This year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas drew record crowds and stirred up a buzz throughout the industry and among car-lovers, as only outlandish accessories and custom vehicle builds can. While I didn’t have the pleasure of going out west for SEMA 2019, my colleague Greg Kopf, CARiD’s Brand Ambassador, visited the show with some members of our team to take in the sites and record some awesome video content.
Naturally, I was dying to hear about the show. As soon as Greg returned, I caught up with him on the biggest trends and where the industry is headed in general.
Takeaway #1: SEMA 2019 Doubles Down On Electrification
With increased consumer focus placed on sustainable products and devices, it’s not surprising that the car industry is in the midst of a serious electrification movement. According to Greg, at this year’s SEMA, it was clear that both the aftermarket and OE manufacturers have noted the inevitability of electric power.
Of course, it’s still SEMA, so things are always exciting and powerful! Electric motors at this show are more about their performance capabilities than about their low carbon footprint. But the move toward electric power, even in the form of flashy concepts, is overall a step forward for the industry that we can expect to continue seeing at shows for years to come.
Ford & Chevy Displayed EV Muscle
Speaking of concepts, Greg had a few favorites to share from the electrification side. “The Ford Mustang Lithium is a perfect combination of driving excitement and environmental friendliness,” he told me. For this concept, Ford teamed up with a company called Webasto, who built the car using their electric motors and lithium batteries. The result is a model with 900 horsepower and 1000 lb-ft. of torque through a six-speed manual transmission – something you rarely see in EVs!
On the flipside, Chevy took a very different approach to electrification by converting an old-school pickup to all-electric. “From 20 paces away, you’d have no idea that this thing doesn’t have a tire-smoking, fuel-injected internal combustion engine,” Greg said. This trend of “hiding” an electric powertrain within a rodded and modded exterior is starting to take off in other vehicle segments.
Takeaway #2: The Next Frontier For Trucks Is Overlanding
I was not at all surprised that trucks were a big hit at SEMA 2019. As a class of vehicles, they have been ruling the industry lately and the options for customization and modification make them perfect for SEMA. Another trend within truck design and ownership is a shift in the way trucks are being used – more drivers own trucks as a cultural or status symbol than for work purposes these days.
A large number of trucks, modified for off-roading, occupied a lot of floor space at SEMA, but many of these were purpose-built: trucks for rock-climbing, trucks for sandy deserts, trucks for mud-crawling, etc. This year, Greg told me, the concept of overlanding took SEMA by force. “Unlike rock crawling or mudding, overlanding has taken off because it’s essentially off-roading with the purpose of reaching a destination and enjoying the adventure as you go,” he said.
SEMA 2019 displayed trucks equipped to handle the elements, while also being able to haul tents and all the necessary accouterments for sleeping under the stars. Greg and I both agree this trend is no doubt driven by some recent and upcoming vehicle releases in the truck segment: the Jeep Gladiator, for one, as well as the highly-anticipated return of the Ford Bronco.
Takeway #3: SEMA 2019 Showed Performance For The Modern Age
It’s quite possible the aftermarket was born when the earliest hot-rodders took Ford Model A’s and built high-boys and low-boys with souped-up engines. Of course, the manufacturers launched the muscle-car era in the 1960s. Increased insurance costs, a 55-mph national speed limit, and strangling emissions equipment were only temporary setbacks. Today’s engineers have the ways and means to reintroduce high-horsepower beasts with the help of state-of-the-art electronics, turbochargers, and larger and larger engines.
The aftermarket has ridden this wave all along, and as per
Greg, the 2019 SEMA show proved that yet again. For both the OEs and the
third-party companies, you’re not on the performance map unless you’ve got something
that can reach 1,000 horsepower.
“To me, it’s as if the entire muscle car movement has been relaunched,” Greg said. “Today’s hot-rodders can combine gas and electric into super-beasts, with the gas engine powering the rear wheels while electric motors power the front. It’s the best of all worlds!”
SEMA 2019: Special & Celebrity Guests
Greg gave a special shout out to none other than Jay Leno, a well-known classic car aficionado. At SEMA this year, he displayed a 1968 Ford Bronco in tribute to Ford bringing back the Bronco name. “From the outside, it appears to be your average concours restoration with subtle custom changes,” Greg explained. “But under the hood, he decided to stuff in the all-new 5.2-liter supercharged engine used in the GT500, which produces an insane 760 horsepower.”
Takeaway #4: The Death of Cars Was Greatly Exaggerated
Forget what you read about automakers getting out of the sedan business in favor of trucks, crossovers, and SUVs! Okay . . . maybe don’t completely forget about it, because buyers are still plunking down their hard-earned cash for bigger vehicles. However, from the aftermarket’s point of view, cars continue to provide a level of excitement and interest that even all the trucks in the world cannot smother.
Greg was enthralled to see that SEMA had plenty of old and new cars on display, all of them customized to within an inch of their lives, as is to be expected at such a show! Paint schemes, wheels and tires, custom interiors, graphics, external add-ons, and of course drivetrain mods that proved everyone still likes cars as much as trucks.
After he took in all the sights, Greg let me know there’s no better example that cars are still in the game than the brand-new Toyota Supra. Multiple copies of this car dotted the SEMA show floor, done up like it was the belle of the ball – something that was both surprising and exciting for industry insiders.
“The mainstream automotive press lambasted this car for its awkward styling and BMW engine,” Greg explained. “It was pretty cool to see so much love for the Supra from the aftermarket at SEMA.”
If the aftermarket can embrace a two-door, impractical, relatively expensive sports car with Japanese skin and a German heart, then you will have a hard time convincing me that cars are on their death bed!
SEMA 2019 & Beyond
For yet another year, the aftermarket remains strong as American consumers seek out ways to customize their cars and trucks. There’s certainly no shortage of wild sights and modifications at SEMA. However, the broader trends, like electrification and performance upgrades, are already making their way from the SEMA floor to the dealership showroom. We think this will only continue into 2020 and beyond, and we’re excited to see what comes next!
Richard Reina is the Product Training Director for CARiD.com. He enjoys restoring and driving old cars with a special love for anything Italian. Richard is also passionate about music and is a huge Beatles fan.