SEMA Show 2004 Coverage

What an Adventure!
By Vernon Brandt

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I got to go on an adventure this week!

I’ve been involved in the sport of four-wheeling for almost 30 years now, and I just got to go to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas for the first time! I have many friends in the industry, including press and manufacturers, and I have heard much about SEMA over the years, but have never attended for one reason or another. One of those friends asked me to go with him this year and all the cards fell right, so off I went.

I had been told that the SEMA Show was large, and that there were other things to see there besides products for the off-road markets. This year’s show was dubbed “An International Industry Sensation” for a reason. From where I sit right now (the airport in Vegas), I can say that until you’ve been to the show, chances are good that you might underestimate both the size and the importance of the SEMA Show.

For those wondering, SEMA is the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association. The main SEMA Show is held once a year at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The location for this particular show is always Vegas, and the time of year is always roughly the same. It is not a traveling show. It is for the folks directly involved in the flow of specialty equipment to the end users. The general public does not get to attend.

The 2003 show had roughly 105,000 industry professionals in attendance. They tell me that the 2004 show has already set a new record for both attendance and displays.

SEMA has 5,727 members, including Rockcrawler.com, that represent a 29 billion dollar industry that has grown 89.10 percent since 1994. That is an average growth of 8.9 percent per year.

SEMA is not just about putting on a show each year. Its primary function is an association of like-minded folks and companies and corporations. They lobby in Washington for things that not only concern them but also affect us and our ability to enjoy our hobby. In addition, SEMA also offers members measuring sessions with new vehicles, educational seminars, industry information and many other resources.

2004 SEMA ShowThe trip went like this for me. I left Fort Collins, met up with Mike, and then it all started with the New Products Awards Breakfast on Tuesday morning. As we walked into the first building after registration, there were rows of glass display cases. In those cases were over 1100 new (as in new for this year alone) automotive products. Come to find out as we walked around the exhibits, there were a lot more new products then those in the cases.

The awards breakfast was all about acknowledgement. Ford was the featured manufacturer and they had a great slideshow presentation of their history and involvement in hot rodding and customizing cars. Awards were given in 12 categories, from best new tool and interior accessory, to how products were packaged and displayed.

After the awards, it was off to the races. We left the awards and headed to the off-road industry section to get an idea of where the off-road crowd fit into the scheme of this year’s event and how the market is viewed.

In the parking area, right in front of the entire event there was a man-made course for rockcrawling! Designed and hosted by UROC, they invited some of what are considered the best competition crawlers in the country to do demonstration driving. They invited press folks to do some driving, as well, and I think we will see an article about the new rig from Rhino Off Road by Mike soon.

The course was very well-made and the obstacles were well-placed and not easy. The building of the course used the same tech used at the big Super Crawl in Utah this year.

2004 SEMA ShowThe crowd really seemed to enjoy the action. The drivers were doing burnouts (front or rear wheel drive only at times), creating huge plums of smoke, doing doughnuts, and stacking their rigs on each other on the big obstacle. They were barking the motors to full throttle and even had a couple of rollovers!

Some things that I noted on the logistics side of things, were that with the shear number of people involved in this event, and especially with live rockcrawling and drifting demondstations elsewhere, there were no emergency personnel, with the exception of one older lady that was the nurse for all those attending. The second thing I noticed was that there was not anything to clean up oil spills that were a part of the rollovers. There are products out there for the OHV community to use for spill clean up, yet they were sadly absent. And the crowd did not get a chance to see the final step in righting a roll, which should be the clean up. As part of education for the public I would hope that next year this would be part of the action.

After we ran around the off-road area we branched out to the other areas. At the SEMA Show you can find tools and cleaning products, tires and vehicle manufactures. You can find electronics from go-fast chips and onboard diagnostics to GPS units of all types, cutting edge tech from nitrogen for tires to touch screens on the GPS units. There was a new entry into the onboard welder market and stereo and video equipment than you can imagine.

There was a section for the restoration folks, and then of course, lighting and wheels. Can you say bling?

2004 SEMA ShowWe saw the only D.O.T. approved beadlocks on one of Brad Kilby’s Onboard Air rigs, and BFG now has tires in 18 and 20 inch sizes. We saw paint jobs on rigs that are beyond description, from the ones that have you scratching your head to the one that put a lump in my throat - a truck called “Heroes.” We saw one-off rigs from the auto makers and plenty of concepts and prototypes of lots of good ideas.

There were also the super stars: Jay Leno, Snoop Dog, Hulk Hogan, Johnny Rutherford, Walker Evans, Mario Andretti, and I think we even saw a hip hop artist doing a video.

We saw several popular cable shows being shot on-site, like Pimp My Ride and American Chopper and we saw many of the folks that you read in print covering the show.

It seems that the SEMA Show draws folks from all walks of life with the one connection being the connection to the automotive culture. And did I mention the girls? It was noted that the show is getting more woman to come in as part of the displays, and the girls themselves were signing autographs and having their pictures taken with the passers by - quite the distraction for a guy from the country.

2004 SEMA ShowThings that made impressions on me were the simple, well-done displays and the small folks starting out. Then there were the large displays - some done well and some you had to wonder about. Lowrance had a small, but very nicely done booth.

Ford was the featured manufacturer this year and you knew that they wanted to stand proud. Did you know that the Mustang just had a birthday? Ford celebrated at SEMA and had plenty of the new-for-2005 models on-hand.

In the off-road section not many signs indicated export business, while in the cars and electronics sections almost all of them had signs indicating such. In fact, we saw companies from other countries and in the auto areas we saw many folks that were obviously here from other parts of the world.

I also found it very impressive that with the clout that SEMA carriers and the direction of markets, the original equipment manufacturers are now sharing engineering and other confidential information with other SEMA members. What that means to the average person is that we get to have purpose-built aftermarket products at the same time that new vehicles hit the showroom floors.

2004 SEMA ShowI learned that for the folks that do this on a regular basis, the show is not just about products and exposure. It is about meeting face to face with folks previously only talked with online or over the phone, and also about saying hi to old friends made over the years, and about the new guys trying to get a foot in the door.

SEMA is also about something new, and old things improved. It’s a social event for networking and strengthening ties. Unfortunately for some, it’s also about sabotage and politics and pride and greed. But, as in life, the good and positive folks far outway the negative folks.

I also got to watch the mechanics of business owners and the mechanics of what it is to be the Editor of a magazine. It’s funny how you get a chance to watch people in action and you can see the ones genuinely interested in providing good products and good service. At the same time, there were the booths well-stocked with help that were only slightly interested in being there. All this was thrown into the same big show and its all about getting the products to us - the ones that are looking for just the right answers to our set of needs, wants and desires.

At the end of the day, the huge lines for those exiting the event gave the full scope of the total numbers of people walking through the complex. There was an SUV set up at the entrance to the South Hall that even had a full-on DJ set up and they were jamming to hip hop as folks left every night.

2004 SEMA ShowAt the Central Hall entrance the Heroes truck was set up playing country tributes to the 9/11 victims. What a wide verity of experiences and sensations in such a small (relative term) area!

All the participants lined up in those areas to leave. The show brought in buses to transport participant out of the complex non stop. 40 people to each bus and I think there were 11 or 12 buses at a time, in two locations. When they pulled out, others pulled in and it literally took several hours just to vacate the area for the night.

In the end, I was there for two days and saw only a small portion of all the many exhibits and products. Our quest was to search for and find the newest, the coolest, and the best products coming down the pipeline for the rockcrawling crowd, meet some folks and pass the word. I would bet (that’s Vegas talk) that if you check in often to Rockcrawler.com over the next year that you will see the fruits of the labor of my friend Mike, as he strives to bring this site the best of what there is in our sport.

What a great time! Thanks Mike!



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