Vehicle Technology Crossroads: Opportunity and Challenge Amid Rapid Change

SEMA News—April 2019

Vehicle Technology Crossroads: Opportunity and Challenge Amid Rapid Change

Chris Kersting

Chris Kersting

In 2006, the SEMA Board of Directors reviewed the vehicle technology landscape and the potential role the association could play to assist members. The outcome was the establishment of a new department—Vehicle Technology—and a vice president position located in Detroit to lead the association’s efforts.

In the intervening years, the association has made significant strides to assist the industry. More recently, the Board and staff have focused on advances now hitting vehicle showrooms, and the implications for the specialty aftermarket in the years ahead. While there will be hurdles to clear, our industry has always distinguished itself by its ability to adapt and rise with automotive technology changes. It doesn’t happen easily, but the association is gearing up to help.

As a first step, SEMA helped illuminate an opportunity: Today’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) can in many instances retrofit cars and trucks that lack those useful features. Back-up cameras, lane-departure warning and frontal crash-avoidance systems are just a few examples. It’s been 18 months since SEMA released the “SEMA Advanced Vehicle Technology Opportunity Study,” which details aftermarket retrofit opportunities associated with ADAS. The uptake by SEMA members has been impressive. If you haven’t seen the study, you can find it easily on

Apart from retrofit, SEMA is also working to assist members with the challenges of integrating specialty products on vehicles already equipped with ADAS technologies. Association staff recently conducted two ADAS forums to help define the challenges members are confronting—one in Detroit and a second at the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, California. A third session is scheduled for May 7 in Dallas. So far, more than 30 SEMA manufacturers and 30 engineering and ADAS-related service providers have participated, along with representatives from several aftermarket associations.

The key takeaway to date is clear: There is an immediate need for information, tools and services to assist members in developing products that can integrate with ADAS technologies. How best to meet those needs is a developing part of the story, but we can foresee working in collaboration with other aftermarket associations as well as ADAS system providers and the OEMs to ensure that the driving public can continue to accessorize and repair their cars and trucks with confidence.

Further out on the horizons (but not too distant) will be additional challenges centered around cybersecurity and data privacy issues. Vehicle security is a paramount objective, but as with previous technology advances such as vehicle onboard diagnostic systems, today’s new systems will need to allow access that gives consumers the opportunity to have their vehicles serviced, upgraded and accessorized by the competitive independent aftermarket. Much work will need to be done in that area, and it will be a long road, but SEMA is already having meaningful discussions on those topics in Washington, D.C., and Detroit.

The current shift to new vehicle technologies is comparatively rapid, but it will still take time and will evolve. In the interim, most cars will continue to have humans at the wheel, and most will have some form of internal-combustion engine. Some portion of the population will continue to enjoy modifying and personalizing their vehicles.

Our industry has shown the ability to be incredibly adaptive and to innovate at a rapid rate. SEMA will continue to help the industry capitalize on the future. Time after time, we have turned challenges into opportunities. Given our history, I have no doubt that we’ll be able to do it again.

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