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Las Vegas’ largest trade show a candy store for car fans

When the Specialty Equipment Market Association rolls into the Las Vegas Convention Center on Tuesday, it will be, by far, the largest convention and trade show the city has hosted since January 2020.

It will also be the largest show of 2021.

While many big trade shows are characterized as product supermarkets, SEMA is more like a giant candy store.

Booths at the show display car accessories, parts, gadgets and add-ons that attendees can see up close. The added value is that many of the parts are mounted on a variety of different vehicles so that attendees can see them functioning in their product setting.

Some companies go to great lengths to use finely painted, souped-up cars that are as much of the display as the products themselves.

And car fans love it.

Long a staple on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority calendar over the years, SEMA was canceled in August 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this year, it has come roaring back, and Tom Gattuso, vice president of events and shows for the Diamond Bar, California-based association, said SEMA 2021 represents a homecoming for automotive enthusiasts across the country.

‘Strong momentum’

“We’re seeing that we’ve got some really strong momentum as we go into the final week before we open,” Gattuso said. “I’m encouraged with what we’re seeing and we’ve got every reason to believe that the people who have registered are going to be here and more. It’s really good.”

SEMA crossed a significant milestone on the last day of preregistration, surpassing 51,000 registered buyers. Gattuso said SEMA will be in the ballpark of hosting 100,000 industry professionals when the trade show opens in every hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

By comparison, the largest trade show previously held at the Convention Center, World of Concrete, brought an estimated 30,000 people to Las Vegas. Because international travel was limited in June and World of Concrete normally meets in January when it’s cooler outside, the show didn’t bring in the 60,000 people it typically draws. LVCVA officials noted that the June date wasn’t particularly favorable for the show because most masonry and concrete experts are on job sites in June.

On calendar through 2028

The date isn’t a problem for SEMA.

It has been held in Las Vegas the first week in November since 1977 when the show outgrew the Anaheim Convention Center.

Now, SEMA is locked into the Las Vegas calendar through 2028.

SEMA comes with an added bonus for Las Vegas — the co-location of a second automotive aftermarket show, the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo to be staged at The Venetian Expo.

The two shows represent Automotive Aftermarket Week in Las Vegas.

AAPEX has virtually the same audience as the larger SEMA show. The co-located shows enable registrants of either event to attend the other.

SEMA Ignited

SEMA also is one of the rare Las Vegas trade shows that offers one day for the public — Friday’s SEMA Ignited, a post-show after-party to be staged in the parking lot west of the center’s new West Hall.

The Friday night festival takes place immediately after SEMA closes as hundreds of cars and trucks will parade out of the Las Vegas Convention Center and assemble at SEMA Ignited.

Attendees will have the opportunity to view hundreds of customized rides featuring the newest and most innovative products from the show.

Tickets are available online at semaignited.com for $90.

Among the highlights of this year’s SEMA show trends:

— COVID-19 has expanded the popularity of recreational vehicles, camping and road trips. SEMA officials reported increased consumer demand for more comfortable cars, trucks and vans with Yellowstone National Park seeing the biggest month in park history in July.

— Exhibitors throughout the Convention Center will display and activate new products within vehicles. Among the activations: Ford Out Front, enabling attendees to ride in Ford vehicles driven by professional drivers, including the new Ford Bronco.

— The Hoonigan Burnyard Bash, in its 10th year at SEMA, will have daily demonstrations of burnouts, donuts and the brand’s signature antics.

Electric cars

One of the emphases in this year’s show is the development of the electric vehicle — just as it was in 2019 when Ford announced an $11 billion investment in electric vehicle production, unveiling its electric Mustang prototype.

The push for electric cars is expected to get even greater oomph this year with President Biden’s announced goal of having half the vehicles sold in the United States electrically powered by 2030.

Electric cars will have even greater prominence at SEMA 2021 thanks to the show debut of the Las Vegas Convention Center loop, the mile-long underground people-mover developed by Elon Musk’s The Boring Co.

While the three-stop system using Tesla electric vehicles to transport conventioneers from one end of the convention center to the other, SEMA will be the system’s first big test.

“The Convention Center Loop’s ability to quickly move our guests around the campus has ranked in our guest surveys as the most favorable part of the convention experience,” said LVCVA spokeswoman Lori Nelson Kraft. “Even if convention attendees didn’t need to move around the campus, they took advantage of checking out the new must-see attraction and loved it.

“With SEMA serving as the Convention Center’s first full-facility show, utilizing all four halls — Central, North, South and West — we anticipate it will test the system’s capabilities as it will ferry the most amount of passengers to date with many people needing to be transported at the same time,” she said.

Gattuso also is enthused about the Loop system’s future as it expands into Las Vegas.

“For me, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Gattuso said. “We’re talking about more than 100,000 car enthusiasts using an underground electric car system when they’re here. We’ll have 60 cars running through the system concurrently.

“I’m looking forward to years ahead when the system is expanded into the city,” he said. “We’ve got this solution right now on campus with the potential to expand underground along the Strip and to the airport. I think five years from now we’ll be seeing the true potential of the autonomous car and how far this can actually go within the city of Las Vegas.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian Expo.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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