It’s been about a month since the SEMA show in Las Vegas which started just after Halloween this year. With the US election and Thanksgiving holiday in the rearview mirror, this seemed like a good time to reflect on the state of the aftermarket industry. For those not familiar with it, SEMA is the Specialty Equipment Market Association, an industry trade association for the automotive aftermarket industry. In the US, this is nearly a $40b industry and over 165,000 participants descend on Las Vegas annually to attend the fourth largest trade show in the world. We go every couple of years to take the pulse of the industry and meet with almost all our suppliers in one place. And to see the cars.
State of the Market: SEMA estimates the US automotive aftermarket to be $39.2b in 2016. The market has shown steady growth for six years straight, growing at a rate of 8% last year. This is the first year the total has exceeded pre-recession levels. The Racing segment is one of the smallest niche at about $1.57b, which is a little smaller than Off-Road ($1.82b) and about the same size as Restoration ($1.53) and Street Rod & Custom ($1.47b). The fundamental shift in the market has been in the Accessory and Appearance Product Segment which was about half of the market before the recession. It peaked at about $24b in 2007 and has just now returned to 2001 levels at just under $15b in 2016. The change is especially true in the Light Truck segment, but has had an effect across all segments including Compact Performance (including most of the MINI aftermarket.)
In 2007, new car/truck buyers were spending $1500 to $2000 accessorizing their new purchase. Last year it was about a third of that. There are a couple of trends at play here. One is the higher degree of customization available during the purchase process and the second is a change in buyer behavior. Buyers in most segments are more focused on utility than style. In the MINI new car market, this is reflected in more buyers purchasing cars off the lot with fewer optional features and fewer customers ordering on line. That results in dealerships needing to carry more cars in inventory and taking less risks when ordering cars. (Some call this the Camry effect which ultimately results in a used car market flooded with beige colored cars that no one wants.)
The good news for us is that we’ve shifted more into the Racing niche segment over the past year. That niche is perhaps less dynamic, but also less cyclical. It consists of three product segments: Performance (48%); Wheels, Tires & Suspension (34%); and Accessory & Appearance (18%). The first two have had steady growth for 15 years. The last has grown steadily since floundering between 2007 and 2011.
MINI at SEMA: We were hoping we’d catch the new Countryman at SEMA, but MINI USA waited until the LA Auto Show to unveil it. They brought instead a JCW Clubman, Cooper Convertible, and Cooper S Hatchback. The most interesting thing about MINI was where it wasn’t, namely, anywhere else in the show. Once a favorite of the tuning crowd, the new, larger MINIs have gone mainstream. No longer is it seen as a platform to advertise other products.
The current generation of cars are quite capable. They outperform the earlier models in almost every dimension except one: fun. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad in MINI land. I especially liked the Union Jack convertible roof. The interiors are very nice – approaching Audi nice – but they are not enthusiast cars, they’re just cars. The funny thing about MINI’s current design language is that it doesn’t seem to work on the smaller cars. The taillights across the models are oddly proportioned, as if making them bigger would make the cars seem smaller. Compare the Clubman to the standard hatchback. The proportions of the larger Clubman seem to work better with the larger platform. The longer nose, the higher waistline, they all seem to work on the Clubman.
More than a Trade Show: SEMA’s roots go back to the Southern California Hot Rod scene 50 years ago and there was much of that still on display. Most people think of the street racing scene when they think about the show today, but there’s much more to see. I’ve selected some of my favorite photos and shared them below.
There are always some interesting racecars and quality builds at the show each year. The public may be fascinated with reality TV builders, but I’m more interested in unique cars and personalities. It was interesting to compare the Singer Design Porsches to Magnus Walker’s builds. The new NSX racecar is beautiful and the Turner M6 is much larger in person.
There were also plenty of unbalanced wings; incorrectly mounted splitters; and slammed “racecars” with zero suspension travel. Rust and Steam-Punk were major themes. Not so much for product offerings as much as displays to draw you in. I appreciate the patina on a non-restored classic, but now you can’t tell what’s real and what’s affected. I do appreciate an inappropriately large motor applied to just about anything though. Some of the builds made no sense to me. I’m not sure what they’re intended to convey: The art of the possible or just to get your attention. This could be from the maker of a wrap, to top-heavy lifted vehicles just waiting to be pushed over.
I also thought Continental Tire had an interesting way of demonstrating the grip and wear performance of their tires. By giving drifting demonstration rides. Although from where I was standing, it looked as if some of the backseat passengers were trying to get out….