Our hobby is in jeopardy. We’re getting older and dying off. Government regulations are limiting what we can do. Technology is making it impossible to tinker, let alone modify or restore.
Sound familiar? Those were the three primary subjects for discussion recently when the board of directors of SEMA — the Specialty Equipment Market Association — held its annual planning meeting.
But get this: Those also were the three primary subjects of an article found in a SEMA publication. Not this year or even last year, but back in 1973!
Seems the car hobby and the industry that supports and supplies it have long faced these same issues, perhaps from the days when folks first began modifying the Model T’s that ole’ Henry Ford was building.
Oh, it’s not that those three areas of concern are not real challenges, but they are recurring and, just as in the past, are likely to be overcome yet again.
With such things in mind, SEMA is staging its annual series of Town Hall meetings with members and non-members. The first event on the 2017 calendar was held last week in Phoenix, where it was hosted by Baer Brakes. Similar events are scheduled April 17 at Omix-ADA in Atlanta (Suwanee), May 9 at Heidts in Chicago (Lake Zurich) and July 11 at Competiton Specialties in Seattle (Auburn).
As SEMA president and chief executive Chris Kersting noted during the Phoenix Town Hall, SEMA was created in 1963 as a trade group to help small, Southern California aftermarket parts producers not only market their products, but to have a unified voice for speaking with legislators in Sacramento. That effort continues, though in addition to dealing with California emission regulations, SEMA maintains a legislative staff in Washington, D.C.
Which brings us to the challenge of government regulations and one of SEMA’s primary focuses: Passage of the RPM Act.
Although Congress exempted — or thought it had — racing vehicles from the Clean Air Act back in 1970, in 2015 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggested that modifying for motorsports or off-road use any vehicle— two- or four-wheeled — produced with a certified emissions system actually is illegal.
The original RPM Act seeks to remedy this. It was introduced in Congress last year, gained 124 co-sponsors in the House and 29 in the Senate, only to stall out when Congress adjourned early for the elections. The bill, making it clear that emissions-equipped vehicles can be modified for racing, has been reintroduced. SEMA encourages those in the car hobbies to support passage by contacting their representatives, which can be done quickly through a link at SEMA.org/RPM.
To help member companies make sure their aftermarket products are compliant with federal and California emission laws, the organization opened the SEMA Garage, a certified lab with expert staff for the use of SEMA members. The garage has been so busy that it recently expanded its schedule from five days a week to six and is considering adding a second shift.
SEMA also has been working with the original-equipment automakers to provide members with detailed computer data on new vehicles so aftermarket parts can be produced more effectively and can be ready as soon as those vehicles reach dealerships. This process also is being applied to vehicles not sold in the U.S. but that enthusiasts overseas are modifying, and they want U.S.-made parts because of their quality.
Kersting said SEMA also is putting resources toward helping member companies deal with the increasing complexity of vehicle technologies to assure that aftermarket products won’t interfere with vehicle-control and communications systems.
But will any of that really matter if there aren’t future generations interested in producing and using aftermarket products for their cars?
A related issue is the fact that SEMA-member companies often have trouble finding qualified people to fill job openings.
Kersting shared several recent SEMA initiatives designed to encourage young people not only to consider but to pursue careers in the automotive and aftermarket industries.
These range from inviting more than 800 students to attend the 2016 SEMA Show, where a Career Day introduced them to more than 40 aftermarket product producers, to special recognition for custom car builders age 28 or younger.