Up and Running

Jan 6, 2011

Well, there you have it.

New vehicles, restored vehicles, future-today and future-tomorrow vehicles. All under one…make that, three, roofs covering somewhere in the vicinity of a million square feet of floor space. Plus there was the under-the-sun section with all those cars and trucks and bikes that didn’t care about being outside the three big halls that housed most of the exhibitors for the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s 2010 expo in Las Vegas.

Hard numbers weren’t available at press time, but more than 100,000 people showed up.

Looking for something to sell, install and/or fabricate for your customers’ rides, be they half-million-dollar exotics, hyper-tuned Hondas and Suzukis, powerful pickups, rock-climbing Jeeps, classy Camaros, hybrids, EVs, or daily drivers restyled into daily wows? The show offered everything restylers, dealers and tuners might want for their customers.

And, oh yeah, there was something else. Something that everybody could find, everyone could immediately use and every pro got to see, hear and feel: Good vibrations, good feelings, good business. Not quite bliss, mind, you, but there was real delight in knowing better times are ahead, most likely this year, but certainly by next.

A collective “Ahhhh” sighed through the halls of this SEMA show. No, no Polyanna cheerleading necessary, just an upbeat mood pulsed more powerfully as the show days went from Day 1 through Day 4. At the 2009 show, cautious optimism prevailed. This time, genuine optimism was alive and well.

So be it.

Products, products, who’s got the products?

Although restylers enjoyed the face-to-face meetings with their suppliers, the No. 1 reason to attend was to see new products, whether new to them or brand new to the market: polished stainless steel dress-up kits for Shelby Mustangs; Camaro badgings; retro-style chrome body and lighting enhancements; truck bed lights; flexible LED applications inside and out on all manner of cars, running boards and bed steps; GMC Sierra HD grille overlays; the latest in window film technologies. That is just a sample.

And while the “usual suspects” showed off everything from lift and lowering kits, newly designed and trendy graphics, and wheels that would make a muscle car flex its power just a little more or a once-plain-Jane four-banger strut its new stuff, companies paraded some of their newest releases, some bearing what well might be the trends to take note of as consumers begin to see for themselves the changes in attitude.

Matte treatments, for example, in paint and wrap, look to be a seriously growing fashion. Last year, the matte look was at best a little-seen item; this year, it might be making a bold statement as an alternative exterior expression. One demonstration, at the Wraptivo booth, had the company’s RJ de Vera showing off one of its wraps (a gray metallic 3M material) applied by Wrap Experts onto a BMW, one of two upscale vehicles at the booth.

A few recognizable names in the restyling industry captured kudos for their new products:

  • Stainless Showworks Inc. for its 2010-2011 Mustang V6 and GT mirrored-polished stainless steel engine compartment dress-up kit
  • MBRP Inc. for its Mega Tips
  • Omix-Ada/Rugged Ridge for the Rugged Ridge interior trim kit for the 2007-10 Jeep JK Wrangler
  • Husky Liners for its Mud Guard POP display
  • AMP Research for its Bed X-Tender packaging design

Press conferences at exhibitors’ booths or in the show press/media center were a daily, sometimes almost hourly occurrence. Leer, for example introduced a High-Top truck cap, where the installed cap housed an ATV in the truck’s bed. What the company’s corporate Truck Accessories Group vice president of sales, marketing and business development, Dennis DeLeonard, pointed out was that the idea for the higher-profile cap came from one of its Canadian customers. AMP Research’s Mark Wronski held a press meeting at the show’s media center to introduce its products, and noted how the company is extending more into OEM partnerships.

Restylers’ events

The Professional Restylers Organization (PRO) council held its second Novemberfest meet-and-greet dinner and awards ceremony. Though numbers weren’t available, Restyling’s publisher and editor deemed the attendance at well beyond 300 guests who enjoyed the after-show event.

As it does every year, the PRO council honored some of its best:

  • Jim Borré Lifetime Achievement Award: Rick Jones, Auto Sunroof Inc.
  • Nat Danas Person of the Year: Diana Braschler, Dealer Source Ltd.
  • Manufacturer of the Year, sponsored by Restyling magazine: Advantage Truck Accessories
  • Restyler of the Year, sponsored by Katzkin Leather Inc.: Auto Trim of Denver

PRO also held its council breakfast meeting later in the week, with Restyling publisher Bob Carnahan on hand as a council select committee member, and Restyling’s editor, Alan Farb, and editor-at-large, Eddie Wieber, as guests. The meeting, like the Novemberfest event, was open to PRO members and interested professional restylers. Discussions included getting more students involved, especially following on the heels of the successful Technical Skills Training Conference last spring where 130 people took part in the 12-session daylong training event.

Mike Spagnola, who runs Street Scene, Equipment, received Person of the Year honors from SEMA. Spagnola has been part of then aftermarket business world for more than 30 years, and is instrumental in getting project vehicles off the ground. Added SEMA: “Spagnola is credited with creating [its] Annual Pinewood Drag Race and Show ‘N Shine Car Show for charity. -¦ These events have helped raise more than $500,000 for two children’s charities.”

At the LTAA (Light Truck Accessory Alliance) event, longtime industry member and former editor of Trucking Times, Dave Herrmeyer, received the alliance’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as Herrmeyer retired after two decades in the business. Leer’s Joel Ayers and SnugTop’s Hartmut Schroeder helped recognize the award-winner.

Other items of note

Several restyling-focused companies captured special kudos for their products.

A panel of international judges from 15 automotive disciplines honored Retro USA as a winner of its Global Media Award for its Chrome Kit for the 2008-10 Dodge Challenger.

Panel members evaluated merchandise presented in the New Products Showcase “selecting those they felt would resonate and appeal most to consumers in their home countries,” Retro USA noted.

Retro’s Challenger displayed front and rear bumper, tail light and grille surrounds, as well as rocker molding. The retro-style manufacturer also won the Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Automotive Innovation Award in the category of Performance and Customization at the society’s 40th-annual Automotive Innovation Awards Gala in Detroit, following SEMA’s show.

If you missed Restyling’s news last month in either the magazine or on the website (it’s even tweeted on Twitter), the association held its inaugural “Hottest” awards event, honoring Chevrolet Camaro as Hottest Car, Ford F-Series as Hottest Truck and Jeep Wrangler as Hottest 4×4/SUV. The SEMA Award identifies the most accessory-friendly new models.

Even rapper Snoop Dogg received a customized 2011 Mustang tricked out by Funkmaster Flex.

Yet for all the goings-on during the weeklong event the persistent news was how optimistic people in the industry were. Many suppliers had made important investments during the previous year, banking on the steady, if slow, positive economic advancements since 2008. And that showed in November.