Translogic heads to the Las Vegas Convention Center for the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association's (SEMA) annual trade show in episode 8.1. SEMA began in Los Angeles in 1963, and back then it was just a small group of hot-rodders, drag racers and performance pioneers. Accordingly, when the SEMA acronym was first coined, the S stood for speed. According to the official SEMA web site, the early founders had a simple goal: "develop uniform standards for certain products used in motorsports competition and promote the industry as a supplier to consumers..." Today, SEMA still operates with those goals in mind but the entire organization and the annual show is much larger. It's been in Vegas since 1977, and the show is Mecca for any and all types of automotive aftermarket products and services including everything from portable navigation systems to racing grade engine hardware to classic muscle car parts and supplies. Think of it this way, SEMA is to automobile customizers and restorers what the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is to gamers, gadget geeks and digital photographers.

While CES gets a fairly high profile due to the mainstream appeal of digital cameras, portable music players and flat screen TVs, the two shows have a similar impact on their respective industries and are both open only to industry professionals rather than the general public. Both shows are held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where SEMA attracts a little more than 100,000 people and about 1,700 vendors, and CES attracts roughly 126,000 people and hosts 2,500 vendors. The mass appeal and generally pricier nature of consumer electronics mean the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) represents about $172 billion worth of business where as the more specialized SEMA represents an industry that does about $34 billion worth of business each year.

SEMA has been drawing an increasing amount of mainstream attention thanks to heavy participation from automakers like Ford, General Motors, Kia, and Toyota. Even alternative transportation concepts have begun popping up at SEMA – we found several exhibitors that just a few years ago would have seemed entirely out of place given the show's bling and speed slant.

  • The Mission One PLE (PLE stands for Premium Limited Edition) electric motorcycle is almost the perfect blending of advanced technology with the expected SEMA speed tweaks. Built by Mission Motors in San Francisco, the Mission One looks futuristic and delivers the performance of today's sport bikes. Top Speed is 150 mph and the AC induction motor delivers 120 lb-ft of torque. To make sure the PLE delivers stopping power and handling on par with gasoline powered sport bikes, Mission Motors gave it adjustable Ohlins suspension, Brembo brakes, and Marchesini wheels. Mission One is also developing other electric vehicle technologies such as drive systems, energy storage and software integration.
  • Wattshocks are similar in principle to the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid race car featured in Translogic episode 7.3. Both recapture kinetic energy that's usually lost as heat, but where the 911 race car recaptures it from braking, Wattshocks uses the up and down motion of a shock absorber and converts that energy to electricity. That electricity can then be sent to the battery pack of a hybrid or electric vehicle or can be used to power a conventional electrical system. The best application is large truck fleets, but at $2,500 per shock, they're not inexpensive.
  • Local Motors is trying to revolutionize the automotive world by allowing anyone who's interested to be involved in the process of designing and building an all new, original car. The community votes on designs, engines and interior details and you can participate in the actual construction of your car should you choose to buy one. For more on Local Motors, check out Translogic episode 1.4.
  • The Peraves E-Tracer is an electric powered vehicle. Technically, it's a motorcycle, but it does have an enclosed body and seating for two people. Based on the gasoline powered Monotracer, the X-Tracer team won a $2.5 million X-Prize award in the Alternative Tandem class. X-Prize winners were required to build production capable cars that achieve 100 mpg or the electric equivalent. Peraves says the E-Tracer's goal is to provide a zero-emissions vehicle that's able to carry two passengers and a weekend's worth of luggage. Top speed is 120 mph but the company says it wants to build a high performance version capable of 200 mph. E-Tracer range is about 150 miles from its 200 pounds of batteries.
  • Edison2's The Very Light Car is the only Automotive X-Prize winner to use an internal combustion engine. Still, they took home $5 million dollars in X-Prize money in the Mainstream vehicle class. That class requires four wheels and seating for four people. Using a turbocharged Yamaha 250-cc gasoline/E85 engine, the team achieved more than 200 mpg by using light weight materials to build a simple, no frills car. The Very Light Car has a top speed of 100 mph and a range of 600 miles from its 6.5 gallon tank.
  • Li-ion Motors' Wave II is a $2.5 million X-Prize winner, this one in the Alternative Side by Side class. It's a battery powered vehicle that Li-ion says can go 120 miles between charges. Unlike the Very Light Car, the Wave II includes a few creature comforts including air-conditioning, satellite navigation and power windows. The company says it plans to build and sell electric cars just like the Wave II. Projected price is about $40,000.
  • Li-ion's Inizio electric sports car is not an X-Prize contender which explains why it doesn't look like it was built in someone's backyard. Li-ion says it's going to mass produce the Inizio, which will have retail price around $139,000. The company says the car goes from 0-60 in less than four seconds. Inside there are leather-covered Recaro seats and what's supposed to be a serious audio system. Estimates in range and top speed seem to vary depending on what web site or magazine you read, but Li-ion Motors says the ultimate goal of the Inizio is to make a car that goes 200 mph and has a 200 mile range.

Click the image below to watch TRANSLOGIC 8.1: SEMA + X Prize Winners:

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