Making a general description of the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) trade show is hard. The annual show, which happens every fall in Las Vegas, has too much variety. This isn't just another car show. It's the turbocharged, tricked-out, souped-up, big-daddy of all automotive shows. Showcasing products from over 2,000 vendors, SEMA is "Automotive Accessories R Us." In more modern parlance, it's where the folks at Overhaulin' and Pimp My Ride go shopping.
Imagine 2 million square feet of display space crisscrossed by miles of aisles filled with nothing but wheeled eye candy. If you could walk the five arena-sized halls at SEMA, you'd find everything from a custom poker table for your new Chrysler minivan to a power-boosting supercharger for your hot-rod Ford Mustang.
Customizing and accessorizing cars and trucks is a multi-billion dollar business, so vendors and merchants large and small come to Las Vegas every fall to browse and buy the latest products. With major manufacturers and famous customizers showcasing their latest creations, SEMA is the place to see trends months and even years before they hit the street.
Unfortunately, regular folks aren't allowed into SEMA, because it's an industry-only show. But AOL Autos was able to get access so we could give you a tour of all that shines and has loud exhaust pipes.
See hundreds of photos in our galleries, read about the celebrities of SEMA and more. Full 2007 SEMA Coverage
For a better understanding of SEMA, here's a little history: SEMA was formed as an industry organization back in 1963. The organization's first sponsored show was first held in 1967. Its 98 booths showcased high-performance "go fast" parts such as camshafts, headers, pistons and the like. It's grown dramatically from these humble beginnings when there were just 3,000 attendees.
Today, SEMA completely takes over the enormous Las Vegas Convention Center. More than 2,000 customized vehicles are on display, plus tens of thousands of products from exhibitors hailing from across the globe. Some 50,000 buyers show up to walk the aisles so they can stock their stores with the latest and greatest automotive accessories.
Auto manufacturers use SEMA to pump up the public's interest in their newest or soon-to-be-introduced products and vehicles. Toyota stood out this year as SEMA's official Vehicle Manufacturer. They used the event to show their all-new 2009 Matrix (Read about the 2009 Toyota Matrix debut at SEMA) and Corolla (Read about the 2009 Toyota Corolla debut at SEMA). Toyota's Lexus division also introduced their new line of custom-engineered high-performance parts. Who would have thought you could put $3,000 carbon-ceramic brakes on your Lexus right at the dealer, or make a regular-Joe Carolla look like a runway model? This is the beauty of the aftermarket and what SEMA showcases: ways for every vehicle owner to make their ride stand out from the crowd.
General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, Honda, Kia and Hyundai also used SEMA to present future production models or highly-customized show vehicles as wild as the Pontiac Solstice Speedster to near-production-ready versions of future cars already tricked out by top designers, such as the Ford Flex by Chip Foose.
While the cars and trucks might look like pure automotive fantasy, careful observers note that some features may reach showroom floors in years to come, whether in the form of add-on options or design changes included right from the manufacturer.
A great example of this is the larger wheels and tires you see on cars and SUVs today. This trend showed up at SEMA over a decade ago when customizers tricked out their rides to give the cars a more aggressive look and, in most cases, better handling. Regular consumers caught on and the demand grew. Now you can get light-weight tuner wheels for your Civic Si or chrome rims up to 22 inches on your Ford F-150 pickup all from the factory. (Take a look: The Wheels at the 2007 SEMA Show)
SEMA's data watchers tell us that the overwhelming reason people accessorize their vehicle is to make their vehicle more "their own." Some drivers do it with something as simple as a pair of fuzzy dice, while others spend tens of thousands on complete makeovers. The market calls this "vehicle personalization," and it accounts for 43% of accessories purchases. The next largest segment focuses on making vehicles go faster or handle better (13%). Those who restore vehicles also make a huge contribution, at 12%. Hot rodders, a classification that attracts so much attention because their vehicles are so unique, account for a small but significant 1% of total sales.
SEMA estimates that aftermarket commerce totals almost $37 billion, so there's certainly room for everybody in a segment of the economy that is so large. Who ever thought that there was so much money in mud flaps, lights, oil changes, wheels and tires? If you've ever purchased any type of accessory, even something as simple as an air freshener, you're part of this billion-dollar figure.
Our full coverage of SEMA 2007 will give you a fun and comprehensive look at the best of what's on display in Las Vegas. Start here
About the author: Rex Roy is a Detroit-based automotive writer and journalist. His new book, Motor City Dream Garages, will be on shelves in November.