will worsen as there seem to be less bush-tourer vehicles being released, and development costs aren’t getting any cheaper so the range of ‘mainstream’ tourers will begin to further narrow. But one thing’s for sure, as long as there’s demand for aftermarket accessories there will be companies willing to work out how to fulfil it.
For more things that aren’t true check out our list of 4X4 myths.