Volume 8, Issue 6 - November/December 2006

Let the Sun Shine In
A look at the future of sunroofs
by Brigid O’Leary

In an industry that continues to fight for every dollar, sunroof repair might be the most overlooked—and easy—source of income.

“The sunroof business has been consolidated over the last number of years,” said Mike Parisi, president of Night Watchman Co., a sunroof replacement part dealer. “At its inception, the number of aftermarket sunroof manufacturers was quite high and the less reputable manufacturers gave rise to the misconception of problematic sunroofs. Those manufacturers eventually got weeded out and now there are fewer, key original equipment manufacturers and they have a strong aftermarket presence.”

It makes sense that the sunroof business has shifted from aftermarket to OEM. As a result, aftermarket installations are much trickier now and less plentiful than they used to be, but sunroof repairs can be a lucrative business, especially if there’s not much competition. One member of the industry who can attest to this is Scott Owens, owner of Excel Auto Glass in Lake Katrine, N.Y.

“On the aftermarket side, I’m seeing much more difficult installs, tighter headline designs,” said Owens, who works on sunroofs. “It’s not just cutting a hole in the roof and popping it in like years before. Now we’re getting fiberglass headliners with mesh fabric inside.” 

What Has Changed
The concept of having a better view behind the wheel of a car has always been popular, and with the demise of the T-tops, the sunroof has taken over that market. What has changed? Aside from some industry consolidation, the manner in which consumers go about choosing a vehicle with or without a sunroof comes down to money. Sunroofs are often bundled into package options with other luxury items, such as leather seats, requiring a consumer to choose between an all-or-none scenario.

“Currently, glass roof panels are experiencing a tremendous amount of success,” said Parisi. “In my experience, I’ve watched T-tops become extinct, the last factory unit coming off the line on the 2003 Camaro Firebirds. Since then, factory installed sunroofs have been growing in popularity.”

“The business has been pretty level. Original equipment sunroofs are installed more and more in cars, but it’s pretty level. [The market] is nothing like it was in the early ‘80s and ‘90s,” said Mario Beltran, automotive products manager at C.R. Laurence.

Now and in the Future

“The complexity of the manufacturing process is changing,” said Parisi. “There are more experimental uses of both glass and plastics having a dramatic effect on the application of see-through roof components,” he added. “The Cadillac CRX has one of the largest glass roof panels installed on a vehicle and the American public wants more of that. [Car] manufacturers are trying to get the largest holes incorporated safely into the design.” 

Beltran has seen this, too, though from the OE side of the industry, he sees the market holding steady for a while yet.

“It’s going to be level for awhile, but OEM vehicle manufacturers are introducing fixed glass roofs and different variables on every car. Every one would be unique with a different design and [roof] sweep,” said Beltran. 

The Meaning
According to Parisi, replacement is a growing opportunity that the auto glass industry is missing, possibly because industry members assume that consumers want a sunroof installed, rather than replaced. 

“I’d estimate 80-90 percent of the calls for sunroof repair may only need the glass replaced,” estimated Parisi. “My recommendation is for shops to take the calls and look at the damage, not just turn down the job immediately. When we talk about sunroofs, a common misconception is that call centers and some shop owners think customers are asking for an installation. They shouldn’t readily dismiss the call without finding out what the customer needs.” 

“We’re not able to [install] sunroofs anymore, but we wind up doing a lot [of replacements] because we offer all aspects of auto glass repair and not a lot of guys offer it,” said Owens.

“It’s not really a diversification; it’s a natural extension of the work the industry already does,” Parisi added. “The complexity of the design isn’t going to adversely affect installation technique.”

That said, standard repair as it is known to the AGRR industry isn’t usually an option. As Parisi explained, most domestic-made sunroofs are tempered, so breakage of those kind aren’t repairable the way a laminated windshield might be.

However, once a technician becomes more familiar with the different kinds of sunroofs on the market, even just the generic styles available, it becomes easier to predict what kind of repair or replacement will be requested of a shop. “Spoiler roofs have the most chance for leakage because the parts wear out,” said Owens. 

“Getting into mechanics, with the advancement of technology, some guys will shy away, but they should not be scared of glass-only repairs,” Parisi said. “If prepped properly, most sunroofs can be replaced in less than an hour.”

Brigid O’Leary is a contributing editor to AGRR magazine.

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