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Performance parts help make a car better

If clothes can make the man, can accessories make the vehicle?

By Bill Roebuck

Ford's 'Shaker' is a popular add-on for Mustangs."Race on Sunday, sell on Monday" was a popular automotive industry slogan in the heyday of muscle cars in the 1970s. Racing was a breeding ground for car and truck manufacturers in developing new performance parts and accessories for their vehicles, and many of these would eventually make it onto various models in the regular production line.

For go-fast aficionados, such options were the just the ticket (sometimes ones that would get them a speeding ticket). That enthusiasm to get just a little more power or performance from a car persists still today, despite general concerns about fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions.

From boosted air intakes to high-flow exhausts, from tell-all gauges and instruments to performance-enhancing tires and wheels, drivers who want to make an impression -- either to their friends or at the track -- are the driving force behind a burgeoning automotive aftermarket industry.

There are hundreds of independent companies that manufacture and supply aftermarket parts, some of which must be evaluated by trial and error by car owners. More comforting for many drivers are the OEM-supplied performance accessories made by the companies that designed the vehicles in the first place. With OEM products, there should be no concerns about fit and finish, or warranty issues on the vehicles to which they are added.

Most OEMs -- American, German, Japanese and Korean -- offer at least a small selection of performance-enhancing options on their new models. It may not be as broad a range as you can find from third-party aftermarket suppliers, but it meets the need of the more conservative drivers who want their add-ons backed by the manufacturer of their vehicle.

Chin spoiler is an performance option for the Ford Mustang.The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show is often where such parts are first introduced to the automotive world. Although it's not open to the public, the annual event, which typically takes place in Las Vegas each November, draws the industry's brightest minds and hottest products to one place -- last year more than 100,000 visitors from 100-plus countries. Overall, the automotive specialty-equipment industry is valued at $38.1 billion.

At the most recent SEMA in November 2009, various new products received awards, including, in the Best New Performance-Street Product category, the Sprint Booster from Sprint Booster USA, a device to enhance the driving experience on the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro Manual Transmission by providing increased acceleration time, eliminating delay when the gas pedal is pressed.

On the OEM side, GM Performance Parts unveiled its new E-ROD crate engine package, providing an LS engine that can be used in vintage hot rods. It features emissions equipment and components that enable it to pass California's stringent smog tests. The new engine was unveiled in a '55 Chevy E-ROD concept vehicle at the show.

One of the fastest growing segments in the specialty equipment industry, Green Performance, took centre stage at the SEMA Show's `Making Green Cool' press conference. The show was a hotbed for the next generation of muscle cars and hot rods equipped with clean diesels, advanced hybrid powertrains, extended range and pure electric motors -- technologies not typically expected in the performance market.

“No industry is tied to technology more than the auto industry. This is truly one of the most exciting times to be in the auto industry -- we haven't seen this much change since it began 100 years ago,” said John Waraniak, SEMA's vice-president, vehicle technology. “This is what SEMA is all about -- making vehicles go faster, go further and most importantly, cooler. The new generation of clean diesels, GDI, hybrid and battery electric vehicles are leading the reinvention of the automobile and creating exciting opportunities for SEMA member companies and bold new OEMs. This is a new day and a new game with new rules and new players.”

Subaru's short-throw shifter is an aftermarket add-on.You'll find a variety of performance parts stocked at most local auto dealers. For example, Subaru owners can enhance 2005 and later Legacy and Outback models with the STI Short Throw Shifter, designed to significantly reduce shift throw lengths for crisper shifts and sportier driving. There's also the STI Performance Gauge Pack that can be installed in the Legacy or Outback to display turbo boost and oil pressure levels.

Other Subaru accessories for 2010 include fog lights, a remote engine starter, a rear spoiler and cargo area organizers, all engineered to fit and function just like original equipment and also having a factory warranty.

For those who believe their vehicle represents an important expression of their individuality, there are parts from Chevrolet Accessories to fill the bill. They were part of the development process of Tahoe, Suburban and Avalanche models, thus offer the same quality of fit, finish and function as the rest of the vehicle. Also, they are backed by the three-year/60,000 km new vehicle warranty. Among Chevrolet's long list of parts are 20- and 22-inch wheels, a performance air intake, grille inserts, an extended-range remote, tail light guards and a wide variety of body-enhancing options. And Camaro enthusiasts can customize the look and drivability of their car's engine with a performance intake that has a body-coloured engine cover.

Mercedes-Benz publishes thick brochures of parts and accessories for all of its models, although the focus is mainly on aerodynamic and styling packages. For example, the 2010 C-Class brochure boasts Incenio light-alloy designer wheels in a Sterling silver finish, an iPod Interface Kit that lets you use the steering wheel controls, a Rudmatic-Disc snow chain system that can be fitted and removed quickly, and the Quickpark acoustic warning system for the rear of the vehicle.

At Ford, the range of accessories is even longer, especially for its Mustang, a car that was recognized by SEMA as the most accessory-friendly vehicle in its inaugural Vehicle Design Awards. For all those people dreaming up ways to accessorize their new 2010 Mustangs, Ford has created an interactive Mustang Garage for display at auto shows. It features a trio of computers that visitors can use to access a variety of Ford Custom Accessories -- everything from wheels, grilles, stripes and spoilers, to louvres, fascias, hood scoops and side scoops - in a rainbow of colours and finishes. When an accessory is added, the Mustang under virtual construction can be spun around for different views. “Nobody has done this before with a vehicle as popular as Mustang,” said Mark Conforzi, chief designer of vehicle personalization at Ford Motor Company.

Ford Racing's high-performance, ram-air Shaker Hood Scoop option for the 2010 Mustang GT is a fully functional unit that attaches directly to the V8 engine, feeding in additional fresh air. Topping the system is a cast-aluminum scoop that's identical to the original version available on classic 1969-70 Mustang models. And yes, it shakes every time you drop the hammer.

No discussion of OEM accessories would be complete without mention of the long-standing Mopar brand for Chrysler Group LLC, including Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep vehicles. Mopar performance accessories can be found in four categories of vehicles: muscle, street, speed and trail. The latest catalogue of these parts weighs in at more than 350 pages, and runs from crate engines to cooling systems, suspension components to exhaust systems, and gauges to off-road accessories.

The number of options to enhance your vehicle is nearly limitless. For those who want warranty coverage and a guaranteed fit and finish, though, OEM parts direct from your vehicle's maker may provide more than peace of mind.

Bill Roebuck is the editor-in-chief of CarTest! (c) 2010

Written May 21, 2010. Posted Sept. 7, 2010.

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