Tricked-out versions of popular car models take spotlight at SEMA Show

Import "tuners" are all the rage in the automotive aftermarket industry these days, but American muscle manufacturers Ford and Chevrolet aren’t surrendering any ground at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas.

Mustang and Corvette legacies live on at SEMA with customized versions of those models from all years dominating the showroom floor, including 12 Mustangs on display alongside the new Mustang Boss 302 at Ford’s gigantic blue exhibit booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Central Hall.

Over at GM, the 2011 Corvette Z06X and Camaro SSX concept cars captured a crowd of admirers who whipped out their iPhones and digital cameras.

The Chevrolet Camaro won the inaugural SEMA Award for Hottest Car at the show, while the Ford F-Series won Hottest Truck and the Jeep Wrangler won Hottest 4×4-Sport Utility Vehicle.

The SEMA Award was created to recognize the ability of the industry and its visionaries to turn trends into business opportunities, said Chris Kersting, SEMA’s president and chief executive officer.

Options to accessorize play a big part in someone’s decision to buy a car or truck, so SEMA officials relied on booth exhibitors to cast ballots for the winners.

Kersting said the aftermarket parts and accessories business is showing signs of recovery, judging by the 11 percent increase in exhibitors and 17 percent increase in booth space at SEMA.

"Naturally, our products are mainly in the disposable income category. As long as the American consumer is feeling the strains of the downturn, we won’t expect to see sales getting back to their highest levels for perhaps two to three years," Kersting said Tuesday after presenting the SEMA awards.

"Our member companies are having a reasonably good sales year under the circumstances. We’ve seen participation in all events. The Good Guys events, the NHRA hot rod reunions all showed attendance increase of 18 percent to 20 percent. That tells us the heartbeat of America’s love affair with cars and trucks is as strong as ever."

The aftermarket industry has experienced a decline from $36 billion in sales in 2007 to about $28 billion last year, Kersting said.

Honda executives introduced the 2011 CR-Z sport hybrid coupes that will offer 300 limited edition accessory kits in the spring. The package includes a front grille, rear-wing spoiler, 17-inch aluminum wheels, sport mats, black aluminum shift knob and billet aluminum oil-filler cap. Pricing has yet to be determined.

It’s the perfect opportunity for young, environmentally conscious buyers in the import tuner community to personalize their cars, said Bruce Smith, vice president of parts and operations for Honda in Torrance, Calif. With the CR-Z, drivers can achieve the great efficiency of a hybrid car without giving up the fun of driving a sporty car, he said.

"We’ve been leading the way in green technology, but green also never had sporty characteristics until now," Smith said. "This car’s got a great look for a hybrid. We offered it to tuners to see what can be done with it for the tuner crowd."

Michael Dietz, product planning manager for Hyundai in Fountain Valley, Calif., said he had to fight to bring the sixth-generation Sonata to SEMA.

"This year, our theme was on performance and technology," he said. "This is a relatively affordable Sonata. If you’re coming in under $20,000, it gives you room to do what you want to do to customize it."

He also showed the $50,000 VIP edition of the Hyundai Equus that puts out 450 horsepower and features iPad integration that raises and lowers suspension on the vehicle.

SEMA runs through Friday at the Las Vegas Convention Center and is closed to the public. However, many of the customized vehicles are on display in the parking lot for free, along with drifting demonstrations and interactive exhibits.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at or 702-383-0491.

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