The SEMA Garage Opens to Industry Wows
By Mike Imlay
Since its official open house in July, the new SEMA Garage—Industry Innovations Center has garnered high marks from the SEMA’s membership. In fact, its summer-evening debut attracted more than 700 industry professionals for a firsthand tour of the comprehensive facility designed to help members bring fresh specialty-equipment products to market, from concept to complete photographed state.
Perhaps nothing illustrates this more than the enthusiasm surrounding the Garage’s recent open house, a hugely successful event in which more than 700 professionals representing every segment of the automotive specialty-equipment industry gathered July 17 at SEMA headquarters in Diamond Bar, California, for a first-hand glimpse at the facility.
Throughout the evening extravaganza, SEMA members and VIPs received insider tours of the Garage, sizing up its full potential for product research and development, marketing, educational sessions and more. Along with the tours, attendees were also treated to music and complimentary food and beverages in an environment punctuated by automotive excitement. SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting officially introduced the Garage to the huge crowd of member guests.
“Here at SEMA, the first thing we think about is our mission, and our mission is to help all SEMA-member companies succeed,” Kersting said. “I can’t think of a better example than this SEMA Garage. It’s very exciting for us. Think vehicle technology. This is the place you’re going to come.”
Kersting later said that the open house was “…an unprecedented gathering for us here at Diamond Bar. We’re extremely appreciative of the hundreds of attendees who came to see the Garage and show their enthusiasm for its debut. This is their facility, and they made the open house a true success. Since the Garage’s official opening, we have gone about the work of building on that enthusiasm and serving the ongoing research, development, testing, training and marketing needs of our association. This is a forward-looking Innovations Center that was a long time in the making, and we couldn’t be more pleased about the incredible services it is now providing our members.”
Mike Spagnola, SEMA vice president of OEM and product development programs, was equally impressed by both the number and variety of guests who attended the open house.
Early open house arrivals gathered outside the SEMA Garage entrance on the evening of July 17, ready for an insider’s glimpse of their new Industry Innovations Center. Personalized tours explained every facet of the facility to SEMA members. The Garage stands opposite SEMA headquarters in Diamond Bar, California, but offers programs and services to help members with their product innovations, wherever they may hail from.
Open house attendees were treated to music, food and beverages in an evening punctuated by automotive excitement. With so many industry professionals on hand, an atmosphere of friendly camaraderie and networking prevailed alongside the Garage tours. It was the largest event SEMA has ever hosted at its headquarters.
The only facility of its kind, the SEMA Garage is intended to help aftermarket manufacturers develop products in as little as six weeks. Members are able to gain access to new-vehicle models from automakers and have final products available for sale before those vehicles are even available to the public. The Garage’s many tools include a portable FaroArm coordinate measuring machine, a 3D printer, digital race car scales, spring-rate checkers, a full range of hand tools, welders, a shop area with lift, a dyno and emissions lab, a training center and a photography studio.
“The SEMA Garage is the ultimate production facility,” explained Spagnola. “The building was purpose-built to include state-of-the-art equipment specific to auto parts manufacturers. We’ve further filled the SEMA Garage with tools and equipment so that members simply need to show up and do what they do best. The Garage was carefully designed to help any SEMA member develop new products for its buyers and speed them to market in a fraction of the time that they might otherwise take.”
The Garage was completed in several phases, starting with its installation facility, which was among the highlights of the open house tours. In addition to its main bay and 3D measuring and printing capabilities, the facility also houses SEMA’s Technology Transfer program, which contains CAD files covering major vehicle components from Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge, Fiat and Scion. These OEMs have voluntarily shared their files with SEMA-member manufacturers specifically for aftermarket product research and development.
The facility will also regularly host many of SEMA’s popular measuring sessions, where members will continue to have access to key vehicles, including several sold only in overseas markets. According to Spagnola, the Garage also opens the way for more “deep dive” measuring sessions in which OEMs loan vehicles to SEMA for longer terms, often anywhere from three weeks to four months, allowing members to actually try their products on the vehicles.
The Garage’s photo studio has been another big hit with the SEMA membership. It was graced for the open house by television’s original Batmobile, built by world-famous customizer George Barris, who was also on hand for the evening’s festivities. The iconic vehicle occupied the studio’s main photo cove, showcasing the facility’s full potential to illuminate and capture quality images of practically any automobile.
The studio boasts an additional smaller cove for shooting products, along with an abundance of professional lighting, strobe kits, umbrellas and related photography equipment, all of which rent to SEMA members at a significant savings over other similar venues. According to Spagnola, the space was specially designed to help product developers create professional-level marketing materials for virtually every imaginable project.
Also on the ground floor, the Garage’s dyno and emissions-testing lab now stands ready to not only assist with the dyno testing of manufacturers’ parts but also with final Executive Order certification. During the open house, guests learned how the Garage staff can help both demystify and simplify the often-daunting process of filling out and filing California Air Resources Board paperwork, let alone actually testing and obtaining final product certification. In conjunction with the Southern California Automobile Club Research Center, the lab’s comprehensive equipment, services and staff can also tell manufacturers exactly how and why their products either pass or fail such emissions testing, further advancing the R&D process.
Television’s iconic Batmobile by world-famous customizer George Barris (right) was a huge draw to the photo studio, where attendees were able to get their pictures taken alongside the classic vehicle. With Barris here is Mike Spagnola, SEMA vice president of OEM and product development programs, who oversaw the SEMA Garage’s development and debut to the industry.
A contingent of open house guests examined the SEMA Garage’s installation bay. The bay features a Titan four-post lift, five different welders and a plasma cutter for fabrication and welding projects in addition to a wide assortment of Craftsman tools and plenty of workbench space—the things SEMA members might need for a product installation or build.
The Garage’s upstairs training room features conference space that can accommodate up to 80 people, giving members a place where they can do sales presentations, staff and outside training, or even consumer meetings. Many open house attendees noted the value of such an area, especially for smaller businesses that may lack adequate space at their own places of business.
Accessing the Garage
All of the services available through the SEMA Garage—Industry Innovations Center are intended to help members bring their products to market faster and for a fraction of the cost of other production facilities. SEMA’s hope is that members will utilize the Garage to see their products come to fruition all the way from early concept to finished, photographed state. For more information, contact Rachael Salazar at email@example.com or 909-978-6744, or Mike Spagnola at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, the new SEMA Garage is ultimately about innovation, technology and performance. To underscore this point, the summer open house featured a number of display vehicles, ranging from classic street rods to modern sports cars. Then, as darkness fell and the event drew to a close, the crowd was wowed one last time by a fiery salute from classic front-engine dragsters, which shot flames into the night air from their roaring engines. Attendees burst into cheers and applause—a thrilling cap to an amazing official grand opening.
“We really want to thank everyone who has made our Garage opening a success, including all the July 17 open house attendees along with George Barris and the member companies who put on great vehicle displays throughout that night,” said Spagnola. “We especially appreciate the SEMA members who have already started using the Garage. In the end, we hope that the biggest takeaway is awareness. We sincerely want all of our members to get to know and utilize the many resources available at their new Industry Innovations Center. We’re here to do everything we can to help them grow their businesses by creating and speeding great new products to market.”
There was plenty to wow attendees at the open house, as wave after wave of guests toured the SEMA Garage’s installation areas, emissions lab, photo studio and conference space. The event was well attended by member-company leaders, VIPs, engineers, shop crews and numerous new members, many of whom have had little previous exposure to their association’s headquarters.
At the July grand opening, SEMA Garage guests were also treated to automotive thrills in the form of numerous show and project vehicles brought and displayed by member companies.
Their presence underscored the passion and creativity at the core of both the industry and the new facility.