››› First launched in 2019, SEMA Electrified grew to a SEMA Show section featuring more than 60 cutting-edge vehicles in 2022. Rebranded as the SEMA FutureTech Studio for 2023, it will add hybrids and other alternative-propulsion vehicles to its showcase.

Today's rapidly evolving vehicle landscape can leave many in the specialty-equipment industry wondering where and how they'll fit in to a future of battery-electric and other propulsion alternatives. What challenges will aftermarket businesses face, and what new opportunities—if any—lay ahead? Fortunately, 2023 SEMA Show attendees will discover the answers to these questions and more in a newly expanded SEMA FutureTech Studio, October 31–November 3, in Las Vegas.

Formerly known simply as SEMA Electrified, the exhibit space is being rebranded to reflect the wide range of emerging vehicle propulsion technologies designed to address emissions and carbon-reduction concerns. Relocating to the Las Vegas Convention Center's (LVCC) Central Hall, the exhibit will go beyond battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) to wow attendees with the latest hybrid, clean hydrogen, compressed natural gas (CNG) and fuel cell solutions, along with promising new developments in "synthetic" biofuels.

"When you think about the evolution of the automobile and its performance over the last six decades, the SEMA Show has always been at the epicenter," said SEMA Vice President of Events Tom Gattuso. "It's the one Show where industry visionaries come together to shape not only how automobiles are enjoyed and accessorized, but also their future direction. The drive to innovate is part of our industry's DNA, and a hallmark of the SEMA Show."

The SEMA FutureTech Studio reflects SEMA's "tech-agnostic" stance toward achieving cleaner, better-performing vehicles. Recently, SEMA President and CEO Mike Spagnola noted that "SEMA prides itself on maintaining a forward-looking vision that embraces new technology, including EVs and other zero-emissions vehicles.

"The specialty automotive aftermarket has led the way on alternative fuel innovations, from replacing older engine technologies with newer, cleaner versions to converting older internal combustion engine [ICE] vehicles to new electric, hydrogen and other alternative fuels," he said, adding that while embracing such innovations, SEMA opposes excessive regulation that limits consumer choice. Rather, SEMA favors market-driven solutions to protect the environment.

"SEMA and the SEMA Show take a 360-degree view on meeting clean-propulsion challenges," added Gattuso. "That's why we think this special Show feature is going to be particularly impactful."

Category Growth on Display

SEMA Trade Show Director Andy Tompkins noted that the Show added the SEMA Electrified exhibit in 2019, and it has significantly grown each year since. However, moving the FutureTech Studio to the Show's Central Hall now puts it front and center for attendees eager to grasp new business opportunities.

"The Central Hall, like the name implies, is a hub of the Show," he explained. "So positioning the exhibit there is very strategic. It's a showcase that helps attendees to really understand what's happening in the category. They'll see some of the latest OEM offerings, how they're being accessorized, and how the industry is already pushing the creative envelope with new innovations, parts and services."

The square footage of the exhibit space, along with the sheer variety of vehicles and products displayed, will also increase for 2023, according to SEMA Director of Vehicle Technology Luis Morales, who is playing a lead role in organizing the section. "We were able to grow SEMA Electrified to 60 BEVs in 2022, but with the addition of hybrids and other alternative powertrains, the FutureTech Studio will be much more robust," he said. "We're also reserving certain booths around the feature area for companies specializing in this category. We want to showcase what this entire category really looks like for our industry."

"Clearly, we've reached a tipping point with electrification—at least 5% of vehicles sold are now BEVs, and that percentage is growing. They're here to stay. But there are still a lot of ICE vehicles out in the consumer world already. So how do we make those clean? That's going to be through alternative fuels, and we're going to highlight that too."

The space is also adjacent to the Show's Racing & Performance section, which is also appropriate, given the racing industry's recent moves toward carbon neutrality. "A lot of advances are being pioneered by the racing industry right now,"
noted Morales.

A Place of Exploration

Tompkins added that the industry is poised for change. "The SEMA Show's legacy has of course been ICE vehicles. But our industry has always been open to the new ways of tomorrow. We see our Show as a platform for dialogue where the entire automotive aftermarket can come together and discuss possibilities. This section is another tool to forecast the future and spark new ideas and evolutions that we're not even thinking of yet," he said.

Morales added that part of that discussion will center on comparing the inherent advantages and challenges of all the technologies consumers will soon have to choose from.

"By definition, when you look at alternative fuels and powertrains, you have to do a life cycle analysis [LCA]," he observed. "In that LCA, for example, you have to ask how the fuel is being produced—what energy resources are being used? You have to account for the carbon footprint from the fuel's origin outwards to the tailpipe."

"And that's a big argument for a lot of folks questioning an EV-only future. The car might be carbon-emissions-free right at tailpipe. But there are a lot of other emissions associated with producing batteries and generating the electricity to charge those vehicles. Proponents of hydrogen and propane argue that they look at the whole cycle to become carbon-neutral."

SEMA Show Educational

››› A place of discovery and discussion, the Show section also supports the SEMA Show's educational mission to help attendees understand alternative-propulsion technologies and the new opportunities they afford the aftermarket.

Morales further pointed out that hydrogen is an ICE alternative, which will make it an attractive choice for many specialty-equipment businesses already familiar with that terrain. "So we're going to showcase vehicles powered by hydrogen alongside hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles. And then we'll also showcase advances in eFuels, from propane to biofuels and ethanol."

Tompkins meanwhile believes the electrification and alternative-propulsion category is opening a fresh avenue for the aftermarket to engage with major automakers. "Obviously, a lot of the OEMs owe their histories to ICE, but we and the OEM community understand that things are evolving. We all want to deliver our customers new vehicle innovations and marketable options. This section of the Show helps us all to collaborate on that," he said.

Advancing New Opportunities

Just as importantly, the revamped SEMA exhibit is a place for Show attendees to discover fresh opportunities.

"It's important to explore new technology because that's what so many of our customers are looking for today," Tompkins asserted. "They're more focused on sustainability and environmental impact. We can continue to power our industry for years to come if we understand this emerging market."

"Those attendees who can leverage this space can outpace their competition. They can start to think about new revenue streams or other innovations that might not be available today," emphasized Tompkins, adding that the Show's education program will also feature a number of future-tech-oriented seminars.

Carbon-neutrality has become a hot-
button topic, and many automotive events have recently popped up to grab consumer media attention. But for the aftermarket, the SEMA Show remains the one global trade event uniquely dedicated to the business-to-business connections that push the industry forward.

"The reason we're uniquely situated as a home for EV and future propulsion is that we bring together the entire gamut of the automotive process from engineering concept to finished application and everything in between," said Gattuso. "What's unique about the SEMA Show is we have OEMs, suppliers, builders, manufacturers, retailers—this whole ecosystem covering every angle of the automobile and its potential."