Drive Time

Today's car can offer almost all the conveniences of home and work

of AI Designs in Tuckahoe, New York, caters mostly to corporate executives, or, as he calls them, “movers and shakers of business and Wall Street.” At his shop, expect to pay anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 for conveniences that facilitate business. Their most popular vehicle is the GMC Denali.

Others include the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7 Series. More than your basic phone system, “we do the mobile office thing on a grander scale,” he explains. “Limos have fallen out of fashion. The SUV is its replacement. It’s less pretentious but lends itself to many luxury options.” Such options include tables, leg rests, satellite television, wireless Internet with download capabilities of 400K, and a 15-inch drop-down video monitor or 22-inch wide-screen television mounted to a movable partition. They can also reduce the noise level by 50% through special insulation. “We make it very rich and very private,” says Figliola.

Does it seem obsessive? For some it might. The numbers indicate that the obsession is growing, but the reasons an increasing number of car enthusiasts are customizing and personalizing their vehicles range from competitive interests to convenience. “I’m a tech head,” explains Fowlkes, who has an industrial design background, “so I like the latest technology. Sometimes it’s just a matter of ‘my system is better than yours,’ but I like to key into what’s going on in the industry and then try it out.”

You can’t ignore the cool factor — and the aftermarket explosion is yet another example of how hip-hop can impact an industry. Will Castro had been customizing cars for about 11 years before he opened his own shop in 1999 called Unique Auto Sports (www.uniqueautosport.com) in Uniondale, New York. With a clientele that includes mostly hip-hop artists and athletes, Castro has overhauled vehicles for Busta Rhymes, Swizz Beats, Timbaland, Wyclef Jean, and many others. He believes that music videos have proved to be a powerful showcase. “The drive in customization has really come from the recording artists who have really taken it over the top,” states Castro. “In the videos you have these guys who are really into cars, showing off their interiors, their rims, their TVs. Kids see that and they want it, but it’s not just kids; it’s other rappers, other athletes. They want the same things, too.”

In 2004, Castro will be expanding to launch Unique Coach Works in his newly acquired warehouse of 10,000 square feet in Holbrook, New York. There he will customize tour busses for the stars, as well as store and service their exotic cars.

During the last five years, Donnelly’s clientele has expanded from 15- to 22-year-olds all the way to a 50-year-old demographic. “We’re no longer just hitting the high school and college crowd.” He finds that aside from personalization, convenience and comfort are heavy influences. “The reality is that people are spending as much time in their cars — and in traffic — as in their house. And keeping those little ones in the back entertained has become a big priority. So the

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