SO MUCH TO SEE, SO LITTLE TIME
SEMA 2016 Takes Over Las Vegas

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By Glenn Oyoung

Even for jaded industry old-timers, SEMA is always a somewhat stunning smorgasbord of dazzling show cars and trucks, shiny new products, and throngs of car-loving humanity. To cap it off, it’s set with the backdrop of Vega’s buffet of various and sundry temptations including $4.99 prime rib and nightly industry parties.

This year I was only able to make it for 1.5 days, most of which were spent in educational sessions and meetings. (I’m all grown up…cue sad trombone sound.) In between my lofty pursuits I was able to power-walk my way through the aisles, no small feat at SEMA, and make a few observations. Here they are, in no particular order:

Sport compact is back

I’m not sure when it left the building, but it’s back with a vengeance. Honda’s Civic Type R is finally stateside, Ford and various is running the tables with it’s Focus, supported by countless aftermarket companies including Mountune, Toyota’s Scion brand might be gone but the 86 née FR-S is still looking great, and Hyundai continues its push with increasingly more attractive products.

It’s good to see the hot rod scene I grew up in the 90′s back in action in a big way.

The classics never go out of fashion

From resto-mods to purists, from the latest Chip Foose creation to the Marmon Wasp – the quantity and quality of classic cars, hot rods, and vintage race cars at SEMA seems to be at an all-time high. It’s easy to see why. In the era of increasingly strict crash standards there’s something aesthetically liberating about cars designed to simply look great. I see this every month in my Carcadia at Route 66 car meet-up – it doesn’t matter how old you are. Everyone can respect and appreciate a cool looking hot-rod.

Keep on Truckin’

This isn’t new news, but trucks & SUVs continue to dominate the aftermarket landscape. In an industry where margins have been compressed due to the explosion of internet retailers, new price-driven brands, and a battle for the attention span (and wallets) of consumers, truck & SUV buyers are a safe haven. It’s not uncommon for truck owners to spend tens of thousands on their suspension alone, whereas many car owners might spring for springs (see what I did there?) and that’s about it. More importantly, with gasoline prices down the demand for trucks and SUVs is beyond red hot. Ergo a literal army of heavily modified trucks were spotted in every nook and cranny of SEMA – from the North Hall to the South Hall and everywhere in between.

It was actually very interesting to compare and contrast the trends going on in the truck space by looking at the trucks at the BFGoodrich and DUB displays outside. On the BFG side, predictably, there were many of the race trucks competing in the SCORE series. At the invitation of BFG, I was able to watch these trucks in their natural habitat at the Baja 1000 qualifiers outside of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. No question they haul you-know-what and are built for 100% function.

On the other end of the spectrum were the trucks on the DUB side. I don’t doubt for a second their capability or the quality of the build. These trucks had the best of the best on them and on top of that you could eat off of them. I don’t know if any of them have ever seen the trail, but it doesn’t matter because most trucks in America don’t. These owners are equally passionate about their trucks and their corner of the automotive universe.

It’s very interesting to see two radically different interpretations of the same platform. At the end of the day that is what SEMA, and more broadly speaking, car culture is all about. We may not have the same taste, but we are all in the minority of the world’s population that doesn’t see cars as mere appliances to shuttle us from point A to point B.

I hope when autonomous cars are in fact doing the driving, SEMA will still be there for those of us who choose to hold on to at least one of our internal combustion hot rods for weekend driving and cars & coffee.

Photos by Albert Wong