SPECIAL REPORT: 2005 SEMA Show
Live From Vegas: 2005 SEMA Show (11/2/2005)
The aftermarket meets the OEMs in Vegas.
2005 SEMA Show, Part II (11/2/2005)
Subaru spec.B, Honda's hardcore Civic, Hyundai's new Accent hatch.
SEMA Making Warranty Pledge
It's the era of customization, and the numbers show that American motorists are spending record amounts to personalize their vehicles. Retail spending on products sold by members of the Specialty Equipment Market Association hit $31 billion last year, a 35-percent increase in five years, noted SEMA Director Chris Kersting. And despite a softening economy, most observers expect the trend to continue. An estimated 120,000 people will walk through the annual SEMA show in Las Vegas
this week, a far cry from the 3000 who attended the first aftermarket event, held at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles
in 1967. This year's show will feature 20 percent more products than in 2004. They fall into four broad ranges: tires and wheels, performance parts, body and appearance accessories, and the increasingly popular in-car electronics. Systems like video players, satellite receivers, and navigation devices underscore Kersting's comment that the SEMA show "is a significant barometer of consumer trends."
VW Sets New Hallmark
Volkswagen, meanwhile, made news in a variety of different ways during the opening session of Aftermarket Week. The German automaker put in its first appearance at SEMA, for one thing. That's belated, considering VWs have always been popular platforms for customizers, dating back to the days when Beetles were given Rolls-Royce grilles or transformed into dune buggies. Company officials noted that they are rapidly expanding the number of parts available from the factory. Last year saw record sales of $690 million, said aftermarket manager Charlie Lewis, "and the stage is set for another record-breaking year."
VW used its stand to roll out a trio of performance-tuned products that just might show up in the automaker's lineup in the not-too-distant future. These included a more aggressive looking version of the carmaker's SUV, dubbed the Touareg R-GT, which was lowered, given 22-inch wheels, and bumped up to 500 horsepower. Inside, it featured a Bugatti spun-aluminum trim kit and matching his-and-her iPods.
VW applied the R-GT designation to a 535-hp version of the Passat, which racer and project car specialist Townsend Bell dubbed "an M5 killer." The candy-white Passat featured an aggressively reshaped nose, with flush bumpers and a new fascia, 19-inch titanium anodized wheels and an integrated rear spoiler. Top speed? Figure something over 190 mph.
The third project car was the Jetta R-GT. This "sinister" interpretation was outlined in ghost graphics and ground effects. Track ready, it featured a full roll cage surrounding Recaro seats. Based on the new Golf R32 platform, the Jetta R-GT's track was widened for improved performance and handling - which would also be enhanced by full-time all-wheel drive, according to Townsend.
Will the R-GT models make it into production? There's a growing likelihood they will at least influence some future members of the VW lineup, suggested Adrian Hallmark, himself the third big news item at the automaker's stand. Tuesday marked the British executive's first official day as head of Volkswagen, where he replaced Len Hunt, who left for Kia. Hallmark hinted there could be significant changes coming at VW in the near future, as it moves to improve its position in the U.S.market. Critical to the turnaround will be getting a handle on quality and reliability issues. But equally important, "if you make products to suit the market, the market will accept you," he said. That means VW can no longer simply rely on models designed for European tastes and needs. It will have to start producing vehicles specifically designed for America. That is the most obvious result of the automaker's Moonraker Project. VW took a variety of designers, engineers, and marketing experts and in a move that resembled a TV reality series, moved them in together in Californiato meet with consumers and get a better read on the market. The 18-month Moonraker Project will wrap up at the end of this year, and it will take some months to fully digest its findings, but Hallmark stressed, " Wolfsburg(VW's corporate headquarters) is listening." How soon might new products appear? "It won't happen in a year," Hallmark cautioned, but he added that the goal is to move fast.