Car manufacturers might still be struggling to emerge from the depths of the industry’s worst downturn since the Great Depression, but the so-called “aftermarket” is firing on all cylinders – perhaps in part because of the weak economy.
As reported by MSNBC, with American motorists forced to hang on to their cars longer than normal, they’re spending more on maintenance, and that’s a big portion of the estimated $30 billion in annual revenues generated by some 6,700 car parts manufacturers, distributors and retailers who make up the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).
Car owners can shake off their boredom by dressing up their old car with some new features, perhaps some new alloy wheels, a custom grille, sports seats or even an entirely new, high-performance crate motor, like the one introduced by Chevrolet at this year’s SEMA trade show.
The annual event is a showcase of just about everything automotive — everything from air fresheners to wild (and sometimes wacky) concept vehicles.
Nearly 2,000 different exhibitors crammed into the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center last week to pitch their wares to more than 135,000 wide-eyed attendees from over 100 countries.
“It certainly demonstrates there’s a reason to be optimistic about the future of the auto industry,” said Peter McGillivray, the trade group’s vice president of marketing, as he stared out at one of the convention center’s crowded halls.
With one of the largest stands at the million-square-foot show, Chevrolet created a life-size “Hot Wheels” track to show off a custom Camaro painted in an eye-popping metallic green. Dubbed the “Chevy Hot Wheels Camaro Concept,” it’s currently a one-off for the annual automotive extravaganza, though executives of the carmaker hinted they could find a place for it in the growing Camaro line-up.
MSNBC reported that the Chevrolet display also featured a dozen different concepts based on its new Sonic subcompact — from the Sonic All Activity Vehicle, designed by racing great Ricky Carmichael, to the Sonic Boom, a prototype featuring two large subwoofers and 10 six-inch midrange speakers mounted in the rear hatch in a pair of turbine engine-like clusters.
The annual SEMA show was originally designed as a showcase for automotive suppliers and vendors, and sure enough there were plenty of exhibitors who’ve come up with a great idea, cobbled together a prototype in their garage and showed up hoping to sell some of their new widgets.
But automakers like Chevrolet have also ramped up their presence in recent years.
Chris Perry, Chevy’s vice president of marketing, suggests the show provides “a great canvas” to pitch its products to those who influence market trends. Indeed, SEMA’s McGillivray contends that the show and other organization events “can influence as (many) as one million vehicle purchases a year.”
The SEMA Show has evolved in other ways.
While performance parts — like fast-shifting gearboxes and supercharged motors — were the show’s original focus, there has also been what McGillivray calls a “mind-boggling” growth in the number of vendors showing off their mobile electronics gear.
That’s no surprise. With roads more crowded than ever, fuel prices hovering just below record levels and tough new mileage standards going into effect, motorists are looking for other ways to improve the performance of their cars.
Like completely updating a car’s interior.
“We’ll manufacture the interior in a day” and install it a day later, suggested Brooks Mayberry, the CEO of Katzkin — a SEMA member that produces customized replacement leather seats and finishes for more than 2,000 different vehicles.
The firm recently signed a deal with national dealer chain CarMax to offer both used and new car buyers the chance to upgrade their vehicles. And the company was at SEMA hoping to drum up even more business.