Big Wheels Keep On Turning
By Rob Mezaros

Your morning commute to the office. A quick jaunt to the grocery store. Off to the ballpark for another Saturday game. For most Bakersfieldians, the vehicles we drive every day serve a sole purpose, getting from point A to point B.

But for others, vehicles are so much more than a way to get around. They are a means of expression — an artistic canvas just waiting to rev to life — and California's car culture is bursting with personalization possibilities, with auto manufacturers and aftermarket companies looking to claim their rightful share of the $34 billion vehicle accessories market.

"If you take a look at the sales trends of accessories over the last five years or so, the growth rate has exceeded 10 percent a year," says Chris Feuell, manager, Vehicle Personalization and Accessories, for Ford Motor Co. "The business proposition is definitely positive for being in the personalization and accessories business."

Locally, Doug DeBerti of DeBerti Design is at the forefront of the customization movement, and is a force to be reckoned with industry-wide. He is one of Ford's top go-to guys when it comes to tricking out vehicles that are showcased on the auto show circuit, which kicks off each November with the Specialty Equipment Market Associations (SEMA) show. It is the world's premier venue for those in the auto biz to show off the newest and hottest technology, trends and products.

"We do their (Ford's) high end, weird concept trucks," said DeBerti, boasting a laid-back manner from his chrome-laden shop in southwest Bakersfield. "You either love them or hate them, but when you leave the area that they are displayed in at all the auto shows, you leave talking about them. All we do is create hype on the vehicles."

DeBerti sports an impressive track record at the SEMA show. Recently, he claimed Ford's Best in Show honor with his towering Ford F-650 entry, beating out other customization teams from the likes of Rouch, Saleen, and Foose.

Also called the "DeBerti 6x6," the massive truck features a six-wheel drive running off a 330 horsepower Caterpillar. The ride is managed by an air suspension and Fabtech 4.0 shocks, while the exterior features extensive bodywork boasting doors that open gull-wing style. Interior upgrades include a Sony entertainment system with TV, DVD and a Playstation. "We're usually building trucks three to four months out of the year," says DeBerti. "Ford will take a brand new vehicle and they'll get guys like us and Rouch and other guys and send them what they call 'body on whites.' They'll let this handful of teams make all these aftermarket parts so these vehicles are just radical."

According to DeBerti, when these concept vehicles debut at the SEMA show each year, it gives visitors a chance to see the endless customization possibilities that a stock vehicle has. "Every one of us has a different style on how we do things," he says.

Like many success stories, DeBerti's began modestly in Butte, Mont., where he started tinkering with things at a young age. He says one of his childhood highlights was going to the dump with his grandpa to gather bike parts to make his own custom bikes, which laid the groundwork for bigger and better customization projects.

After high school, with not much more than the shirt on his back, DeBerti jumped in his beat up '59 Chevy truck and headed for California. "Don't ask me why I came to Bakersfield," he says with a smirk. "I just knew I wanted to get out of Montana."

In the early days he made ends meet by working as a cook at Southwest Lanes and pumping gas at the Shell station on White Lane.

By 1990, DeBerti had saved enough money to buy a new Chevy truck, for which he had visions of personalizing to set it apart from the masses of other trucks on Kern County roads.

Discouraged by the lack of parts available, DeBerti started to fabricate parts on his own, and so began his passion for accessorizing vehicles. This hobby would soon turn into a thriving career.

In 1991, DeBerti opened a small business out of his garage called California Truck Accessories. His clientele consisted mostly of teen-agers wanting to soup-up their rides, and local dealerships wanting to customize brand new vehicles. The response was so great he introduced a new company called Trenz in 1993, an endeavor started by maxing out five Visa and MasterCards.

Putting together a team of people and buying his first Haas mill and lathe, he started to invent billet accessories that no one had ever seen before for the automotive aftermarket. Over the years that small shop was expanded to include in-house manufacturing with numerous mills, water jets, robotic welders, lasers, polishing department, and powder coating which quickly became one of the most advanced aftermarket auto accessory manufacturing plants in North America. Doug and his team invented more than 6,500 parts. DeBerti sold Trenz in 2003 to pursue another endeavor. Enter "Radical Inventions."

While DeBerti continues fabrication of auto accessories and concept cars, his main focus is on a TV program called "Radical Inventions," which he and his team are trying to bring to fruition.

DeBerti says he wants to produce the show to simply bring people's ideas or patents to reality, while showcasing their unique stories — from concept to commercial success all while having fun and keeping the audience engaged. "Radical Inventions is not trying to come off like American Idol for inventors," says DeBerti. "We just want to focus on the inventors, what sacrifices, what failures, what went through the person's mind to develop these products."

DeBerti is currently working with the likes of the Discovery Channel and TLC to get a timeslot for the show, so don't be surprised if you see a radical invention or two on the small screen sometime next year.

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