As you can probably gather from the internet, it’s SEMA time in Las Vegas. Over the weekend, on another popular blog we won’t name, some cool hipster wrote about how all his skinny-jean-wearing pals thought SEMA was lame, stupid and “Very American.” Here’s the truth, champ: SEMA ain’t for you. It’s one of the world’s largest most spectacular trade shows, and it’s where the industry – both OEM and aftermarket – gets a huge chunk of business done. So straighten your ironic trucker hat, twirl your waxed mustache ends and get hip to why this “Very American” event is the envy of the rest of the planet:
There are still some pretty wild concepts that show up at the big international auto shows, but SEMA is where the labcoat-and-sliderule set gets to really let it all hang out, building some of the coolest concept cars you’re likely to see anywhere. Generally, the cars you see at SEMA use production models as the basis for their wild concepts, so it’s more of a showcase as cars like the Camaro, the Mustang, or even the Nissan Juke as a blank canvas, ready for owners to push the limits of their creativity.
This isn’t true of auto shows around the world, but in the United States, auto shows have really eliminated the hot girl from the turntable. Yeah, they’ll hire attractive spokesmodels, but in the United States, their wardrobe leans more toward Ann Taylor than Fredrick’s of Hollywood. SEMA is in Las Vegas, which is home to more hot dames per capita than anyplace else in America. It’s a city where busloads of old ladies pay $50 to watch a showgirl in a feathered headdress walk on stage with her shirt off. SEMA capitalizes on that sexy excess labor force. Yay, SEMA. Yay, girls.
Everybody who sells anything for cars is at SEMA. You’re an off-road guy? They’ve got an entire wing devoted to stuff you want. It’s a place where tuners, hot rodders, muscle car guys and circle track racers all come to share ideas and steal from each other. If you get off on the stink of fresh rubber, there’s an entire floor of the show largely devoted to just tires. Things that you didn’t even realize were a thing are there, like the Dynacorn full body replacement for the first-gen Ford Bronco.
If you don’t like SEMA, you really don’t like cars, nor do you enjoy the craftsmanship that goes into building them. Yeah, some of the cars are goofy and over the top. But you take the goofy and over the top with the amazing thought and execution that goes into building some of these cars.
When nobody gave a second thought about Oldsmobile – including General Motors – Jay Leno had an Oldsmobile Toronado built that was an exquisite display of what you could possibly do with that car, and a 40-foot trailer full of Tonight Show money. How do you see that and walk away thinking “Very American” is some kind of an insult?
Here’s a dirty secret about the automotive industry: A large percentage of the people involved in marketing new cars have absolutely no clue about any car produced before the one they’re trying to sell RIGHT NOW. Ask a question like, “Hey, there’s a bit of this Mitsubishi Galant that sort of reminds me of the ’78 Dodge Challenger you guys built off the Galant Lambda coupe. Is that the effect you were going for?” and you end up with a person who looks like they just shaved for the first time frantically calling the home office to try and figure out what you’re talking about.
SEMA is really the only place where the car geeks inside the auto manufacturers get to call attention to the fact that yes, they did actually build cars before the 2014 model year, and they’re still proud of them.
The Other Stuff
There are cars and trucks and motorcycles and four-wheelers, but there’s also all the interesting stuff that goes on that supports the wild fascination with these vehicles. For example, in 2012, GoPro picked SEMA as the place where they’d launch their HERO3 camera, essentially reinventing the way enthusiasts could film themselves doing crazy things that would make Travis Pastrana queasy. 2,300 companies fill a million square feet in and outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. You can’t find something you like here, Johnny Depp? Really?
We’ll be honest: Going to Las Vegas just to go to Las Vegas gets boring and rather depressing about 10 minutes off the plane. But there’s no better city to have a convention like this that occupies the bulk of the day. You’re tired and beat after walking that concrete floor for hours, and just as you’re ready to collapse into your cheap hotel bed, you walk outside and see the most vibrant, ridiculous, crazy city in the country.
Yes, it’s obnoxious. Yes, if you visit here every third weekend, you might consider getting checked out to see if you have a gambling, alcohol, sex or eating disorder. Yes, everything is plastic. But it’s “Very American” in a way that no place else in the world is. You either get it or you don’t. If not, move to Geneva.
Image Source: FancyTuning.com, SEMA.org