Live From Vegas: 2005 SEMA Show

November 1, 2005

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 Angelesin 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.”

 

SEMA Chris Kersting

SEMA Chris Kersting

SEMA hasn’t ignored a trend towards more reliable products, whose manufacturers stand behind what they build. The trade group is launching a multi-city pilot program, dubbed ProPledge designed to instill confidence in aftermarket parts buyer, said Kersting. Manufacturers and installers who choose to participate will be required to provide a standardized warranty — for three years and 36,000 miles — and ensure that their parts and work won’t damage other vehicle components. The ProPledge launches early next year and SEMA hopes eventually to extend it nationwide.

 

 

Kia’s Hunt: Used Buyers Can Get New Kias

 

Len Hunt Kia CEO

Len Hunt Kia CEO

It may be an aftermarket event, but automakers made a lot of news at this year’s SEMA show, several by introducing their new bosses. That included the Korean carmaker Kia, where Len Hunt has moved in as top Western executive. Until recently, the British-born executive was running Volkswagen’s U.S.subsidiary. In a telling choice of words, Hunt echoed SEMA chief Kersting, describing aftermarket week as a “barometer” — but in this case, measuring how Kia is progressing. A few years ago, few suppliers made aftermarket parts for Kia products, which had no real traction with the U.S.tuner crowd. That’s changing significantly, and in Las Vegas, the importer showed a handful of custom-tuned products, including this SUV, with a cargo compartment full of high-end audio-video gear. Of six vehicles on display, two subcompact Rios showed tuners doubling the factory output to more than 200 horsepower. “This helps us in defining the brand,” Hunt told TheCarConnection.com. “A lot of (young) people buy used cars” to tune them up, he said, “but here they can buy new cars for about the same price.”

 

 

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.

 

2005 Volkswagen Passat R-GT

2005 Volkswagen Passat R-GT

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Volkswagen Jetta R-GT

2005 Volkswagen Jetta R-GT

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.

 

 

Volvo Heats Up with T6 Hot Rod

 

2005 Volvo T6 concept

2005 Volvo T6 concept

Leif Tufvesson admits that the Volvo project hot rod is likely not going to meet the tough safety standards Volvo normally sets for itself. But it certainly has folks wondering just how far you can stretch the brand, which once stood for solid, but boring, box-like styling. The hand-built T6 gets its twin-turbo six from the S80 mounted in the back, a five-speed Geartronic automatic sending power to the rear wheels, and a rear decklid that automatically rises as the engine temperature does, to keep the whole array cool. Volvo built the T6’s body around a tubular-steel frame and used the subframes from the S80, and crafted new control arms for the front and rear suspension. Front six-piston brakes are new, but the rears are S80 discs; the front wheels are 20-inchers, while the rears are 22-inchers. Tufvesson, who has designed a number of concepts for Volvo, said that while the T6 may not be as safe as an S80, it is still a lot more like a real car when driven on the highway. Most hot rods look good, he stressed, but are a real fright to drive.

 

 

Ford Funks Out With Flex — And Bill Gates?

 

Ford took its moment in the SEMA spotlight to try to appeal to all aspects of the aftermarket. That included the announcement of a new join venture with Microsoft and Stargate to produce a wireless, portable computer that will be offered to F-Series owners, starting in 2006. The unit is a do-all system that can store data, send e-mail, write and print invoices, swipe credit cards and check inventory, “without your having to drive back to the warehouse,” said Ford division marketing manager Marty Collins.

 

2005 Ford Funkmaster Flex Fusion

2005 Ford Funkmaster Flex Fusion

For something with a little more edge, the automaker turned to hip-hop tuner king Funkmaster Flex. “From the first time I saw the Fusion at Ford’s design studios, I liked what I saw. The car looked hot,” said the famed DJ. The tuned version of Ford’s new sedan featured a 3D Carbon two-tone red paint scheme with an edgy Street Scene grille and Boze alloy black chrome three-piece wheels. There were no mirrors on the car: the Funk Fusion uses video cameras with large monitors surrounding the driver. The interior featured a matching two-tone dashboard and ostrich accents.
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