On the Road Again
SEMA Middle East Trip to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia Set for March 2022
By Linda Spencer
Fees start at $4,600 for participants on the SEMA Middle East trip taking the U.S. government grant. Included is a turnkey booth at the Dubai-based Custom Show Emirates, seven nights hotel, all meals and the flight from Dubai to Riyadh. More information is available at www.sema.org/middleeast.
SEMA is organizing the first overseas business development trip since COVID-related travel restrictions were imposed with an upcoming seven-day trip in March 2022 to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and neighboring Saudi Arabia. Once again, a delegation of SEMA-member manufacturers will head to a promising region to meet with pre-vetted trade buyers, exhibit at the region’s largest automotive-specialty equipment show and see the market firsthand.
On a typical trip (this will be SEMA’s ninth to the region), approximately half of the manufacturers participating already have customers in the UAE and surrounding countries. The other 50% are traveling to the region for the first time.
The trip is designed for both first-timers and those looking to deepen their relationships and knowledge of the market. Dan Muldowney, CEO of Motorsports Fuel and Equipment/Race Gas, participated on the 2019 trip. He enjoyed visiting the market for the first time and saw the potential for his company and other SEMA members.
“We were impressed with how enthusiastic and eclectic the car culture is in the Middle East,” Muldowney said. “We saw everything from supercars to sand buggies. If it has an engine, you will find a shop in that market that will want to make it
Bob Scheid, vice president of the Wharton Automotive Group, which includes McLeod Racing LLC, FTI Converters LLC and Silver Sport Transmissions LLC, used the trip to further explore a market in which it already has a presence.
“It’s a region where business relationships are built on personal relationships,” Scheid said upon returning from the 2019 SEMA Middle East trip. “For those with existing distribution in the market, traveling to the region allows for a review of relationships and time to strengthen partnerships.”
Ace Chatoo, regional sales manager and Middle East sales manager for MW Company, summed it up well: “The face-to-face meetings are invaluable in establishing customer relationships and securing a piece of the performance market in the UAE.”
This is the first in a series on the Gulf Region, which includes the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. This article will focus on the UAE, a confederation of seven emirates bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman, and several factors that have led to the reported nearly $86 million in export sales from the U.S. companies participating in past SEMA trips to the region. They include:
- Passion for vehicle customization and all things motorsports, resulting in a knowledge of and demand for personalization and upgrade products.
- Disposable income. The UAE is one of the richest countries in the world, ranking sixth in terms of per-capita income, according to Forbes magazine. The local enthusiasts’ deep pockets allow them to buy the best of the best, and they are willing to pay for quality.
- High regard for U.S.-made products. “The majority of engine, brake, suspension and other products to make vehicles in the Gulf region race-ready are coming from the United States,” said Saeed Al Marzouqi, CEO of Top Speed Performance. And Mark Whitney, owner of North Carolina-based Performance Analysis, who has traveled with SEMA to the region, said that the customers there know what they want. “The customers that come up to your booth already know your product and are so happy to see you in their market,” he said.
- The enthusiast market is deep and broad, with nearly every niche found in the United States also found in the UAE, from racing (drag, sand drag, hill climbs, rallies, off-road, drifting, karting, etc.) to on-track opportunities at the world-class Dubai Autodrome and the Yas Marina Circuit, to sand drag racing at Sweihan and the Liwa Desert. Classic cars and the avid enthusiasts who own them are readily spotted at frequent meet-ups, featured at events such as the Custom Show Emirates, and just cruising down the street.
- The car enthusiast market shows no signs of slowing down, thanks to a youthful population and a strong off-roading culture baked into the DNA of those in the UAE and surrounding countries. Casual enthusiasts and amateur racers as well as those competing for top money awards throughout the region look for better vehicle handling that American aftermarket products offer. Weekend hobbyists and more experienced enthusiasts can be found every Friday taking their Nissan Patrol Safaris, Land Cruisers, Jeeps, Chevy Tahoes and F-150s (and soon the ’21 Ford Bronco) out on the open desert sands. UTVs and overlanding have recently caught on in the region, with both sectors growing rapidly and consumers seeking the latest equipment to power up their sand buggies, UTVs and ATVs.
- Camping equipment and RV sales is another fast-growing segment, as Friday or holiday jaunts into the desert extend for one or more nights. On any given weekend, many of the shops selling U.S. aftermarket products lead regular trips for varying degrees of enthusiast experience providing the perfect opportunity to showcase U.S. handling, suspension, performance and recovery equipment to improve the off-road experience.
- The UAE and surrounding countries are one of the largest export markets for U.S.-made vehicles. The UAE is currently the sixth-largest destination for U.S. exports of new passenger cars ($1.4 billion). You will find an abundance of U.S. vehicles on the roads in the UAE and throughout the GCC countries.
- Among the newest vehicles eagerly sought are the ’21 Ford Bronco and the ’21 Ford F-150. The Jeep Wrangler and large American pickups continue to attract enthusiasts. The UAE and the rest of the GCC region have very inclusive vehicle standards, accepting vehicles for sale in the market that meet U.S., Japanese, European and other national standards, resulting in UAE residents being able to choose from the abundance of U.S. vehicles on the market as well as beloved vehicles not sold in the United States, such as the Nissan Patrol Safari Y61 and the Toyota HiLux.
- English is widely spoken, making communications easy.
- The UAE serves as a natural gateway to the region—a sort of “Netherlands of the Middle East.”
Custom and modified cars are a common sight on many of the UAE’s roads. From the modest to the spectacular, there’s no limit to the creativity that die-hard car lovers have when displaying and modifying their vehicles with a diverse range of car kits and accessories. In a recent 2020 country guide, the U.S. government noted that, “Given high disposable income levels and an interest in classic, modified and luxury vehicles, demand for specialty performance and appearance products is likely to continue growing. U.S. companies also command a leading position in the supply of transmissions, tuning, high-performance parts and kits, steering, suspension, and brake components and parts to the UAE market.”
In addition, aftermarket parts for off-road vehicles and SUVs have good potential in the UAE. SUVs and 4x4 cars are especially popular in the UAE, and there is a high level of interest in off-road and desert driving.
The U.S. government is once again partnering with SEMA on the upcoming SEMA Middle East trip, providing financial support through grants to eligible U.S. companies to defray the cost of participating as well as expertise and technical support through briefings and the leading of trade buyer delegations from the region to meet with the SEMA companies for one-on-one meetings.
SEMA’s international department invites SEMA members to explore the potential for their products in this customizing-crazy market, where consumers are eager to obtain the latest U.S. products for classic car restoration, off-roading, racing, street performance and styling. High disposable income coupled with a passion for personalization makes this a very attractive region.
Participants on the March 2022 SEMA Middle East trip will:
- Exhibit at the leading customizing show in the region—the Custom Show Emirates—in turnkey booths.
- Learn about the market potential for their products in two countries (UAE and Saudi Arabia) as well as in the other Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
- Participate in a seminar with top distributors.
- Participate in an official U.S. government briefing.
- Tour specialty-equipment shops in Saudi Arabia and the UAE featuring performance, off-road and styling upgrades.
- Attend networking receptions.
Included are all meals, hotel accommodations, turnkey booths at the Custom Show Emirates, and the flight from the UAE to Saudi Arabia. (Flights to the UAE and home from Saudi Arabia are not included.)
Rates start at $4,600 for those taking the U.S. government MDCP grant. SEMA can assist qualified companies in accessing additional funds from many state
For more information on the SEMA Middle East trip, contact email@example.com or visit www.sema.org/middleeast.