Las Vegas, Nevada – November 2-5 – No event has the potential to polarize the automotive enthusiast community like the annual SEMA Show. On the one hand, it’s a glorious celebration of all things automotive and the main focus is on the once-underground aftermarket industry. On the other hand, the automotive aftermarket is now a full-on cultural phenomenon and firmly in the scope of all sorts of trendy bandwagoners.
No matter what side of the fence you may find yourself, there’s no arguing the SEMA Show represents all that’s good and bad within the current automotive aftermarket scene and there’s no sign of any of it going away any time soon.
As a matter of fact, since SEMA held its first show back in 1966, each event has been larger than the last. As mentioned, though, the automotive aftermarket has recently become a part of the average household terminology, and the SEMA Show itself has grown in attendance some 89% since 1994. Lat year’s event saw more than 105,000 attendees, and SEMA has already informed us that this year’s event saw even more people pass through its doors. What’s more impressive is that the SEMA Show is technically a trade-only event, and not open to the general public. The automotive aftermarket is said to be a $29 billion dollar industry, so it’s really no surprise to see that everyone from MTV to GM wants its piece of the pie.
Las Vegas is the perfect place to host the spectacle that is now The SEMA Show. Bling dominates substance by a hefty amount, and this seems to be the way trends are leading – whether we’re talking about cars or society. But let’s not take things too seriously – as far as SEMA is concerned, we’re just talking about cars and there are no rules stating that it’s not okay to have a little fun now and then. No doubt lots of people go to Las Vegas and the SEMA Show for fun and disappointment hardly seems an option.
Television’s involvement with the SEMA Show is now well beyond the scope of simply covering the event. Television is now a part of the event itself. Riding the reality-show wave, several production companies have caught on to the fact that the automotive aftermarket is very much in vogue on a social scale and have built some popular series around the phenomenon. In fact, programs such as ‘Overhaulin,’ ‘Pimp My Ride,’ and ‘American Chopper’ were all on hand filming segments for upcoming broadcasts, and Boyd Coddington, of ‘American Hot Rod,’ had his Aluma-Tub ’29 Ford Model A on display as well.
SEMA glitters like no other automotive event. So it’s therefore no surprise that a number of celebrities were on hand throughout the week. Bona fide car geeks such as Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld were likely compelled to attend and the party atmosphere called out to Snoop Dogg, Usher, and even Hulk Hogan, too.
Most auto manufacturers, save for some of the Euros, have caught on to the fact that the SEMA Show is a great place for them to market their brands to a huge enthusiast market. Ford was on hand with 15 new Mustangs and each was modified in a different theme. What was interesting is that Ford used different aftermarket companies to construct the vehicles instead of SVT or some other in-house department. Clearly, Ford understands that the aftermarket industry serves to enhance the Mustang’s popularity with enthusiasts, and has done so for several decades. Subaru, Hyundai, and even Chrysler came with the same approach.
Speaking of Chrysler, it’s not often that one of the Big Three hits such a huge home run with the aftermarket crowd, but Chrysler certainly has with their 300/Magnum platform. There must have been no fewer than 50 of these vehicles at this year’s event, and if even one of them was wearing anything less than 20” wheels and tires, I sure didn’t see it. Though Mustangs, Cobalts, Hummer H2s, GTOs, C6 Corvettes, and even Bentley Continental GTs were out in full force, it’d have to be the Chrysler twins that would be considered this year’s SEMA “it” car(s).
Toyota’s Scion brand is in full bloom and was no doubt tailor-made for the SEMA crowd. It seems Toyota’s hope for having tuners use their cars as blank canvases has become reality. The boxy xB could be found all over the place and aftermarket parts availability seems to have increased some ten-fold since last year’s event.
Mazda’s Mazdaspeed division is ideally suited to court the SEMA crowd and though the forthcoming Mazdaspeed6 was conspicuous in its absence, that car’s naked driveline was on display and served as a tempting taste of what’s to come (as in, look out, WRX & Evo).
As was the case the last couple years, the WRX and Evo were the dominant import tuner cars this year. Big international players such as HKS, A’PEXi, and TEIN each had veritable catalog’s worth of equipment for both models, as well as for the 350Z, Scion xB and Infiniti G35.
There were a fair amount of European vehicles at the event, but for the most part, most were present for the sole purpose of displaying a set of wheels and tires, more so than to represent any sort of European tuner. Certainly, companies such as Neuspeed, Eurosport, H&R, CEC, BMP, HPA, Avalon, etc. were on hand, but they were the exceptions rather than the rule. A show of support from the likes of VW, Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche would likely result in a stronger Euro tuner presence at SEMA.
You cannot describe the SEMA Show without at least trying to convey just how big a role trucks now play in the aftermarket. Truck enthusiasts are blessed with their very own culture, the scope of which covers everything from jacked-up off-roaders, to ‘bagged and slammed low-riders and just about anything in between. Trucks and truck accessories are everywhere you turn at the SEMA Show.
Hot and street rods are enjoying something of a renaissance these days and it appears that a younger crowd is joining the scene. Parts are plentiful and it seems an infusion of modern technology (suspensions, engine management, etc.) combined with some classic and unabashedly American style is winning over a percentage of younger folks who may well be a bit bored with the import scene. Truly, what goes around, comes around…
The SEMA Show is not just about the sum of a bunch of parts – it’s actually very much about the parts themselves. Much like how auto manufacturers choose the Detroit North American International Auto Show to debut their latest wares, the aftermarket manufacturers have the annual SEMA Show to showcase their latest offerings.
Air ride suspensions are making big inroads into the entire aftermarket scene and there can be no doubt these fully adjustable suspensions are not just for mini-trucks and low-riders anymore. Bridgestone’s Praxis system is available for the Subaru Impreza/WRX and BMW E46 3-series, and all-out performance is the hallmark for this setup.
Once again, wheel and tire manufacturers got their own hee-yooge hall in which they could compete head-to-head with each other regarding size, dish and the all-important bling factor. Seriously, folks – things are getting out of hand here: leather-faced, wood-grained, and jewel-encrusted wheels are now available for your pimping pleasure. Certainly, Versace and Gucci editions cannot be very far behind.
Several display vehicles were sporting a new, chrome-look paint. Though not exactly subtle, this style of paint is perfect for a SEMA display car and no doubt even more so for the Vegas Strip. The effect is convincing and many folks were overheard wondering if these cars were simply wearing polished bare metal panels (um, plastic bumpers notwithstanding…).
Those of us who’ve been around the automotive aftermarket for a long time and were here well before recent pop culture “discovered” the automotive lifestyle have a tendency to look at the modern SEMA Show and all it represents with a decidedly jaundiced eye. On many levels this is understandable. But if we don’t at least try to look at the big picture once in a while, we won’t be able to recognize all the positive aspects that have come hand-in-hand with the aftermarket’s increased popularity. Diversity is a good thing, and never before have automotive enthusiasts had so many different niches and subcultures with which to explore new interests. More than anything, though, we all ought to take a moment and revel in the fact that it’s finally cool to be a car geek.
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