SEMA is back! The annual Specialty Equipment Market Association show, which was canceled in 2020, will be held this year at its traditional location at the Las Vegas Convention Center. This year’s dates are November 2nd through the 5th. And with a newly expanded hall able to accommodate a greater number of vendors, SEMA 2021 will be bigger than ever.
The enthusiast press makes much of this show as a harbinger of trends from both the aftermarket (its traditional vendor base) and the OEM vehicle manufacturers.
What started in the early ‘60s as a small group of speed enthusiasts (SEMA originally stood for Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association) today has over 6,000 corporate members. What is often overlooked, though, is that this is a trade show, and attendance is limited to those employed in the industry. To quote from SEMA’s website, “You must work in the specialty-equipment aftermarket. The show isn’t open to the general public.”
While this sounds disappointing to enthusiasts who would love nothing more than a chance to walk the miles of aisles in Vegas, we are here to provide you with a sneak preview of what to expect at SEMA 2021. Much of the excitement now comes straight from the manufacturers. However, aftermarket companies still take up the bulk of the square footage. Below are just some of the highlights that this year’s attendees will enjoy.
Vehicle Manufacturers In The Spotlight
What we used to call the domestic “Big Three” – General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler – will all have custom vehicles on display at SEMA this year.
The GM brand leading the charge is Chevrolet, and fans of the bowtie division will not be disappointed. Vehicles will run the gamut from sports cars to trucks, from cars of the ‘60s to cars of today, and horsepower produced by both old-school gasoline and new-technology electric batteries. The announcement from GM is that we can expect over a dozen Chevy cars and trucks to be on site this year.
Ford plans to introduce its own twist on “crate motors,” but instead of strokers, they’re talking about electric crate motors. The idea is to make it easier to convert a car originally built with an internal combustion engine (ICE) into an EV. Up until now, a significant amount of fabrication has been required for such a conversion. Ford’s plan, presumably for existing Ford products, is to sell a “bolt-in” motor with a much more straightforward installation process. Ford has been mum on the details, but we are excited to see what they will unveil at SEMA. We are also excited to see Ford’s latest custom Bronco builds at SEMA 2021.
Stellantis is the former FCA (Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles) which is the former Daimler-Chrysler . . . you get the idea. In addition to Chrysler, the principal U.S. brands under this umbrella are Dodge, Ram, and Jeep. You probably know that Ram and Jeep are hot right now. Mopar Performance has teased us with several shadowy images. While lacking detail, these teasers seem to show a Jeep Hybrid Wrangler outfitted for overlanding, and several Ram pickups, including a TRX at a campsite. These brands are known for wowing us at product launches, so we are excited to see what shows up at SEMA 2021.
Other Automakers at SEMA 2021
While we do not have details at this moment, we know from SEMA’s published participation list that Honda, Nissan, and Toyota will also be represented at the show. Perhaps it is equally noteworthy that no other Asian manufacturer and none of the European manufacturers will be at SEMA. That would include such well-known makes as Subaru, Hyundai, Porsche, and BMW.
This is not meant as a criticism: it is important to state that there are still COVID-19 travel restrictions, and some of these companies possibly could not gain clearance for representatives to travel. However, independent aftermarket companies may display some of these vehicles. Still, it’s clear that it’s the domestic Big Three who will dominate.
SEMA 2021 PRO Cup Challenge
The SEMA PRO Cup Challenge is designed to highlight the advantages of accessorizing new vehicles. The target audience for this challenge is new car dealers and those in the accessory marketing business. Ground rules require mods that can be done in less than 40 hours at a cost of under $12,500. Judges will consider factors such as consumer appeal, ease of workmanship, and profit potential to the dealers and marketers.
Vehicles entered into this year’s challenge include a 2021 Chevy Silverado, 2020 Ford F-150, 2021 Ford Bronco, 2020 Jeep Gladiator, 2021 Kia Telluride, 2021 Kia Sorrento, and a 2022 VW Atlas. Compared to more lavish builds, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, these more affordable mods tied to some of the most popular new vehicles on the market today should have broad appeal to all show-goers. Attendees will even have the chance to vote for their “Fan Favorite” among the seven. The real-world application of these accessories should make the PRO Cup Challenge one of the more popular events this year.
OEM Collision Repair Technology Summit
An important but overlooked part of every SEMA event is the segment dedicated to collision repair. It is hosted by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). While lacking the flashy bling of chrome wheels or oversized exhaust, fixing bent sheet metal is a critical part of the automotive aftermarket. The SCRS represents over 6,000 collision repair shops and over 58,000 professionals.
As vehicles have become more complex, so has the work involved to repair them. Everything from advanced electronics to modern materials like aluminum and carbon fiber makes collision repair that much more complicated. Add to that the large-scale switch to EVs, and you can begin to appreciate how body shop employees need to be continually educated. This year, three EV manufacturers, GM, Lucid Motors, and Rivian, will field representatives to take part in a panel discussion.
They will share information about the uniqueness of their EV platforms, how they differ from ICE cars, and what kinds of changes the collision repair industry can anticipate as more EVs occupy our roadways. Of course, everyone benefits when industry leaders are willing to sit down with each other to better both employees and car owners. It is especially rewarding to see two start-ups like Lucid and Rivian so willing to become a recognized voice in the industry.
Hunter To Showcase Mobile Tire Equipment
Here’s a brand name well-known within the tire business but likely unfamiliar to casual consumers and enthusiasts: Hunter, formally the Hunter Engineering Company. They have been specializing in tire-changing and balancing equipment since 1946 and have kept pace with the times by offering more and more sophisticated machinery to meet the demands of vehicle owners and tire shops.
At SEMA 2021, Hunter will display a new tire changer designed for on-the-road service work. By designing this machine so it can be bolted to the floor of a van, a tire technician can travel to the vehicle rather than vice-versa. Think of the advantages: no need to mount a spare tire if a tire is blown out; no need to take time away from work or home obligations; and in this world of exceptional customer care and continued social distancing, the ability to dispatch the repair to the vehicle is a win-win for all parties. It may not sound glamourous, but when you need it, you will be glad that such a mobile tire service exists.
Finding the classic car of your dreams isn’t impossible, but where do you start? Should you look to a dealer or a private seller? Should you take your chances with the auction? What questions should you ask before signing any paperwork on an older car?
Whether you are entering the hobby for the first time, or you are a seasoned veteran, The Collector Car Hobby by Richard Reina covers everything you need to know, from researching your find to keeping it maintained, so you can drive it for years to come. This free e-book is a must for everyone who is immersed in the collector car hobby.
It’s been said that today’s youth determine our future, which is especially true of the automotive industry and hobby. Pundits have long predicted that today’s youngsters do not share the passion for four-wheeled treasures as their parents and grandparents did. SEMA is out to prove them wrong.
Battle of the Builders (BOTB) is a competition among hundreds of today’s most talented custom car builders, all of whom have cars on display at SEMA. There are four categories: Hot Rod, Sport Compact, Truck/Off-Road, and Young Guns. The Young Guns category encourages youngsters aged 27 and younger who otherwise might not have a path into this kind of work. SEMA sought out applicants from across the country, judges conducted interviews about their builds, and three winners were selected.
These lucky young people will have their vehicles shipped to Las Vegas for the competition and receive an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the show. Talk about a wow factor! Whether they win the BOTB or not, these talented builders have already won, and they serve as shining examples of what today’s youths can accomplish.
Full SEMA 2021 Schedule
If you’re lucky enough to be attending SEMA 2021, wear comfortable shoes and enjoy the show! If you need a refresher on the full schedule, you can find it here. And if you’re not going, we hope that our little preview has whetted your appetite for the sights and sounds that are sure to be a hit at SEMA 2021.
Richard Reina is the Product Training Director for CARiD.com, and Automoblog’s resident expert on the classic and collector car market. He enjoys restoring and driving old cars with a special love for anything Italian. Richard is the author of The Collector Car Hobby, a guidebook for finding and enjoying the classic car of your dreams.