It was easy to smell burning rubber outside the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday as specialty cars rolled donuts in the parking lot on day one of the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
The annual show — billed as one of the largest auto shows in the country — occupied more than 1 million square feet at the convention center and occupied all four halls. And it brought together more than 135,000 attendees from the automotive aftermarket industry to see the latest trends in vehicle repairs and modifications.
“Everyone comes here and it gets people talking,” said Alex Armijo, owner of 5280 Vinyl in Denver, Colorado. “You can get your company’s name out there.”
According to Tom Gattuso, vice president of events at SEMA, this year’s show, which ends Friday, features over 1,800 exhibitors and about 2,000 vehicles.
Among the exhibitors were the car manufacturers Stellantis, Toyota and, for the first time, Volkswagen. Attendees were also able to take part in drift ride-alongs presented by eBay Motors and other demonstrations.
Many of the cars on display featured atypical modifications, including snowmobile tracks on a classic AMC Gremlin X, racing wheels on a Tesla Model Y, and height extenders on a GMC Sierra.
“Mecca of the Industry”
“I came here for the first time last year and left with over 500 photos on my phone,” said Armijo. “And I haven’t even seen it all.”
Armijo was back to attend SEMA and help get the modified AMC Gremlin X ready for the show. His company wrapped vinyl on the 12 Quake LED-sponsored cars, including the AMC Gremlin X.
Armijo said it took about three weeks to get the vehicles ready, but he signed up because SEMA has a reputation for building brand awareness for participating companies.
SEMA’s popularity in the industry also attracts visitors from around the world. According to Gattuso, around 140 countries are represented at SEMA this year.
Airdrie Truck Accessories buyers Ken Klassen and his son Matthew traveled from Airdrie, Canada just outside of Calgary to attend SEMA.
“I’m 60 years old and I only heard about SEMA when I was young, even before the Internet,” said Ken Klassen. “It’s the Mecca for this industry.”
Klassen said the pair is primarily focused on off-road products, but the variety of products on display is still helpful to the business.
“Customers are always asking and wanting a lot of different things like details, interiors and wheels,” said Ken Klassen. “So SEMA is good for us because it offers the best products from the best and a lot of variety.”
Advertising for car culture
A keynote speech Tuesday morning, hosted by Chris Jacobs of the car makeover show Overhaulin’, introduced the cast of Kevin Hart’s latest series Kevin Hart’s Muscle Car Crew, which saw Hart and his friends create a classic car clubs follows. While Hart wasn’t in attendance, the cast were on hand to discuss the show – noting that they’re still newbies when it comes to specialty cars, but SEMA gives them a space to shine as muscle car owners to grow.
“I want to see all the new innovation, see everything as far as innovation and all the graduation of these cars and where they are now. Because going from 1965 or whatever the year is to 2022 is completely different,” said John Clausell, cast member of Kevin Hart’s Muscle Car Crew.
Later in the day there was a second keynote address from three-time National Hot Rod Association World Champion Antron Brown, moderated by FOX Sports reporter Amanda Busick.
On Friday, NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, who recently became a co-owner of a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, will deliver a keynote speech moderated by Jacobs.
SEMA also includes insider talks on trends in the automotive industry, from electrifying classic cars to using social media platforms like TikTok in marketing strategies.
According to Gattuso, there will be 70 training sessions with 14 different focus areas, or tracks, with the intention of addressing new focus areas for the auto industry.
Convention-goers can also expect several automotive competitions, such as the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow competition, in which teams of students try to build a car engine, and the Battle of the Builders competition, in which four different categories determine who will build the best custom car can.
“The SEMA Show is a reflection of the $51 billion automotive specialty equipment industry. Manufacturers rely on the show to showcase their new products that improve the performance and styling of cars, trucks and SUVs. Buyers represent retailers and businesses looking for new products that their customers will buy,” Gattuso said in an email to the review journal.
The trade show event opens its doors to the public and to the after-party SEMA Ignited on Friday. Tickets range from $70 to $100 and can be purchased online at semaignited.com.
Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at firstname.lastname@example.org. consequences @seanhemmers34 on twitter.