Although the show has also become a de facto stop on the global auto-show circuit for automakers--and the largest venue for them to show off modified versions of their cars and trucks, the automakers are not engaging in idle brinkmanship at SEMA.
Beneath the fanfare of souped-up engines, body kits, seismic audio and Electric Kool Aid paint jobs is a drive among automakers to open their arms to the $40 billion parts and accessories industry and to create a relationship with consumers--through dealerships--that lasts longer than the initial sale and warranty service.
Peter MacGillivray, vice president/marketing and communications at the Diamond Bar, Calif.-based SEMA, says dealers will, in fact, be on hand in large numbers under the auspices of the National Automotive Dealers Association (NADA). Dealer interest bodes well for SEMA companies, for whom dealership aftermarket business is still a small source of revenue.
"The next frontier for our business will take place at our dealerships, where a huge amount of business will occur for our members. The fact that organizations like NADA are present bodes well for our dealers and industry."
He says the show will also attract international buyers from over 100 countries. "It's turning out to be the largest show we have ever produced: the most attendance we have ever had and most exhibitor support." SEMA is expecting more than 125,000 attendees, running 20% above last year's show.
Jim Sanfilippo--former industry analyst, now executive vice president at Team Detroit, Ford's agency group--says the show is a must for automakers. "It's automotive Mecca. It's really absolute car culture at its best. If anyone thought that there is stymied creativity in the car business, they should visit SEMA. It's a chance for automakers to see the best supplier inventions, and some of the most creative expressions of enthusiasts, and listen very closely to their customers."
Automakers also use SEMA to promote their in-house after-market-parts brands and performance sub-brands, à la Chrysler's Mopar and SRT, or Cadillac's V-Series cars. This year's show, where 14 automakers will show products from some 30 brands, will be the first in which Toyota serves as Official Vehicle Manufacturer.
"They have been a part of the show and collaborated extensively with our industry for years, but their being 'manufacturer of show' is a much larger level of involvement," Sanfilippo says.
Toyota will have several firsts at the show this year: it will for the first time be Official Vehicle Manufacturer; it will, and for the first time at SEMA, shine the spotlight on its Lexus division. The company this year began selling a new sub-brand within Lexus, called F, intended to compete with Cadillac's V-Series, BMW's M cars and Mercedes AMG brand of high-performance vehicles.
Toyota, which has also taken over sponsorship of the test-ride venue, the Motor Trend Proving grounds, per MacGillivray, will also stage a world premier of a new vehicle at the show.
MacGillivray says Chrysler's exhibit will have a "Mopar Alley" theme, in which the company showcases both parts and customized versions of its cars in a branded exhibition. Volkswagen is bringing its Dieselution road show to the event, as well.
Ford, which is on the verge of launching the 2008 version of its Focus compact car, will show off nine personalized versions of the car. Ford will also showcase Mustang, Fusion and the Lincoln MKZ.
As part of General Motors' presence, the company will have twenty-seven vehicles on display including two Saturns, 14 Chevrolets, two Cadillacs, four GMCs, two Hummer H3s, two Pontiac Solstices and one Buick Lucerne. There will also be two modified Saturn Sky roadsters.