SEMA president suggests trends to watch for at the show

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The annual SEMA Show overflows from the Las Vegas Convention Center to fill parking lots and even nearby hotel ballrooms | Larry Edsall photo

Nearly 60 years ago, back in 1963, a group of folks who were producing hot-rod parts in Southern California got together in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium to show off their various wares. They called themselves the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association. 

Over the course of time, they would keep the initials S.E.M.A., but would drop the periods and would change “Speed” to “Specialty” and “Manufacturers” to “Market” and would grow from a couple dozen relatively small garage-based shops into an industry spanning more than 6,000 companies that either produce automotive aftermarket equipment or that support the sales and marketing of those products.

Oh, and the SEMA Show that began with hot-rod parts displayed on folding tables has become the second-largest trade show held annually in the Las Vegas Convention Center, where it is surpassed in attendance and economic impact only by the Consumer Electronics Show. 

Around 150,000 people annually attend the massive automotive aftermarket industry trade show | Larry Edsall photo

The next SEMA Show is scheduled for November 5-8, and while you cannot get into the cavernous display buildings unless you qualify for SEMA credentials as part of the industry or the media covering it, as the show ends on Friday the 8th. there is a big open-to-the-public event that features the cars driving out of the convention center and into a nearby parking lot for an evening of automotive entertainment. 

Chris Kersting

In preparation for the 2019 SEMA Show, association president Chris Kersting suggested several trends he expects to be manifest at the show. They include:

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Overlanding

“The overlanding trend continues to build as outdoor adventure-seekers rig up purpose-built, rugged vehicles for expeditions and camping,” Kersting is quoted in a pre-show news release. “This growing subset of the off-road market has caught the attention of SEMA manufacturers, spawning a range of products that put self-contained adventure travel in reach for more customers.”

From the perspective of the collector car hobby, this growth in overlanding adventure can be seen in the rising interest in and prices being asked (and paid) for vintage 4×4 sport utility vehicles, and by the return of the Blazer to the Chevrolet vehicle lineup and — very soon now folks — the Bronco to the Ford fleet.

Fast and Furious

“While tricked-out trucks have surged in recent years,” Kersting says, “2019 Show registration data indicates that this year’s feature vehicle crop includes a significant wave of sport compacts, Euro tuners and exotics.”

Just as at collector car auctions, the cars of the Fast and Furious generation are being sought by younger car owners. As with overlanding, whether they are what the Europeans like to call “youngtimers,” or imports from the Japanese Domestic Market or out-and-out 200 mph exotics, such vehicles are surging in popularity.

ADAS and EV conversion

ADAS is short for advanced driver-assistance systems.

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“Another trend can be seen in the products that relate to advanced driver-assistance systems, otherwise known as ADAS,” Kersting continues. “In this fast-growing segment, companies are producing products that allow shops to offer safety as a new form of performance — and customers to update their cars with state-of-the-art systems.

“In the emerging-segment category, we are beginning to see companies converting a wide range of cool cars and trucks to electric propulsion, including race cars and classics. At the same time, traditional OEMs are exciting the industry with new e-models aimed at enthusiasts. While still early in the market cycle, those at the leading edge of this segment are seeing rapid growth. 

“This year’s SEMA Show will showcase the trend along with some of the companies leading the segment, and we’ll see parts and equipment that make it possible for a wide variety of vehicles to enjoy new life as electric cars.”

Some see the installation of electronic driver aids and even of electric powertrains as ways to “futureproof” classic vehicles as lawmakers around the world move to restrict the use of fossil fuels and the emissions they produce in motor vehicles.

Marketing

This is, after all, a trade show and, Kersting notes, the event “will also illustrate how the industry is evolving in the competition to reach customers and convince them to buy.”

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This trend deals with the emergence of data and its use. In sports, analytics is changing the way the games are played. In sales and marketing, data, including images, video and fitment details, can, if used properly, to help drive potential customers to becoming committed consumers.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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