SEMA News - August 2009

By Alysha Webb

Paying Off in Business Contracts and Contacts


Toyota and BMW have done “quite well” emphasizing personalization with their Scion and Mini brands, says Fred Aikins, senior product manager for Kia Motors America. Kia aims to emulate that success with the Soul.

Armando Zambrano of Wet Okole Hawaii spends hours measuring the seats in the Kia Soul at a SEMA measuring session. The measurements will help his company turn out water-proof seat covers for the new model.

“This car should produce big business for us,” says Zambrano.

As automakers come out with more models specifically designed for personalization, attending measuring sessions is becoming ever more important for SEMA members. The sessions are an opportunity to get data and ideas for aftermarket products for new vehicles. They’re also a great place to make contacts that could result in future business.

SEMA holds about 20 measuring sessions each year, says Bill Wolf, SEMA senior director of OEM Relations. Only manufacturing member companies are allowed to attend.

Most measuring sessions take place before the official launch, though the Soul measuring session, in May at the Kia Motors America headquarters in Irvine, Calif., was held after the vehicle’s launch.

Three Soul models were on offer, including one on a lift for easy access to the car’s underside. As for the two ground-level Souls, Wet Okole’s Zambrano crawled over one’s interior while Ralph Turner, technical support manager for American International, measured the console of the other.

American International of Camarillo, California, makes navigation and sound systems.

The company, which has about 60 employees, will get some business from the Soul right away, says Turner, though the biggest demand will come later, when buyers of used models want to upgrade.

“There’s a lot of info we can pick up here that would be hard to get at the dealership,” he says.

Making it personal

Toyota and BMW have done “quite well” emphasizing personalization with their Scion and Mini brands, says Fred Aikins, senior product manager for Kia Motors America. Kia aims to emulate that success with the Soul.

Kia will offer dozens of its own accessories for the small boxy car. But “there are some things that aftermarket companies can do better, especially those that have an impact on the warranty” says Aikins.

Engine performance upgrades or oversized wheels and tires, for example, wouldn’t meet Kia’s engineering standards, and therefore wouldn’t be covered in the manufacturer’s warranty, he says. The Soul comes with a 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain and five-year, 60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Using aftermarket parts gives customers more choices, says Aikins. The aftermarket company does need to warranty the part itself, however, and customers must understand the part is not covered by the factory warranty, he says.

Spending quality time with a car isn’t the only benefit of attending a measuring session. They are also great places to make connections, says John Espino, new business and market development manager for Banks Power, a division of Gale Banks Engineering of Azusa, California.

Espino met some GM representatives at a SEMA event in 2001. Now, Banks is the exclusive distributor for the Duramax diesel engine in GM trucks.

“You have no idea how many opportunities lie through these connections,” says Espino.

They can also lead to advance knowledge of what will change—or stay the same—in an upcoming model, says Espino, which “helps tremendously with getting products out on time.”

SEMA sends an e-mail blast to its database of interested companies three to four weeks in advance of a measuring session, says SEMA’s Wolf. Notices also run in the association’s weekly electronic newsletter, eNews, and on the SEMA website

Companies that don’t want to travel to measuring sessions can still get a model’s measurements, Wolf explains. Sometimes the CAD files will be online before the launch, he says. That was true for Toyota’s Scion tC, launched in 2004. But a product still needs to be fitted to the model at some point.

Kia is launching several more models this year. Someone from Wet Okole, which has about 60 employees, will likely be at those measuring sessions too, says Wolf. He notes that the company attends all the sessions in this area.

Says Zambrano: “It’s more practical for us to come to these sessions.”

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