What the 2021 SEMA Show Tells Us
By Chris Kersting
The 2021 SEMA Show clearly indicated that a large portion of our industry values an event that provides face-to-face contact, innovative new products, networking, and the opportunity to renew its love affair with the automobile. Congratulations are due all around, and especially to those who worked through obstacles and overcame uncertainties in order to make the 2021 Show their priority.
Our immediate feedback was that the Show was populated by quality attendees who came to do business, and that conversations were less rushed, leading to more meaningful interactions. To the extent that our industry is about people and relationships, this year’s Show was an especially refreshing opportunity. The new West Hall facility at the Las Vegas Convention Center allowed exhibitors much-needed space, and the upgraded infrastructure was welcome. As usual, the Show also provided indications of emerging trends and a look at what might unfold in the future.
One evident trend is the continuing development of electric propulsion and the related innovations of the specialty aftermarket at this year’s SEMA Show. There were dozens of electric vehicles on the Show floor, along with new companies and products that illustrated intriguing new possibilities ranging across the spectrum.
As to how the electrification trend will unfold, opinions are varied. The narrative prevalent in the media today often pits electrification against the internal combustion engine (ICE). This depiction is often either/or, with internal combustion engines portrayed as the undesirable factor that will be ushered off the road within the next decade. SEMA doesn’t agree with this narrative. The idea that gas versus electric is a near-term, zero-sum game, a black-or-white proposition, is not supported by a host of challenges, including infrastructure hurdles and large-scale adoption realities that will lead to more evolution than revolution. And that means gas-powered vehicles will be an important portion of the vehicle mix for many years to come.
Indeed, those who attended the SEMA Show saw that the golden age of internal combustion horsepower continues, with better fuel efficiency and lower emissions than ever before. We also saw stunning 1,000hp crate engines that run on pump gas and a glimpse of the ingenuity and innovative direction the performance aftermarket is taking—for example, a 500hp hydrogen-burning ICE that puts out zero emissions. These and many other examples and insights lead us to anticipate that the internal combustion engine will be a part of the solution toward reduced emissions in a mix with plug-in electrics, hybrids and fuel cell vehicles.
That said, the characteristics of electric powerplants have begun to spawn excitement and innovative thinking in the SEMA world as well. We now have bona-fide electric performance products, including a variety of electric crate motors suitable for all kinds of custom projects. As more electrified vehicles enter the marketplace, there will be many new opportunities to improve and accessorize. SEMA looks forward to being at the forefront of efforts to help our industry members capture these opportunities.
Another conspicuous trend was the continued growth in products catering to the off-road lifestyle. There were aggressive 4x4 concepts galore as well as all manner of custom rigs to engage the overlanding community. The growth in products aimed at making self-contained adventure travel possible has been particularly impressive.
Looking ahead to 2022, we can expect international borders and marketplaces to continue to open. That will mean the return of international buyers to the SEMA Show, re-establishing the pipeline to overseas markets with pent-up demand for American products. Coupled with the success of this year’s SEMA Show, the industry’s strong marketplace over the past 18 months and an eagerness to enjoy the explosion of automotive passion that is the SEMA Show, we see strong reasons for a very promising outlook for next year’s event.