The annual show of aftermarket excess and motoring US financial crisis, write Trent Nik
ECESSION? What recession? That was the question most industry insiders were asking as soon as the doors opened on the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) display.
The 2008 and 2009 shows were significantly quieter with attendances and trade participation down from the 2007 extravaganza.
But early bookings and attendance this year up 11 per cent from 2009 indicate things in the motoring industry are looking up Stateside.
And if the amount of ridiculous accessories on display was any indication, there is still plenty of money to be spent on customising cars in the US.
SEMA is the premier specialty products trade event and is not open to the general public.
Almost 200,000 traders packed the halls over four days to take a first look at everything that is hot this year for modifying, restoring and maintaining just about any sort of vehicle you can think of.
The stock in trade of SEMA is the American muscle car, however sport compact — read Japanese — cars also play a large part.
Four-wheel drives are incredibly popular and usually heavily accessorised, and the wheel and tyre hall is characterised by scantily clad promo girls everywhere you turn.
The manufacturers usually put a lot of effort into their displays with customised vehicles featuring on their enormous trade stands.
The stand-outs this year were Chrysler and Ford, which displayed vehicles that represented a broad crosssection of their range.
Toyota’s stand was less impressive than in previous years, but still had a number of tastefully modified examples of its range.
It’s prestige arm, Lexus, let loose some of America’s top custom car specialists to modify its hybrid models for the show.
The result is very un-Lexus — giant rims, f lared wheelarches, dazzling paintwork and outrageous body kits, plus high-performance suspension and brakes.
The gambling capital of the world brings out the daring in some manufacturers which wouldn’t risk showing such outrageous modifications at conventional car shows.
Even staid Swedish manufacturer Volvo has used SEMA to show the street cred of its marque with pimped-up versions of its C30 in recent years.
A highlight of the unorthodox Lexus display was a modded version of the word’s fi rst compact luxury hybrid car. The Mazda2 Evil Track drew plenty of admirers with a full competition race package, including race suspension, roll cage and fire-suppression system, all in a Mazda Design body kit. top-three ranking on the Australian Government’s Green Guide will go into production in December and arrive here early next year.
But it won’t quite look like the SEMA display model with its 18 x 8-inch alloys with Pirelli PZero Nero 225/40R/ 18 tyres, adjustable suspension and shocks, and a high-performance Big Brake Kit, with mighty 12.9 x 11-inch cross-drilled front discs.
The Mazda2 Evil Track drew plenty of admirers with a full competition race package, including race suspension, roll cage and fire-suppression system, all in a Mazda Design body kit.
Hyundai teamed with Mummbles Marketing to customise its luxury sedan, the Equus, with a turbocharged engine, audio and video upgrades and an iPad set up to control many features
in the car, including the power windows, rear curtains t i and d ride id height. h i ht
Chevy dressed up its small cars — the Volt, Cruze and Spark — with Z-spec accessories ranging from flat-bottomed steering wheels to improved front spoilers and a “chrome satin” finish on the grille and wing mirrors.
There was a strong Aussie feel about SEMA this year with numerous custom vehicles, small traders and larger businesses all making the trip to Vegas to show the Americans how things are done Down Under.
Australia is a particularly large player in the off-road market with some of our biggest names respected as the best in the business.
Thanks to our harsh conditions and remote off-road destinations, the thinking is that gear designed and built in this country certainly gets tested to its limit.
One Australian company displaying products at the show is Maxtrax, invented by Brisbane 4WD expert Brad McCarthy.
Maxtrax is a tough piece of orange plastic about the size of a bodyboard which is placed under the wheels of a bogged 4WD for recovery without the use of a snatch strap.
The product has been used by Dakar rally competitors, including Australia’s Bruce Garland.
The overall feeling at the show was one of positivity despite America still working its way out of the worst recession in living memory.
Things are certainly looking up for next year.