Exploring EV's and "CLEAN ICE" Technologies


››› By Mike Imlay

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 EV and Future Propulsion section, October 31–November 3, in Las Vegas.

Formerly known simply as SEMA Electrified, the exhibit space us 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.

››› 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 EV and Future Propulsion exhibit for 2023, it will add hybrids and other alternative-propulsion vehicles to its showcase.

"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 EV and Future Propulsion feature 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."


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

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 SEMA EV and Future Propulsion 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 SEMA EV and Future Propulsion section 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. "Whether you're looking at International Motor Sports Association Racing or Formula 1, they've all made a commitment to deriving a certain percentage of their fuel from renewable sources. In fact, Formula 1 has set a goal of running on 100% renewable fuels by 2026. Once they've achieved this, I think we can expect to see these fuels scaled down to consumer


A Place of Exploration

Tompkins agreed 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 analyze 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."

››› The '22 Volkswagen ID.4 was named the 2022 SEMA Show's EV of the Year. The SEMA Awards underscore the synergy between OEMs and the aftermarket, and the expanded SEMA EV and Future Propulsion exhibit promises to push that collaboration forward with alternative powertrains.

Register Now!

The 2023 SEMA Show is slated for October 31–November 3, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas.

There is no other trade show where attendees can see thousands of product innovations from new and iconic exhibitors, experience the latest product and custom vehicle trends, get access to 90-plus free professional skill-enhancing education sessions and make career-changing connections with peers, leaders and celebrities at the industry's most anticipated in-person networking event.

If you haven't yet made plans to attend, there's still time.



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."

For the foreseeable future, Morales believes that no one application will win out. For example, BEVs might serve city commuters well, but their weight and limited range presently makes them ill-suited to long-haul trucking. Likewise, propane, hydrogen or CNG might prove a better solution for buses and commercial van fleets. Farmers and ranchers will also likely want non-BEV alternatives for their work trucks and equipment.

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.

"First, this is a great showcase where OEMs can meet with media and share their EV and alternative-propulsion stories. It's also a place they can connect with an important slice of their supplier community as well as end resellers. Plus they can network with car builders and experts from across the world and get a sense of what's happening in our industry with these technologies."


››› Vehicle conversions and customization remain just as popular as ever, regardless of powertrain. This year's exhibit is designed to inspire parts makers and builders to take on today's new-tech platforms with confidence.

Advancing New Opportunities

More importantly, though, the revamped SEMA EV and Future Propulsion 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."

"The SEMA Show is the industry's home for these discussions," he continued. "Where can we go in the future? How can we be more sustainable as an industry? What are the new technologies coming out? That's where a lot of our end customers are, and certainly the media is also focused on that. So for our attendees, this is a great business opportunity."

In fact, Tompkins emphasized, the Show section will offer something for every aftermarket segment. For the collision-repair community, there will be programs centered on EV repair and its unique characteristics. Parts makers, too, can get a sense of the different application requirements of EVs, hybrids and other platforms.

"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.

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 positioned to make the business-to-business connections that push the industry forward.

"The reason we're so uniquely situated to be the home for EV and future propulsion is that the SEMA Show brings together the entire gambit 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."

With that in mind, SEMA Show organizers are also expanding educational opportunities at the Show to include in-depth looks at emerging propulsion technologies. Among other programs, the SEMA Show will offer its first EV certification workshop in partnership with Legacy EV.

Meanwhile, SEMA's commitment to preparing the aftermarket for the changing landscape also extends beyond the Show. "Among other programs, we offer a full array of product-development services through the SEMA Garages in both Diamond Bar and Detroit, including a Tech Transfer program for CAD data for late-model OEM vehicles," said Morales. "We've also upfitted the Detroit Garage for EV range testing. We also have the ability to add that testing to the Diamond Bar Garage as demand increases as well."

As for the SEMA Show itself, "What I'm most excited about is that not only will we have the showcase for EV and future propulsion, but many different displays and information and education areas, media discussions and networking events all focused on what's coming next," said Tompkins. "There will be innovations in the New Products Showcase and top-level brand solutions from exhibitors."

"Although some companies may choose to specialize in the EV and alternative powertrain space, we see many others adjusting their products to fit both ICE and EV platforms—call it powertrain-agnostic. Either way, the SEMA EV and Future Propulsion section should be a must-visit item on every SEMA Show attendee's itinerary."



Participation in the 2023 SEMA EV and Future Propulsion feature section continues to grow. At press time, the following were among the initial exhibitors signed on. Consult SEMAShow.com for ongoing updates.

  • Ampere EV LLC
  • Battery Tender
  • BendPak
  • Hypercraft
  • Legacy EV
  • Scorpion EV
  • Speedhut
  • The SWITCH Lab