You are probably aware that the SEMA
show takes place this week in Las Vegas. If you're not, a brief update: The Specialty Equipment Market Association show is the largest automotive trade show in the country. It's also one of the largest trade shows in the world, period. If nothing else, the scale here is impressive; on average, the show boasts 2 million square feet of exhibit space and 50,000 visitors. Those numbers are all the more impressive when you realize that SEMA isn't open to the public. If you're not a journalist, buyer, manufacturer or exhibitor, you can't get in the door.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this is a big deal.
The show's offerings are massive. If it's made by the aftermarket and can be attached to -- or is even tangentially related to -- a car, it's here. Tires, wheels, tools, engine parts, entire cars, anything. (Motorcycle helmets made up to look like demon skulls? Ferrari
exhausts? Just a few aisles apart.
) You can spend an entire day simply walking the floor, not stopping to gawp, just trying to cover ground.
I've been to SEMA a few times. It's usually enjoyable and always overwhelming. If you've never been, here's a brief look at what you're missing.
Above: A turbocharged Dodge Viper at SEMA. Note the enormous intake manifold; the car's stock hood no longer fit.
A quick word regarding access: The biggest problem with SEMA is that it isn't open to the public. If you're not a working member of the industry, you can't walk through the doors. In some ways, this is also SEMA's greatest asset -- as it sits, the show floor is occasionally so crowded that you can't walk. If the ordinary public were allowed in, the show would turn into a nightmare.
This is not to say that the ordinary public sometimes does not sneak in on borrowed or ill-gotten show passes. Nor am I saying that the ordinary public should not
attempt to see SEMA; a great many non-industry people borrow passes or Know Somebody and get in anyway. This is likely good for society; some rules are made to be broken. All I'm saying is that I cannot imagine SEMA with more people. Vegas might become a singularity
So: If you can go, go. If you can't, pay attention to the media coverage. This is why SEMA is worth seeing.
1. A truly astounding amount of really cool stuff.
With the sole exception of the Performance Racing Industry trade show
, no convention center on the planet holds more awesome automotive aftermarket accessories. (Or awesome alliteration, um ... opportunities.) SEMA gets a bad rap as being a cheap aftermarket wheel-and-tire festival, but a great deal of the show focuses on genuine performance equipment and neat innovations. There's a lot of chaff to wade through -- I'd recommend you steer clear of the wheel-and-tire hall, for example, an entire convention hall full of nothing but mostly unattractive aftermarket rollers -- but if you take the time, there's amazing stuff to be seen.
2. A truly astounding amount of really weird taste.
I could tell you about all the stuff I've seen at SEMA, about how ridiculous it gets. I could rattle off examples, talking about the customized Camaros
, the Mustangs
with dragon fins, the racing cars that look like giant sex organs (and not in a good way). I could even point you to a gallery of crazy things from last year's SEMA show
. (Disclosure: I know the author. Maybe.) But the fact of the matter is that you cannot understand the show's breadth of obnoxiousness unless you see it in person.
In lieu of examples, I give you a snapshot of SEMA life: See that Scion xB
up top? It's wearing an octopus. It's supposed to be a submarine. I took that shot at the end of the first SEMA day last year after spending nine hours straight on my feet. In just one day, the show had thrown my internal barometer off so much that by the time I found this Scion
, all that occurred to me was, "Hey, that's pretty tasteful!"
3. This thing (below) once showed up. I dare you to tell me it isn't cool. And weirder stuff comes here every single year.
Go ahead, tell me. If you think this is lame, you're wrong.
4. Attractive people. Attractive people filled with plastic. Attractive people leaning on cars made of plastic. You can go to a lot of car shows in a lot of different places and see a lot of skin, but if you're interested in booth babes or hall hunks, this is your mecca. The men and women who staff SEMA booths (note: most of them are women, and you can probably figure out why) are eye candy, plain and simple. Maybe they're artificially enhanced, maybe they're not. Chances are, most of the attendees gawping at them don't care.
5. It's simply the only event of its kind on the planet. Two million square feet of show space. This is the Grand Canyon, the Cliffs of Dover, the Space Needle. You don't need to go back every year, but everyone needs to see it at least once.