To say the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Assn. show is just another car show is like saying the Lamborghini Murcielago is just another car.
Sure the SEMA show has displays featuring automotive wheels, tires, sheet metal and paint jobs as many other shows do.
But SEMA is really 11 shows under one roof of the Las Vegas convention center. Well, actually there are three roofs (it's a big place) and then there are some outdoor exhibits and displays of what tricked-up cars can do with dare-devils behind their wheels.
Forty years ago, the first SEMA event was a rinky-dink hot rod show under the bleachers of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. It relocated to Anaheim for a while. In 1977, it moved to Las Vegas.
It remained pretty much a hot rod customizer show for the first 15 years of its life. It wasn't until 1980 that things started to rev beyond hot rods.
It was 2002 when it really hit the big time by “sectionalizing” into the 11 different shows that it is today. It became clear the growing show had to be divided into sections to maintain order.
Some of the subsection displays are: sport compact cars, tires and wheels, restyling, truck and off-road vehicles, racing and performance, tools and equipment.
Veteran show-goers can definitely see trends. Three years ago, mobile electronics was all the rage and “this section was booked with so many suppliers and sellers that they had to place their booths in different areas of the show just to get floor space,” recalls Peter McGillivary, SEMA's marketing manager.
This year, it was an influx of tools and equipment companies vying for space to showcase their products.
This show is so appealing to such an array of car nuts and gear heads.
It is the exhibits of new accessories and the super-cool sound systems.
It is the stunning car paint jobs that draw the awe of body shop workers.
It is the stupendous suspension systems that are so admired by people who appreciate the inner workings of a car.
It is the multitude of business contacts that can be made. In fact, many car dealers (10% of the attendees are dealership staff) make supplier and installer contacts for specialty items where it makes sense to outsource rather than have their own technicians try to figure it out and spend hours in the process.
Leading that trend are Southern California companies such as Vertical Doors Inc. of Corona, CA, a regular SEMA exhibitor. Account Executive Casey Bremner says many of his clients are car dealers who order the installation of swing-up doors as head-turning enhancements for Cadillacs, Chryslers and Toyotas on their lots.
There's a car customer for everything. And at the SEMA show, you'll see just about everything.
Dave Skrobot is a fixed operations trainer for the Automotive Sales College. He is at [email protected]