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SEMA Woos the First Tier


LET’S BE FRIENDS. Traditionally, automakers like Ford Motor Co. have acted as if aftermarket suppliers didn’t exist. But recognizing the growing market—and the fact that hot parts sell cars—Ford last year announced its SEMA Technology Initiative, providing inside engineering data on the Mustang GT to qualified parts makers. The program is being expanded, with six new models, the Focus, Windstar, Escape, Explorer Sport Trac, Explorer Sport and the all-new-for-2002 Explorer. "The technology initiative is working. It’s a huge success," declared Ford’s sales and marketing czar, Bob Rewey.

Ford Focus FR 2000

Ford Focus FR 2000

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HOCUS-POCUS, FOCUS. Ford’s actually counting on its new SEMA "friends" to help create a market for the subcompact Focus in the booming compact sport segment. Also known as "rice burners," they’ve been a hit with young motorists, especially in Southern California. Enthusiasts often start with a used vehicle—typically a Honda—then load up with performance equipment. With Focus, "for the first time, we have a vehicle that will go head-to-head with imports," proclaims Ford exec Chris Theodore. As an example, the automaker rolled out the Focus FR200, a "performance parts showcase," explained Ford Racing Director Don Davis. The concept vehicle featured an assortment of modifications, including a radical rear spoiler, modified front fascia and a turbocharger that nearly doubled the normal output of the base Focus 2.0-liter Zetec engine. Ford has no plans to put the FR200 into production, though it’s hoping that SEMA members will start marketing most of the parts within two years.

MILES OF AISLES. The SEMA show just keeps getting bigger. This year’s event features an amazing 6200 booths and overflows the Las Vegas convention center and several large tents. The show should get a break two years from now when a new, million-square-foot addition is added to the LV hall. But there are some reasons to worry, admits SEMA’s executive director, Chuck Blum. During the last decade’s economic boom, sales of aftermarket parts surged by almost 10 percent a year—the U.S. market is now estimated at $27 billion annually, with SEMA members representing about 70 percent of that business. "We’re a little concerned because things slowed down in July and August," Blum acknowledged, warning that for the year as a whole, sales might be flat. And with an automotive sales downturn expected in 2001, parts sales could hit their first slump since the early 1990s.

Ford Lightning

Ford Lightning

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SORRY, WE’RE OUT. Ford’s first Lightning, a high-performance version of the F-150, didn’t sit around long on the showroom floor. First-year production was sold even before the first Lightning rolled off the assembly line, and nearly the same thing happened the second year. Will Lightning strike three times? That’s what the automaker is hoping as it introduces an all-new version of the rocket pickup. The ’01 Lightning lists some impressive credentials, starting with its 380-horsepower, 450 lb-ft, 5.4-liter V-8. Ford officials claim the new version will outrun the standard Porsche Boxster—at a price of $32,000.

Honda Civic Dragster

Honda Civic Dragster

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UNCIVILIZED CIVIC. You wouldn’t use this one-of-a-kind Civic to haul your groceries. But it sure can haul—with a 600-horsepower version of the stock Prelude VTEC engine, it’s capable of blasting through the quarter-mile in under eight seconds, 160 mph in the process. With a full tube frame and carbon fiber body, it’s been developed for dragster champion Stephan Papadakis, and will be campaigned next year on the NHRA circuit.


 
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