Open for All
How the New SEMA Garage Detroit Greatly Expands Your Ability to Speed Products to Market
By Mike Imlay
An architectural rendition of the new SEMA Garage Detroit. Although parts of the facility are still under construction, the Garage officially opens its doors to the industry this month and will greatly enhance SEMA’s product-development services to members.
It’s official: The new SEMA Garage Detroit facility opens its doors to the industry on August 18. In reality, the facility has been undergoing a soft launch for the past several months, with different services coming online through the completion of a series of construction phases. Nevertheless, this month marks a major milestone in the SEMA Garage’s ability to bring cutting-edge research and development programs and technologies to a rapidly changing industry.
“The productivity of the original SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar [California] and the fast pace of automotive technology prompted further investment in our Garage initiatives, and so the SEMA Board of Directors approved a plan to add another SEMA Garage facility in the Detroit area,” explained SEMA CEO Mike Spagnola. “What’s especially noteworthy is that some 5,000 sq. ft. of the new building will be devoted exclusively to research on advanced driver-assistance systems [ADAS], which is a major priority in our association’s drive to make R&D technology accessible to members.”
Each year, SEMA members introduce thousands of cutting-edge products designed to add enjoyment to vehicle ownership. While some feature universal fitment, many are model-specific, requiring significant R&D. The SEMA Garage was conceived over a decade ago to provide association members with access to high-tech tools, equipment and services to help speed product to market. With its original 15,000-sq.-ft. facility in Los Angeles County, the heart of Southern California car culture, and its new 45,000-sq.-ft. location in Plymouth, Michigan, the SEMA Garage is the only known aftermarket R&D center of its type in the United States.
Situated in the Detroit hub, the new Garage will especially offer proximity to SEMA members in the Midwest region and create greater throughput on the emissions-compliance front. It will house equipment that will offer the ability to test both two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles. Since it’s located in the same area as many Tier-1 OEM suppliers, the Detroit facility will also offer the long-term opportunity to build and expand on relationships with carmakers and major suppliers, helping to create avenues for collaboration on vehicle personalization.
The features and details of the new SEMA Garage Detroit are outlined in our “From the Association” column on p. 10 of this issue. This story focuses on the overall expansion of the SEMA Garage’s services at both locations, what they mean for SEMA members, and how specialty automotive product innovators can access them.
“At the new Detroit Garage, we’re trucking along through construction,” said Ben Kaminsky, SEMA Garage general manager. “We’ve had some big pieces of equipment successfully installed recently, so from a buildout standpoint, we feel extremely good about our direction.”
Kaminsky added that hiring staff is on pace as well. Among other positions, the SEMA Garage has added Shawn Ranganathan as its SEMA Certified-Emissions engineer and Mike Mueller, formerly of Bosch, as its aftermarket ADAS engineer. Both will play key roles going forward.
The Detroit facility will house SEMA’s ADAS Research Center, which will devote itself to better understanding and cataloging ADAS technologies and helping SEMA members develop products and modifications in compliance with emerging vehicle-safety features.
ADAS presents a unique challenge for the aftermarket, since specialty-equipment products and modifications can interfere with the radar, cameras and other key components that enable the systems to operate safely. Even a simple change of wheels and tires or a modest suspension lift might in theory affect ADAS operations without proper recalibration. In addition, ADAS equipment and calibration techniques vary from automaker to automaker and even model to model. Many industry products must be fully tested before introduction to the market—a costly proposition, especially for smaller companies.
The collision and repair industry has done much groundwork in properly putting ADAS-equipped vehicles back together. To date, however, no organization has addressed how to make different tires, bumpers, mirrors, grilles, suspensions and other modifications compatible with ADAS features. SEMA’s new ADAS Research Center in Detroit aims to fill that void by systematically researching popularly modified vehicles, model by model and building a library of best practices accessible to all SEMA members.
“It’s trailblazing work that needs to be done now, before there are more regulations and obstacles, in order to stay ahead of this fast-moving technology,” Kaminsky said. To build the ADAS Research Center, SEMA turned to outside industry pioneers in the field.
“They helped us understand what our facilities and systems should be like,” Kaminsky explained. “That included everything from light fixtures to wall colors down to not putting metal plates on our outlets because radar can reflect off them. We also had to pay close attention to the flatness and levelness of the floor. We mapped out a grid that told the construction crew almost foot by foot where to grind the concrete to make it level.”
The SEMA Garage has also assembled an ongoing ADAS advisory panel to help set research priorities. The panel was key to the selection of a ’22 Chevrolet Silverado truck as the first vehicle to study. They were also specific about the vehicle’s configuration and trim.
Over a decade ago, SEMA opened the first SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, California. Along with the new Detroit expansion, it is the only known aftermarket R&D center of its type in the United States. Its programs continue to ensure the industry’s future amid rapidly emerging technologies.
“A lot of our members from around the industry said this was the first vehicle they wanted answers on,” Kaminsky said. “It’s one of the more popular trucks for consumer modifications. Our Silverado had to have a particular engine configuration, a particular cab configuration and particular ADAS options. Our advisory panel basically steered us in the right direction for that.”
The vehicle will now be modified with the panel’s input. New wheels, tires and a leveling kit are at the top of the list. As the Garage crew performs each modification, there will be careful study on its effects on ADAS features. Solutions to any problems that arise will be documented to help builders and installers everywhere. Numerous other popular trucks and vehicles will follow.
“The interesting part is that many of our panel members are competitors in the industry, and they’re coming together to solve a common problem so they can all have a common footing,” Kaminsky added. “I’ve been very impressed with how they’re working together and how open they’ve been with information and which vehicle and product configurations sell.”
Both the Diamond Bar and Detroit Garages feature emissions-compliance labs to assist performance manufacturers in obtaining CARB EOs and EPA 49-state-legal certification through the new SEMA Certified-Emissions program. With two new dynos, the Detroit Garage greatly enhances these capabilities.
Since the inception of the SEMA Garage, another of its key programs has been assisting members in demonstrating that their performance products meet regulatory emissions-compliance standards and gaining California Air Resources Board (CARB)Executive Orders (EOs) that permit the legal sale of those products.
In February 2022, however, SEMA added the SEMA Certified-Emissions program, a new way for specialty automotive parts manufacturers to meet the legal requirement for emissions compliance under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tampering Policy. SEMA’s certification program enables manufacturers to verify that a product meets the EPA’s “reasonable basis” criteria and is therefore legal for sale in 49 states. According to Peter Treydte, SEMA director of emissions compliance, the new Detroit Garage will greatly enhance those services to members.
“We’re adding manpower for our Compliance Center, whether that be for assisting with CARB EOs or for SEMA Certified-Emissions services,” he explained. “We’re also adding another laboratory and two new dynos, which means we’ll have more capacity for doing the testing that’s necessary.”
With the advent of vehicle electrification, the Garage is keeping an eye on the future as well.
“With electric vehicles (EVs), it’s not directly emissions testing, but it is range testing, and range translates into emissions in one form or another,” Treydte explained. “There may come a time when evaluating the range of EVs that have been modified would be required, and we’ll be able to provide that service as well.”
SEMA Garage tech services to members include laser scanning, an OEM-vehicle CAD library, 3-D printing and live measuring sessions of popular new vehicles. These provide member companies of all sizes access to rapid-prototyping tools that can speed product to market.
According to Luis Morales, SEMA director of vehicle technology, EVs will become more prominent in many Garage programs.
“We just launched our first-ever measuring session for an electric vehicle with the Ford F-150 Lightning,” he said. “It was very successful, very well attended and well received by the industry.”
Live measuring sessions of popular new and preproduction vehicles are just one component of the SEMA Garage’s many technical services, which also include 3-D printing and scanning services for members, and the Tech Transfer program with its OEM and scanned vehicles CAD library.
“We actually broke ground in May by providing access to some of Ford’s latest electric-vehicle data, including a good chunk of data for the Mustang Mach-E,” Morales said, adding that the idea is to stay abreast of all automotive innovations, whatever they may be.
“Internal-combustion engines are not going anywhere,” he said. “They’re very healthy and running strong, and there’s always going to be an effort to make them cleaner in terms of emissions output.”
Kaminsky noted that all of the SEMA Garage programs benefit not only manufacturers but also resellers and shops clear down to the mom-and-pop level. Helping to ensure that industry products are emissions- or ADAS-compliant and made to the highest standards ultimately deceases legal and liability risks for everyone in the chain, and it sustains viability and growth in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace.
As the person tapped to helm the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar in 2009, Spagnola said that even he marvels at how much its programs have grown and how the industry has embraced them. When it first opened, the facility was envisioned as a tech center with a clubhouse feel—a comfortable place to R&D product. Today, there is hardly a moment when the Garage team is idle, and the staff often assists SEMA members with emissions testing and other services well into the night. Plus, the Garage’s capabilities have become increasingly high-tech.
“The new Garage will more than double our industry’s capacity to keep up with the latest technology and help manufacturers develop new, exciting products,” Spagnola said. “It really represents another step toward addressing the challenges we see now and those in the future. With vehicle electrification, self-driving cars and artificial intelligence all on the horizon, some of those challenges may be more daunting, but we’re eager to help our members take them on.”
SEMA Garage Services Guide
No matter what sort of aftermarket performance product a company may be developing, the SEMA Garage has the services and tools to assist. The following are the main programs offered:
- Tech Transfer: OEM-provided CAD files that can minimize the need for reverse engineering.
- Custom Scanning Services: Featuring a state-of-the-art FaroArm/CMM scanning system, these services are exclusive to SEMA members.
- 3-D Printing: Rapid prototyping using cutting-edge technology to create a physical model of your product in a variety of materials.
- Measuring Sessions: Timely sessions offering hands-on access to popular new vehicles for designing and developing prototypes, including global models customized abroad but not sold in the United States. (CAD files also available.)
- Emissions Compliance: Assistance with all aspects of emissions compliance, including preparation of CARB EO and SEMA Certified applications, lab testing and interaction with CARB and EPA on behalf of SEMA members.
- Vehicle ADAS: Research and resources to assist with the development of products and modifications that impact active and passive ADAS safety-performance technologies that assist drivers and automate vehicle systems.
- Vehicle Dynamics: Ensuring that a company’s products and modifications successfully integrate with the latest and emerging vehicle dynamics technologies and comply with federal motor-vehicle safety regulations.
- Vehicle Electronics: Helping companies integrate their products with the latest automotive and consumer electronics technologies and leverage emerging opportunities with connected vehicles.
- Vehicle Technology Alerts: Providing SEMA members the latest information about advanced vehicle technologies and regulations impacting their products and businesses.
- Training Centers: For hosting impressive product or reveals to the industry, or conducting full training sessions for a company’s new products or emerging technologies.
- Installation Centers: Fully equipped centers for test-fitting product prototypes or installing components on a project vehicle.
Accessing the SEMA Garages
To learn more about the SEMA Garage Detroit and Diamond Bar facilities and all their programs and services, visit www.semagarage.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 909-978-6728.