By Mike Imlay
What’s Trending in 2015
Some Insights From the Annual SEMA Show
More commonly known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing is a computer-controlled process that deposits fine, successive layers of material (such as ABS plastic) on top of one another to create 3D objects. In its early days, 3D printing was mainly used for rapid prototyping or to produce small or limited parts more cheaply, quickly and efficiently compared with other methods. In prior years, less than a handful of additive-manufacturing equipment makers exhibited at the SEMA Show, and a few 3D printed parts could even be sighted here and there on the Show floor—if you looked carefully.
At the 2014 SEMA Show, however, additive manufacturing was literally front and center. Not only were there nine additive manufacturing exhibitors and scores of 3D printed parts, but Local Motors, a new carmaker based in Phoenix, Arizona, actually “printed” the Strati—its world-first, fully functional, drivable vehicle—right on the Show floor within eyeshot of SEMA Central. The finished car then led the annual SEMA Cruise out of the Las Vegas Convention Center on Friday, November 7.
“When SEMA approached Local Motors and asked us to 3D print a car at the annual conference, we accepted the challenge,” Local Motors CEO John B. Roger Jr. told the popular Tech Cocktail blog. “The hot-rod and aftermarket automotive community has always been on the cutting edge of vehicle innovation, and we’re thrilled to display the future of car making to this group.”
Whether as safety assists for traffic maneuvers, documentary tools for commuters, or simply as a means to share the activities of the road on social media, cameras are rapidly becoming a part of our everyday driving routine. With so many OEMs incorporating backup cameras into their current vehicle lineups, filling the gap for older models is an aftermarket no-brainer. And, thanks to today’s technology, they’re not only easy and relatively inexpensive to place into rear bumpers but can also display their images through screens integrated into rearview mirrors or existing consoles—not to mention standalone dash displays if need be. In fact, the 2014 SEMA Show New Products Showcase included a Rampage Products backup camera kit that displays its images onto a Wi-Fi-connected Android or iPhone. Other companies such as Auto-i, AAMP of America and Brandmotion also introduced their own new camera products into the New Products Showcase, and manufacturers such as Advent, Audiovox and Rosen continued to offer their well-established lines of backup viewers to attendees as well.
Of course, under increasing pressure from insurers and threats of costly litigation, many businesses that operate vehicle fleets are now turning more and more to dash-mounted cameras like those from SEMA Show exhibitors DriveProof and SteelMate to help them decipher accidents and fender benders. Meanwhile, the average consumer, too, is discovering that an unblinking eye in an unattended car can be a great way to capture video of parking-lot incidents or foil would-be vandals. Plus, who can resist the thrill of recording their on- and off-highway adventuring through cameras offered by such manufacturers as GoPro, which wowed visitors to its booth with new renditions of its helmet-, rollbar- and suction-cup-mounted Hero4 lines.With camera kits covering a gamut of applications typically running from $100 to $500, even enthusiasts on a budget can now afford this extra layer of safety, protection and fun.
Wraps and Metallics
Those spectacular Show-vehicle paint-and-graphics schemes? Look more closely. Increasingly, they aren’t executed in paint at all but rather through the careful application of vinyl wraps.
With tougher environmental regulations reshaping the custom-paint industry, wraps are now proving to be a cost-efficient alternative. With proper application and maintenance, they can last up to seven years or more and are—excuse the pun—extremely flexible.
“Customization is king, and vehicle wraps are gaining popularity for several reasons, including the ability to change color quickly and regularly,” said Carolyn Polanski, senior manager for global marketing communications at Avery Dennison. “They also offer protection of paint when returning a car on a lease or seeking to save the original color, and textured films can’t be replicated by paint. The way you can accent and customize a car is endless.”
Judging from many of the vehicles on display at the 2014 SEMA Show, customizers currently want to show their metal.
“We’ve seen an uptick in matte and gloss metallic, ultra-metallics and, of course, our Conformable Chrome line,” confirmed Polanski.Meanwhile, 3M was also among the several companies underscoring the growing trend toward wraps at the 2014 SEMA Show, conducting a Wrap2Wrap Battle live all day Thursday in its booth to promote its 3M Wrap Film Series 1080 line.
As the On All Cylinders automotive blog noted: “It was hard to miss some of the bright-colored wheels on display—especially when some of them were as much as 24 in. in diameter.”
Indeed, as contributor Steve Campbell also previously reported in his “Tire and Wheel Trends Update” (SEMA News, February 2014), most industry professionals are recognizing a trend toward wider wheel sizes for both cars and trucks. In addition, the abundance of CNC lathe and mill technologies has led to an explosion of new wheel designs, including painted, plated, machined and clear-coated products featuring low and mid-range price points that can appeal to a broader range of consumers. Surveying the Show’s many wheel products, the continued quest for lighter weight was also evident, aided by carbon fiber, magnesium and other material hybrids in limited applications.
Still, where chrome wheels once dominated, color is gaining a foot hold, and most popular wheel manufacturers are now offering at least some rims in vibrant splashes to satisfy the emerging consumer demand. The phenomenon even made the Hot Rod Network’s list of “Top 10 Automotive Trends From the 2014 SEMA Show,” with editor David Kennedy noting, “This is migrating over from the exotic car world. It’s a risky move, but it’s very attention-getting and will look great in track action. Love it or hate it, we’re happy to see a move away from the all-black wheel trend of the past few years.”
LED Lights and AccessoriesMetallic wraps and brightly colored wheels weren’t the only flashy products trending at the 2014 SEMA Show. Light-emitting diode (LED) lighting was everywhere. On light bars. On grilles and inserts.
In fact, as a subset of exterior accessory products, LED lighting items featured prominently among the top 10 category offerings catching the attention of media and buyers in the SEMA Show’s New Products Showcase. The most-scanned products included Paramount Automotive’s Paramount LED Grille, Westin Automotive Product’s HD LED Hood Mounts, Lund International’s Lund Bull Bar With LED Light Bar, and Westin Automotive Product’s Bumper-Mount 30-LED Bar.
There are, of course, numerous reasons for the trend. LED products deliver brighter, more focused lighting that more readily withstands road vibration or shock as opposed to traditional filament bulbs. Moreover, they consume significantly less power, last up to an estimated six times longer and offer much more instantaneous illumination over other forms of lighting, making them especially desirable in safety applications. Plus they just plain look cool.
Anticipating the future, Richman—who is also vice president of engineering and technology at Kaiser Aluminum—was a featured speaker at a Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) automotive materials seminar presented during the SEMA Show’s educational track.
The conference paid special attention to the increasing role that aluminum is already playing in the collision repair business and covered training, equipment and tooling recommendations to repair the F-150 and prepare for similar vehicles in the years to come.
According to Richman, the ATG was eager to share key insights into aluminum’s long and evolving history in the automotive industry.
“As aluminum use in auto bodies grows exponentially in the next decade, we applaud the SCRS’s efforts to educate and train repair professionals to be better prepared for the change in status quo materials that come through their shop doors,” he said.