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THE ROAD TO SEMA 2009

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Nov 30, 2009

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

THE ROAD TO SEMA 2009 Words and pictures by John Grafman

Is bigger always better? The SEMA Show this year might be smaller, but I think the association would say it's about quality, not quantity. And you know they're right.

THE DRIVE Similarly, the Audi A4, which is not the largest, nor offers up the most horsepower, but it's still on top of it when it comes to quality. Driving the manual six-speed across the desert does something few others do. While others struggle to meet the gas mileage ratings, the A4 with a manual had no trouble exceeding what the window sticker suggests. Cruising along at a clip that matches traffic, this Audi with the easy-shifting stick squeezes out a respectable one mpg better than the listed 30 highway. However, the ride back resulted in 33 mpg, a 10 percent gain. You have to love numbers like that. Recent reviews on LA Car on the Audi A4 parallels this model. The only fly in the ointment is the feel, or lack there of, with regards to the steering, clutch, and shifter. A bit more feel and effort would suit the nature of the sporty sedan. Audi does provide several flavors of the A4 sure to appeal to all. Nevertheless, the aftermarket offers a level of customizing that the OEMs just can't provide. So we're off, boldly going where millions have traveled before.

THE CONVENTION The industry-only convention for the aftermarket business has taken its fair share of lumps. But, given the overall shape of the auto industry, it isn't as bad as one might imagine. 120,000 industry members came to Vegas for this, and 24 percent of the buyers that attend come from outside the country. This shows that the aftermarket is growing worldwide. Some of the mega halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center are reduced in size, but many would hardly know. When we're dealing with a couple million square feet of show floor it's easy to overlook ten thousand feet less here or there. By the numbers, there are more than 1,700 businesses exhibiting at the 2009 SEMA Show. Or, for those that planned to spend all four days and eight hours a day, that comes to just slightly less than one booth a minute. No problem!

The far ends of those humongous halls are sectioned off, so any change is nearly imperceptible except to those really familiar with the show. However, some areas take a bigger beating. It's clearly evident that the world does not need nearly as many wheel manufacturers as we have seen in the past, or at the very least the companies made some hard choices and decided not attend.

Nevertheless, Giovanna again carved out a chunk of floor space for an enclosed booth. While the curtained booth looks impressive from the outside, it's what's on the inside that matters. Alternating colors of light flood the space, but it's the exotic cars dressed in the most amazing wheels in the Giovanna line that catches our eyes. The gorgeous, scantly clad female models do distract show-goers too, but at the end of the day it is hard to take your eyes off of Rolls-Royces, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis that inhabit the booth.

In place of the redundant aftermarket companies are stronger manufacturers with new products. Equally reassuring is that the fun is still there, from the girls to the parties, and the most notable names in the automotive world.

INTO THE NIGHT Kicker the name for earth shaking audio sound, but around this town Kicker is also well known for the gravity defying Big Air Bash. KICKER-sponsored freestyle moto riders, freestyle quad mercenaries - The Bomb Squad, the popular mini-moto race with frequent pileups, 70 mile-per-hour RC cars, music by DJ Impulse, and even spark inducing demos by Makita, as well as displays by Oakley and Monster. Lexani on the same evening creates a buzz with rappers at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. While the recent hotel expansion has drawn its fair share of criticism online, the resident club for live acts is still a fantastic venue. This evening is no exception. Numerous rappers throughout the smoke filled night take the stage. Everything you want in a show from go-go dancers to Flava Flav, live and in person, titillates the masses. The barrages of projected visuals that flash up momentarily remind us of the sponsors in a semi-subliminal way. These after-hour events allow the companies to reach out and drive the message home in a much more effective manner than the show where space is limited, and competitor are lingering about very corner.

THE SHOW Back at the convention, there is no shortage of industry luminaries. While the cars are the center of attention, a careful eye can spot many of the people we've come to know, love, or even despise. A few of those this year are Mario Andretti, George Barris, Michael Castiglione, Will Castro, Rich Evans, Chip Foose, Tanner Foust, Courtney Hanson, Dean Jefferies, and of course Barry Meguiar. Certainly, the show is not just cars and people; it's about the products. The New Products Showcase puts a spotlight on the industry's most recent innovations in performance, function and style. The area now encompasses a massive 25,000 square feet. Of course, that sounds impressive, but that comes in a close second to the 1,400 new products on hand.

Grote took the opportunity to show off a new LED solution, which provides a super thin, one-millimeter thick, flexible strip that allows for LED lighting to be used in ways that were unheard of before. This can easily be incorporated into fabric, headliners, instrument clusters, or really anywhere. It is about as simple to use as possible; even a monkey could do it. Much of the new products are as one would guess related to tech. It may be less cutting edge, but a solid bet is Stanley's new line of power inverters. The company that is synonymous with hand tools has now jumped into a new market with the help of its overseas partners. The Portable Total Power Station lets you go from the beach to the mountains and take household power away from home. A perfect means to power everything from a cell phone to a laptop, or even a mini fridge. Stanley also introduces the first-ever Lithium Ion Jumpstarter that dramatically outperforms current jumpstarter technology. Additionally, a new, rolling, 50 amp battery charger is available to jump-start, recharge and recondition batteries. These are just a couple in an entire line of new tools.

THE CARS On the subject of electric, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X-Prize is showing off several of the contenders in this competition. A few like the familiar Aptera look credible and production ready. One of the others garnering attention is the eVaro (Electric Vehicle with Advanced Regeneration Onboard), which has been accepted as a finalist. Created by Future Vehicle Technologies, formerly known as Fuel Vapor Technologies, this prototype is very distinct with an arrow-like plan-view, and tandem seating with a canopy enclosure that's reminiscent of a winged glider, and perhaps as confining. Local Motors did have a nearly complete car on hand. The manufacturer does have a different business approach than anyone else. Similarly, the car shown also has a style all its own. This rally inspired design will no doubt grab the attention of buyers once it's launched.

Now is the perfect time for tuners to look to alternative power and apply today's technology to them. Banks Engineering is just one such company. Pushing the bounds of diesel is what the company does. As the OEMs begin to see the light and offer high torque, highly fuel efficient diesel motors, Banks is right there offering the parts to squeeze more fun out of every cc. from the activity level at the company's display, I say the public is finally getting it. On the OEM side, Suzuki has an assortment of its new Kizashi upscale sedans. Several of these cars were provided to aftermarket companies that took the small, sporty looking car and tweaked them into proper tuner cars. Delta, with the help of Matt Bernal on design, developed one of the hotter looking Kizashis on the floor. The vivid graphic treatment and accessories make this car pop. This project really shows what the right parts can do.

On the other end of the spectrum, GM shows the new eRod. GM's new crate engine is displayed in a hot 55 Chevy. While another sweet hot rod isn't anything we haven't seen before, one that's cleaner and environmentally friendly is. GM is now pushing the hot rod market to a greener world, one where you can have all the power, and still the skies above will remain blue.

Ford, on news that the company had a profitable quarter, was in a celebratory mood. Was it the news, or perhaps it was the bold cars in its booth? The Ford section was in its usual spot, swallowing up floor space that spanned the width of the hall. Mustangs, like the ones from 3dCarbon (both in Ford's booth and its own) are visually dynamic and have sex appeal that matches the Mustang's street prowess. A Hot Wheels Ford truck and a DeWalt truck express the diversity in which a product can be played with and purpose built.

Taking full advantage of MTV's Pimp My Ride, Ford and Galpin Motors / GAS have combined forces to drive the point home that Ford has the aftermarket parts to do the job. So, Beau Boeckmann, Mad Mike, Diggity Dave, and the rest of the crew rebuild a 60's 'Stang using just aftermarket parts right there in front of everyone on the show floor. This display of both showmanship and craftsmanship is equal parts Hollywood and Motor City.

Ford loyalist Steve Saleen has shown he's an equal opportunity tuner. Steve's SMS Supercars is offering products for the Mustang as well as the Challenger. As successful as these are with supercharged power, I suspect we will see more cars with the SMS touch sooner rather than later.

The Toyota display has plenty to fawn over. Of particular interest is the modified Prius. A quick look at the job done by 5 Axis on one of the high mileage champs and it's safe to say the future doesn't need to be boring just to be efficient. On the other end of the spectrum Lexus has a separate cabana set up just outside to house its new supercar, the LFA. The flowing body is a credit to the design staff and all those involved in bringing this to life. There is no shortage of companies that would love to use this as the starting point for its project. However, it will be hard to improve upon perfection.

THE TOYS Of the thousands of products here, few have the ability to fit on any car, can be swapped from one car to the next, and really explore new territory - the desktop. The GoPro video allows one to take the fun of driving back to the home or office with its digital recording ability. The size of this fits into the palm of anyone's hand and mounts easily to any glass surface. The spherical lens allows even the novice to capture all of the action, from road trips to track days. And yes, believe it or not the company now offers a new HD version. There are more products and cars than most can see in the course of a week, let alone cover in a story. The SEMA Show has it all. However, the real future may be in something a little less tangible. With the proliferation of hand held smart phones we may no longer see our next upgrades in metal or composite. It might very well be in the form of an AP. And the new hot rod shop just might be your local mobile phone retailer. For eons the only numbers that mattered were akin to 0-60, 60-0, or 0-100. Now, the only numbers that might seem to matter are zeros and ones. Are you ready for the future? Buckle up, its here!

For more information on the SEMA show, go to www.sema.org  For LA Car's full review of the Audi A4 2.0T, go to Everyday Art 

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