It was easy to smell burning rubber outside the Las Vegas Convention Center on Tuesday, as specialty cars did donuts in the parking lot during the first day of the Specialty Equipment Market Association show.
The annual show — billed as one of biggest automotive shows in the country — occupied more than 1 million square feet at the Convention Center, occupying all four halls. And it brought together more than 135,000 attendees in the automotive aftermarket industry to see the newest trends in vehicle repairs and modifications.
“Everybody comes here and it gets people talking,” Alex Armijo, owner of Denver, Colorado company 5280 Vinyl, said. “You can make the name of your company known.”
This year’s show, which ends Friday, features over 1,800 exhibitors and about 2,000 vehicles, according to Tom Gattuso, vice president of events for SEMA.
Exhibitors included automakers Stellantis, Toyota and, for the first time, Volkswagen. Attendees were also able to take part in drift ride-alongs presented by eBay Motors as well as other demonstrations.
Many of the cars on display showed off atypical modifications including snowmobile tracks on a classic AMC Gremlin X, racing wheels on a Tesla Model Y and height extensions to a GMC Sierra.
‘Mecca for the industry’
“I came here for the first time last year and I left with over 500 photos on my phone,” Armijo said. “And I didn’t even get to see everything.”
Armijo was back to attend SEMA, helping to get the modified AMC Gremlin X ready for the show. His company applied vinyl to the 12 cars sponsored by Quake LED, which included the AMC Gremlin X.
Armijo said it took about three weeks to prepare the vehicles, but he signed on 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. About 140 countries are represented at SEMA this year, according to Gattuso.
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 when I was young all I heard about was SEMA, even before the internet” Ken Klassen said. “It’s the mecca for this industry.”
Klassen said the pair were mostly focused on off-road products but variety of products on display is still helpful for the business.
“Customers always ask about and want a lot of different things like detailing, interiors and wheels,” Ken Klassen said. “So SEMA is good for us because it has the best of the best in products and has a lot of variety.”
Touting car culture
A keynote talk Tuesday morning, moderated by Chris Jacobs from the car makeover show “Overhaulin’,” featured the cast of Kevin Hart’s latest series “Kevin Hart’s Muscle Car Crew,” which follows Hart and his friends as they start a classic car club. While Hart wasn’t in attendance, the cast was on hand to discuss the show — noting that they’re still novices when it comes to speciality cars but SEMA provides a space for them to grow as muscle car owners.
“I want to see all the new innovations, see everything when it comes to the innovation and the whole graduation of these cars and where they’re at now. Because coming from 1965, or whatever the year is, to now to 2022, it’s completely different,” said John Clausell, cast member of “Kevin Hart’s Muscle Car Crew.”
There was a second keynote speech later in the day 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 co-owner of a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, will be giving a keynote address moderated by Jacobs.
SEMA also includes insider talks about trends within the automotive industry from how to convert classic cars to be powered by electricity to using social media platforms such as TikTok in marketing strategies.
There will be 70 education sessions with 14 different areas of focus or tracks with the intention to address areas of new focus for the auto industry, according to Gattuso.
Convention-goers can also expect several automotive competitions such as the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Competition, where teams of students try to build a car engine, and the Battle of the Builders competition that sees who can build the best custom car in four different categories.
“The SEMA Show is a reflection of the $51 billion automotive specialty equipment industry. Manufacturers rely on the show to debut their new products, which enhance the performance and styling of cars, trucks and SUVs. Buyers represent retails and businesses that are looking for new products that their customers will purchase,” Gattuso said in an email to the Review-Journal.
The trade show event will open its doors to the public on Friday and to its after-party, SEMA Ignited. Tickets range from $70-$100 and can be bought online at semaignited.com.