By Ven Sreenivasan
*Above: Mr Chua (left) says the aftermarket tuning and customisation industry has been growing tremendously, while Mr Minjoot says the industry has shed the 'bad boy image' of its early days.
The Singaporean love affair with the car, coupled with the desire to stand out from the crowd, has been fuelling a booming aftermarket tuning and customisation industry here.
While no official statistics are available, motoring sector insiders say this is a $265 million-a-year industry which is growing at more than 10 per cent per year.
"The market has been growing tremendously," says Brinal Chua, whose company Autovox specialises in performance tuning, interiors and body-kits mainly for continental brands like Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz and Volvo.
"Between 2001 and 2011, there were some 877,000 cars on the road," he said. "About half were not tunable. About 20 per cent of the remaining cars were owned by people who did some kind of aftermarket customisation. Today, most premium brands are high tech and tunable."
Autovox, which was established in 1999, has 25 engineers, and represents major global brands such as ABT, Schnitzer, Heico, Brabus, KW Suspensions, TechArt and others.
Keith Minjoot, who co-owns MB Motors, a specialist in customisation of super-sports cars like Lamborghinis and Nissan GTRs, says the industry has matured over time.
"In the early days, it had a bad boy image," Mr Minjoot said. "The industry was challenging the boundaries of what was legally allowable. Today, it is run by trained specialists who represent major global brands."
According to Messrs Chua, Minjoot and other industry insiders, today's customisation technicians are specialists in "value-added" engineering who are competent in upgrading engine-management units, replacing gearboxes, airflow management systems, aerodynamics engineering, suspension systems, and complete interior revamps. They can also take entire cars apart and put them back together.
"We are now at a stage where we can build complete cars, or at least completely re-badged cars like Brabus and Schnitzer," Mr Chua said.
The fact that many of the cars sold today are also very technologically advanced adds to the demands on the industry and its craftsmen, he added.
The market for specialist customisation and tuning started growing in the mid-1990s. Then came the Asian financial crisis, followed by a lull until around 2002. The industry took off again by 2006, and has been growing very strongly ever since. Today, even owners of cars from Malaysia and further afield bring their vehicles to Singapore for expert tuning and customisation.
The demand for tuning and customisation has also created its own supply, especially over the last six to eight years.