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Auto Show:  2011 Sema Auto Show

2011 SEMA Auto Show Preview

author photo by Colin Ryan October 2011

If we pictured all the mainstream carmakers clumped together and living in a swish suburb, then the auto aftermarket crowd would be the rowdy neighbors at the other end of the street, the party people. It's no surprise, then, that the biggest aftermarket show of the year takes places in Las Vegas.

SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association has scheduled its 2011 show from November 1 to November 4. It's not open to the public, just those whose work is in some way connected to the auto industry. But that still means a great wave of humanity exploring the wheels, tires, body kits, shock absorbers, audio systems, exhaust pipes, and any other car-related paraphernalia displayed across two million square feet of exhibition space.

The SEMA bash is colorful and noisy and, for the past few years, crammed with Chevrolet Camaros that have been accessorized to the utmost degree. This year is still expected to offer a Camaro or five, plus a herd of similarly fettled Ford Mustangs and Dodge Challengers. But there could be a new trend on the rise: smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

For example, FIAT is running a design competition, using its 500 subcompact as the canvas. Chevrolet is showing off versions of the new sub-sized Sonic and compact Cruze that add a real excitement to what might otherwise be considered budget runabouts. Hyundai also has a few versions of its all-new Veloster compact coupe on its stand, while Honda is announcing a range of add-ons for its 2012 Civic.

Major manufacturers have been raising their profiles with each successive SEMA show. It's their chance to say, "Hey, we can be hip, fun and edgy too." Sometimes it's been as embarrassing as seeing your dad dance at a wedding reception, but the big guns are moving past that and creating some genuinely cool stuff.

We look forward to examples like the several variants of the Ford Focus that emphasize the car's inherent sportiness, including one from Roush, a well-known name among the racing fraternity. The Focus and the smaller Fiesta are set to dominate Ford's SEMA show area.

Even a marque as conservative and cautious as Lexus can be found amid Sin City's billboards and bacchanalia, where "stock" is the dirtiest word, with an F Sport version of its GS sedan. SEMA is becoming just as much an indication of the automotive future as conventional car shows.

More than 70 press conferences are scheduled, a substantial hike over last year's number, and will be sacrificing good old shoe leather to attend them all and file reports. Then maybe put just $20 on red.

COLIN RYAN has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 SEMA Auto Show Preview - Autotrader