Whether you were looking for a high-performance crate engine, off-road tires or something as goofy as “eyelashes” to attach to attach to your car’s headlights, there was seemingly something for everyone wandering through the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center during the course of the last week.
It was all part of what has come to be known as the SEMA Show, the annual gathering of the Specialty Equipment Marketers Association. The largest trade group for automotive aftermarket suppliers says it’s on track to report close to $32 billion in sales this year, reflected by the record turnout of more than 2,500 vendors and many as 150,000 visitors to this year’s event.
“Anything you can put on a car or fix a car with, they have it at the SEMA Show,” gaped Chris Perry, the general manager of Chevrolet.
The largest of the General Motors divisions staked out a major presence of its own at SEMA, with dozens of production models and concept vehicles – ranging from a high-performance version of the Spark EV to two special edition Corvettes – on display.
And Chevy wasn’t unique. A growing list of auto manufacturers participate in the SEMA show, including brands as diverse as Kia, Ford and Lexus. And there are a variety of reasons why. For one thing, most makers now offer their own, expansive catalogues of parts and accessories. And the annual gathering is a great way to get the word out.
“This is an influential group that comes here,” explains Hyundai’s Scott Margason, who oversees the maker’s involvement with SEMA. Reaching that community fits well with the Korean carmaker’s effort to change its image from that of traditionally “rational,” if dull brand. “We’ve been trying to put more emotion into the brand,” Margason adds.
(Kia shows its Soul at SEMA. Click Hereto check out five cool concepts.)
Honda had the same thing in mind as it unveiled both the newly updated Civic Si coupe and the new HPD street performance parts ioeration.
Chrysler staked out perhaps the largest presence of any auto manufacturer with more than 40 different concept and production vehicles on display. It also used SEMA to announce the return of the classic “Shaker” hood that was a hallmark of its top muscle cars in the ‘70s, as well as the new Mopar ’14, a limited-edition, heavily customized version of the Dodge Challenger.
“We exist to challenge the un-boring,” proclaimed Pietro Gorlier,” head of Mopar, during a SEMA news conference.
(Even battery cars like the Chevy Spark EV get the performance treatment at SEMA. Click Here for more.)
While the major automakers dominated the SEMA Show floor, they were only a small part of the name count of exhibitors. This year saw another 5% more sign on, bringing the total count to around 2,500, according to Peter MacGillivray, the trade group’s events director. Virtually every inch of Sin City’s vast convention hall was used for the show – with vendors spilling over into a number of the parking lots. With 150,000 tickets sold, the SEMA Show ranks second only to the annual Consumer Electronics Show in the hierarchy of Las Vegas events.
“It’s a strong economy and that’s attracting a lot of buyers,” MacGillivray explained, adding that by even the most conservative measures SEMA members are expected to generate about 3% more business than last year when, still coming out of the industry’s worst recession in decades, sales totaled around $31.2 billion.
Buyers could find something for everyone at the show. Traditionally, the emphasis has been on performance, and there were plenty of high-performance crate engines and other accessories designed to cut 0 to 60 times. But the event has broadened its appeal – and product mix – substantially in recent years.
Electronics have become a major staple, whether in-car entertainment systems or neon lighting strips to attach to a vehicle’s rocker panels.
“I’m stunned at the SEMA Show to see what you can do to your car,” laughed John Mendel, Honda’s top American executive.
(Click Here for a first look at the 2014 Honda Civic Si.)
One of the biggest trends in recent years to emerge at SEMA has been the focus on the youth market. That might seem surprising considering the steady drumbeat of headlines suggesting that Millennials have lost their interest in the automobile.
“We read these but they’re only telling half the story,” asserts SEMA’s MacGillivray. He agrees that many young consumers have lost their passion for cars and are more likely to spend their disposable income on smartphones and other consumer electronics. “But there are still plenty of gearheads, and among them, the love of cars is as strong as ever.”
A key to attracting younger buyers is to offer the opportunity to customize their vehicles – much as Apple and other smartphone manufacturers have discovered. And perhaps nowhere is the ability to personalize a vehicle more apparent. No wonder the lines to get into the SEMA Show – whether exhibitors or shoppers – are so long.
Tags: 2013 sema show, Honda Civic Coupe, auto aftermarket, auto customization, auto news, auto parts, car news, car parts, chevy sema, honda sema, hyundai sema, kia soul sema, paul a. eisenstein, paul eisenstein, sema show, thedetroitbureau