Issue: Apr 2006


ASC's Chris Theodore Foresees 'Sunvertible' Market of 1 Million Units Annually



Sees a Strong Market for Four-Door Convertibles As Well

by John Larkin

Citing the growing popularity of skylights in homes, the bulging demographics of Generation Y and the inherent "Peter Pan-ism" among a certain percentage of consumers in every generation, ASC Incorporated's vice chairman Chris Theodore today predicted that "sunvertibles" -- SUVs, crossover vehicles and other vehicles featuring full- roof, open-air roof systems -- will account for more than 1 million units in U.S. industry sales annually by 2012. Theodore pointed to ASC's patent- pending sliding-roof system, called InfiniVu(TM), as a major enabler of this coming trend.

Speaking at the seventh annual Global Automotive Conference here sponsored by Western Kentucky University, Theodore also said ASC currently is responding to "significant interest" from North American, Asian and European automakers regarding ASC's patent-pending concept for engineering four-door passenger-car architectures into world-class convertibles. Theodore predicted that this open-air market, dormant since the mid-1960s, is now primed for a comeback, as advances in body-engineering and convertible-top design at companies like ASC should make four-door convertibles a reality by 2009.

Referring to what he called "Theodore's Hierarchy for Breakthrough Product Innovation," Theodore, a noted product-development expert, said, "The anthropology, the demographics, the culture and the psychology of consumers are all aligned for the creation of significant markets in North America for both sunvertibles and four-door convertibles.

"Forty-three percent of all two-door passenger cars produced are sold as convertibles," he said. "Especially with the aging Baby-Boomer population, it only stands to reason that a significant number of the 6 million to 7 million or so sedan buyers each year would be attracted to four-door convertibles."

Theodore's product-development hierarchy, which he said is based upon his 35 years' experience in the auto industry leading the development of such landmark vehicles as the Ford GT supercar and the Chrysler PT Cruiser, places great emphasis on the dominant cultural trends prevalent during the teenage years of any generation, coupled with an analysis of consumer psychology as it relates to indelible imprints made during the teen years in the cortex of the brain -- the part of the brain that controls the unconscious.

"Today's Baby-Boomers came of age in the '60s, when things like affluence and rebellion against the establishment bred a high degree of self- indulgence," said Theodore, "and as that demographic continues through its prime buying years, there's every reason to think that 'fun and freedom' features like InfiniVu(TM) open-air systems and four-door convertibles will be appealing. For its part, Generation X, teenagers during the go-go 1980s when everything seemed to come so easy, are as a result somewhat guilt-ridden and much more practical than their parents. However, that practicality is translating into the sales of even more utility vehicles, plus, as with every generation, the 'never-grow-up Peter Pans' of Gen X, a sizable cohort, are always looking for a certain fun-and-freedom quotient in their vehicles. Open-air systems like InfiniVu(TM) can provide that in a new and different way."

In fact, said Theodore, InfiniVu(TM) offers what he called an "intellectual alibi" to utility-vehicle buyers, in that the system maintains the structural integrity of the vehicle -- the safety, security and functionality that drives people to buy utility vehicles in the first place -- while adding the fun and freedom of open air.

"Meantime," continued Theodore, "if history is any guide Generation Y, a demographic equal to Baby-Boomers in size that came of age during the 'tranquil '90s,' could well be just as self-indulgent as the Boomers -- which also bodes well for the potential popularity of open-air systems going forward."

Theodore buttressed his predictions about the potential popularity of systems like InfiniVu(TM) in autos with data from the National Association of Home Builders showing that 47 percent of new-home buyers now consider home skylights to be "essential" or "desirable." He also pointed to a study done recently in Orange County, Calif. by consultants Heschong Mahone Group Inc. of Fair Oaks, Calif., in which it was shown that elementary students in classrooms with large windows or well-designed skylights performed 20 percent better on math tests and 26 percent better on reading tests than their peers.

"'Daylighting,' as it's called," said Theodore, "not only makes you feel good, it's good for you! Just look at the exponential rise in home-skylight installations in recent years. People today just can't get enough light."

Theodore also noted that ASC's advanced parametric-modeling techniques now allow the company to "morph" its basic InfiniVu(TM) template to any automaker's vehicle in a matter of just minutes, a process that used to take weeks if not months, he said.

Theodore spoke just miles away from ASC's Lexington plant, which is presently building convertible-roof systems for the Toyota Camry Solara and the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder. ASC has built three straight generations of Spyder topsystems and two straight for the Solara. In 2005, ASC celebrated the production of its one-millionth convertible system in its 24 years of building convertibles.


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