Story by Jen Pennington
Photos by Robert J. Pennington
The SEMA 2011 show held at the Las Vegas Convention Center is one of the biggest automotive venues in the world. SEMA stands for the Specialty Equipment Manufacturing Association, and has something for every kind of car or truck enthusiast. While the event is not open to the general public, the press, exhibitors and buyers from all over the world come to see and show the latest and greatest in after-market spare parts and accessories. The event is overwhelming and with so many incredible custom cars from amazing body shops, the eye candy keeps your dead-tired feet moving from booth to booth. The creativity alone is awe-inspiring. In amongst the loud displays of speakers, products being showcased, celebrity appearances and the high-pitch squeal of drifting tires on the Ford race-track outside, it’s one of the few places where smaller companies looking to get noticed can play in the big leagues with industry giants like Ford, GM, and Toyota.
Two years ago, there was a bigger play for a greener audience but attendance was relatively shy. This year, with over 500 new exhibitors showing their wares, you would never know we were in a recession. Though the place was packed, eco-friendly products were much harder to find. This seems at odds with the amount of “green” press releases and focus coming out of the 2011 LA car show soon to take place in a few weeks. It would seem as if there’s a disconnect between what after-market suppliers see as their customers now and how they will address the changing nature of their business in years to come.
With much of the focus in the show given towards restoration of classics, and muscle cars, this year there was an interesting twist around taking a reasonably-priced, high gas mileage car like the Toyota Scion and customizing it to suit a much younger audience. Though these customizations are hardly reasonably priced to be sure.
So why would two seemingly eco-friendly, sustainability-seeking people go to a gas guzzling event like this? Because it’s about new technology, new ideas, and performance-enhancing rides getting better gas mileage. It’s about one-up-manship product design on an uber level, and this is what the industry needs. It’s also about creating better environments for workers with less toxic materials in the shop. We need that competitive drive to do better from what is learned on the racetrack and in the top custom shops to our much less glamorous individual rides and fleets. Amongst all the fabulous design and body work there are some real gems making difference, you just have to be willing to look for them.