SEMA 2008 show report

Published: 06 November 2008

Welcome to the SEMA show, the place where a Mini Clubman, Ferrari Scuderia and Think electric golf cart can sit alongside Hummers with caterpillar tracks, the converted Cadillac ambulance from Ghostbusters and every conceivable vintage of Dodge Challenger. And that’s just in the parking lot outside the main show halls.

Just what is SEMA?

The Specialty Equipment Market Association show kicked off this week in Las Vegas, and CAR Online is there spotting tomorrow’s automotive trends. All the famous names in the auto industry exhibit, from big OEMs like Ford, GM and Honda, to parts suppliers like Bilstein and ACT, as well as any tuner worth their salt. Every conceivable cosmetic or performance enhancing kit is displayed, from tens of thousands of wheels to the most vibrant of paint schemes.

It’s the place which launches automotive trends like Japanese performance tuning, the muscle car revival, bling and the arms race in bigger and bigger wheels. So car designers are out in force to trend-spot: the first person CAR spotted en route to the conference centre was Ford’s North American design chief Peter Horbury.

The muscle car revival shows no sign of dying out: GM made the Camaro its star of the show. America’s number one customised car remains the Mustang, as Ford pointed out, but its halo has been stolen this year by Dodge’s Challenger. Chrysler Group’s icon is everywhere you turn: modded, slammed, painted and performance enhanced.

But the big trend is in environmental initiatives. Volkswagen will again be banging the diesel drum, its 2007 message, by unveiling two Jetta TDIs tomorrow. Today, Honda showcased the Civic HFP (Honda Factory Performance), lowered, in brilliant white and with a chunky bodykit – all to improve aerodynamics. ‘Consumers are increasingly concerned about fuel prices: they want to maximise performance without compromising fuel economy.’ And it was the same message from chipping and tuning firms like Hypertech. It’s clear that the eco message – for so long the staple of the big motor shows – has even percolated down to the testosterone-fuelled planet that is the SEMA show.

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By Phil McNamara

Group editor-in-chief of CAR magazine