The 2011 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada just wrapped up – but not before providing attendees with a fresh look at car models, aftermarket technology and a return to classic techniques in engaging potential customers. As usual, names like Hyundai and Mopar had cutting-edge custom vehicles and products in their booths as well as knowledgeable personnel on hand to take a deep dive with enthusiasts and buyers on the specs, plans for upcoming models and the strategy behind the engineering and visual tweaks of their vehicles. Further, they employed some Las Vegas-worthy showmanship in revealing the custom cars with a bevy of spokes-models and hidden cars that were uncovered in a well-choreographed Tuesday morning press conference.
Similarly, other manufacturers and OEMs got on board the spokes-model bandwagon this year, with some attendees commenting that they hadn’t seen so many booth ‘babes’ on hand for a number of years. Whether this investment in visual support helps maintain people’s focus on brands and vehicles will have to be evaluated post-show in sales figures and parts demand. But the show wasn’t all flash and flesh. Some of the coolest technology we’ve seen in years has begun to make its way from fringe exhibitors into mainstream vehicles. The Hyundai Veloster was one of the OEM’s three cars to boast the new Blue Link technology. As they state…“Blue Link is Hyundai’s innovative telematics solution.” All I know is that Blue Link allows you to connect your mobile phone to the car and then send text messages via voice and do a whole lot of other cool things. The closest approximation to Blue Link is GM’s OnStar technology, which has been out for a number of years.
Other fun technologies seen at SEMA this year, included car-finish protection (gels, pastes and even lycra sleeves to fit over your side mirrors and front end); hand-made shifter knobs from American Shifter Company (part of the Hoffman Group’s family of aftermarket product firms); and as always, better ways to integrate game systems and entertainment into virtually any vehicle – including the installation of X-Box and HDTV into the hatch of a tiny Fiat 500.
From an attendee perspective…those folks who come to SEMA to find products for retail sales, and in some cases for their own personal use, the show certainly ramped up progressively through the weeklong stay. The first day on the floor was easily navigable, and representatives from all brands were heard wondering about show attendance. That concern was turned on its head during Wednesday and Thursday as legions of car and parts lovers descended on Vegas to make the Convention Center feel more like New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
While there was still room to move and plenty of great tech to see, the winners at SEMA 2011 were the ones who came out early and speak with product representatives. They enjoyed unfettered access to salespeople and were able to literally kick tires without the pressure of dozens of other attendees lining up behind them.
Finally, the one thing I always pay attention to at large conventions – especially those like SEMA, where making an impression is the first step to building a buyer/seller relationship – is the shwag in the booths – the stuff companies give away to promote their products and services. Perhaps it’s the economy, but this year saw far fewer cool gadgets and car-related toys being given away. At last year’s show, practically every manufacturer raffled off iPads and gave away show tickets and other toys. This year was different. The only memorable giveaway I saw on my travels around the Las Vegas Convention Center was a soccer ball from a tire manufacturer in the South Hall.
Ultimately, this is THE show where people in the automotive aftermarket industry gather to collaborate and share their products. It’s the destination for anyone who wants to know what’s next in tech and what’s going to be on the road tomorrow. For my money, I enjoyed the show more this year than in past years, but I’m still hungry to see something that completely blows my doors off in terms of innovation and design.
Were I to rate the 2011 SEMA Show, I’d give it a solid 8 out of 10. Good time, good companies, some memorable products, and overall, a successful show for Automotive Rhythms. Whether it helps the car guys and aftermarket companies sell product, we’ll be able to determine the results over the next few months. See you next year!