LAS VEGAS (WWJ) – Detroit’s automakers are heading west this week, in search of gold at the annual SEMA show in Las Vegas.

SEMA — Specialty Equipment Market Association — is a group dedicated to the aftermarket, which can range from small customization, to big engines.

“It’s arguably about ten to fifteen percent of the market,” said SEMA Vice President of Vehicle Technology John Warniak. “But, it’s arguably that enthusiast, who, they don’t just like cars, they love cars.”

Like the rest of the auto industry, the aftermarket suffered some down years during the recession. But, things have rebounded, and Warniak says there is, once again, a growing interest in customizing vehicles.

“It came back with much more horsepower, due to the changes in the vehicles and the personalities of the vehicles.”

All three Detroit based carmakers are at this show, and will be displaying customized vehicles. They’ve been slowly revealing their plans. General Motors started things off with a star studded event, featuring, among other things, a Chevrolet SS sports car, modified by NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

“He came in the design center three or four times,” said Jim Campbell, how heads GM’s performance team. “We had a chance to work on the design theme, the performance elements.”

Also among the 39 vehicles that GM is brining to SEMA, a Chevy Silverado customized by country singer Brad Paisley. Chevrolet is also brining a drag racing version of the Camaro, and a concept of a more powerful Sonic subcompact.

“We’ll focus on performance, personalization, enhanced capabilities.”

Ford is promising an F-150 customized by Gene Simmons of the 70’s rock band KISS, as well as hot wheels inspired vehicles. There will be 57 Ford’s in all in their 27,000 square foot display.

Chrysler plans to wrap up day 1 with some big announcements. They have already shown a number of customized vehicles, including a Ram targeted at surfers, and an all black extreme looking Chrysler 300.

Mark Trostle, who heads design for Mopar and Chrysler’s performance SRT division says not only is it fun to build these vehicles, it’s fun to come to SEMA and see the other vehicles on display.

“There’s something always new, and always a new twist on something we haven’t thought of before.”

SEMA’s John Warniak says it’s that kind of enthusiasm that drives innovation.

“This is the buzz of the auto industry. This is the passion. It really, truly does bring out the emotion of the auto industry.


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