By John Stewart
2016 SEMA Show Highlights
The Industry Wins Big Again
As we have come to expect, the Show offered both the original and the improved, the ingenious and the astonishing, and it housed an unprecedented array of business possibilities and enlightening educational opportunities. Too, the Show this year was tinged with nostalgia and memories of the past, even as it was rich in optimism for the future.
Among the many Hall of Fame attendees was the man who brought SEMA to Las Vegas in the first place—Leo Kagan, who celebrated turning 100 years young. At the same time, this Show was embraced by the next generation as never before, soaking up mentoring from established leaders who provided inspiration and support and taking advantage of newly created services such as a career center and a career fair.
At times, it seemed that the halls would burst. Some 2,325 exhibitors occupied every scrap of convention center exhibit space, covering 1,180,000 net square feet—a figure that does not include space taken up for outdoor exhibits, education venues, networking events, aisles or new-product displays. Total attendance, just shy of 158,000, included some 3,200 members of the media, who fanned out to generate many thousands of articles, videos and social-media posts.
On the pages that follow, we’ve selected a few highlights from the 2016 SEMA Show, which will no doubt be remembered for many years to come.
The 50th annual SEMA Show, held November 1–4 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, once again brought together automotive industry participants young and old, all looking for their piece of the action in a healthy, vibrant marketplace. This year’s Show will be remembered for numerous reasons, including an energy level consistent with an industry that has continued a steady climb out of the recent recession and is now in its sixth year of growth, setting a record at $39 billion in annual sales.
A Show Like No Other
From the beginning, there was a sense that this year’s SEMA Show would be different from any previous staging. As the Show opened at the New Products Breakfast, a new speaker was introduced in underground hero Magnus Walker, who conveyed an original outlook on life and passion for cars that resonated with enthusiasts young and old. Perhaps best known for his collection of streetable Porsche track cars, the one-time cross country runner, driving instructor and originator of the Serious Clothing brand helped instill an Urban Outlaw attitude at the 2016 SEMA Show.
Business to Business
In simplest terms, the SEMA Show is about bringing buyers and sellers together. For exhibitors, that means the SEMA Show is the place to showcase their best new ideas and innovations, an investment in time and energy that generates the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with hundreds of potential customers in just four days. For buyers, the Show is about finding the newest products that will power their growth—and negotiating favorable terms. These brisk interactions, occurring simultaneously in thousands of booths across more than a million square feet of hall space, create the potential for big wins for both sides.
The 50-Year Milestone
It’s been 50 years since the industry first came together to showcase the idea of making a vehicle better, safer or more fun to operate. Since then, the Show has provided a way to unite the industry under one roof, promote business prosperity and connect with mainstream audiences. Over the years, through the ebb and flow of the economy, the industry has shared good times and endured hard times as well, making the opportunity to pause for a moment and contribute to a milestone special for more than a few at the 2016 SEMA Show.
Top Builders Showcase Craftsmanship
More than 1,500 one-of-a-kind customized vehicles could be found at the SEMA Show, showcasing the creativity that makes the specialty products industry a source of awe and wonder to the outside world. From hot rods to exotics and from sport compact vehicles to trucks and SUVs, builders of these custom vehicles demonstrate amazing craftsmanship. This year, more than 250 builders entered their creations for consideration in the third annual Battle of the Builders competition, including 98 “Young Gun” builders under the age of 35.
Narrowing the field was the daunting task of three media judges. When their exhausting work was done, the ultimate winners were selected by the final 10 builders themselves, providing the basis for a nationwide television special. Here, the top 21 feature-vehicle builders gathered to learn which of their number would be among the top 10.
A Flood of Buyers
Nearly 70,000 buyers registered for the 2016 SEMA Show, and the vast majority came seeking innovative new products. Strong buyer registration was accompanied by a 10% increase in hotel-room nights, suggesting that buyers were staying longer and spending more time at the Show than ever before. Post-Show research studies indicate that nearly half of buyers typically expect to place an order at the Show, taking advantage of special discounts. This year, more than 44,000 scans of new products were made in the New Products Showcase, yielding product and contact information that enables buyers and sellers to follow up after the Show. Here, as the clock strikes 9:00 a.m., buyers hustled inside to browse the offerings of thousands of exhibiting manufacturers.
Youth, Hope and Charity
Among the four charity project vehicles created under the auspices of the SEMA Garage was a ’72 Ford Maverick, shown here as it was revealed at the 2016 SEMA Show. Spearheaded by actor Sung Kang (left), the tired Maverick was reborn with the help of three high-school students and award-winning vehicle builder Steve Strope. The build allowed the three students to learn about 3D printing, automotive build techniques and the power of imagination plus hard work. Now fitted with a clean and powerful EcoBoost drivetrain, the “Project Underdog” Maverick will be auctioned to raise money for the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Cruising for Consumers
The only part of the SEMA Show that is open to consumers, SEMA Cruise signals the end of the Show and kicks off SEMA Ignited, the official after-party of the SEMA Show. Moments before the Show ticks to a halt, Battle of the Builders cars assemble for the announcement of the top three cars, much to the delight of thousands of onlookers. The parade that follows generates hundreds of videos, thousands of photos and millions of social-media views as all manner of custom cars make their way past the assembled crowd.
The SEMA Show Experience
In the past decade, the SEMA Show has evolved to include product demonstrations that allow attendees to not just see new products but also observe them in action—and in some cases, to experience the products for themselves. Dozens of exhibitors offered training sessions and hands-on demonstrations throughout the week.
The Ford Out Front area (shown here) offered rides in high-performance Ford cars of all kinds, and buyers also flocked to the Arctic Cat UTV Experience, in which professional drivers demonstrated the newest thing in UTVs on an off-road track.
Other experiential events such as the Continental Tire Extreme Experience allowed attendees to take a spin in a BMW M2 or M3 fitted with Continental’s new sport tire. Meanwhile, Virtual-reality stations popped up all over the Show, signaling the arrival of a new marketing tool.