AutoMatters & More: SEMA360 & the Virtual AAPEX Experience

Red hot rod

Held annually on the same week in Las Vegas, the SEMA Show and AAPEX are must-see, industry-only, automotive trade shows. For 2020, combined attendance was expected to exceed 160,000 automotive aftermarket professionals. AAPEX expected to welcome “approximately 49,000 targeted buyers from 114 countries.”

SEMA is the Specialty Equipment Market Association. Founded in 1963, it “is a trade association dedicated to helping businesses involved with vehicle customizations. SEMA consists of a diverse group of manufacturers, distributors, retailers, publishing companies, auto restorers, street-rod builders, restylers, car clubs, race teams and more.”


AAPEX is the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo. Serving the “$1 trillion global automotive aftermarket industry,” its trade show complements, but is distinctly different from, the SEMA Show.

Each year at the SEMA Show, hundreds of customized vehicles fill and surround the exhibit halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and beyond. It is “focused on new products, feature vehicles, manufacturer/buyer connections and downloadable promotional catalogs and sell sheets,” whereas the emphasis at AAPEX — at the nearby Sands Expo & Caesars Forum Conference Center, is more on service, repair and replacement parts, and equipment.

At both shows there are in-person, hands-on opportunities to see and examine countless customized vehicles, parts, accessories and more. They also include specialized industry training sessions. The SEMA Show has exciting drifting and other high-performance automotive demonstrations, such as “Ford Out Front,” surrounded by spectators in the large, paved, outdoor parking areas. The “SEMA Cruise” is an immensely popular, hours-long parade of customized show vehicles that slowly stream out of the LVCC and are driven between grandstands packed with members of the general public, on their way to the huge “SEMA Ignited” afterparty. Motorsports events are traditionally held during the week at venues in the greater Las Vegas area, including at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Off-road vehicle

In past years, my coverage of the SEMA Show and AAPEX featured my extensive photography. In addition to the cool customs, I covered thrilling motorsports events ranging from off-road racing to autocrossing to rallycross; and I discovered new and innovative products to review after I returned home.

However, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented changes, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Consumer habits have been broken, exacerbated by government stay-at-home orders, due to the spread of COVID-19.

There have been serious interruptions in the global supply chain. Convincing Mexican authorities to keep the doors open in their parts plants has been challenging. The cost to the U.S. economy has been trillions of dollars.

Sportscar drifting
Sportscar drifting

The automotive industry is essential, so while the pandemic has been an epic challenge, it also presents great opportunities. Through it all our vehicles have needed, and continue to need, service and repairs. As we increasingly get out and drive more, towards pre-pandemic levels, so too will automotive business increase. Even as people spend more time at home, the automotive hobby continues to drive customization, but with a shift towards more DIY (Do-It Yourself) projects. To best meet the challenges requires innovation, communication and perseverance. Full recovery may take years.

The SEMA and AAPEX trade shows, formerly in-person events, were reconfigured for online attendance as SEMA360 and the Virtual AAPEX Experience. Manufacturers held interactive meetings with potential buyers. There were speakers, seminars, educational sessions, and new products — including tools and equipment, wheels, accessories, tires, restyling and car care products, mobile electronics and technology, collision repair and refinish, and more. SEMA360 held the ever-popular “Battle of the Builders” event; and, of course, there were plenty of vehicles to see (in photos and videos) that showcased the latest and greatest customizations, parts, products and services. Auto manufacturers, including Toyota and Ford, had exciting new product announcements.

It is uncertain whether things will ever be quite the way things were before the pandemic, even when there is a widely administered, safe and effective vaccine. It will continue to be up to the parts industry to provide the right part, at the right place, at the right time. The automotive industry must continue to prioritize the health, safety and well-being of its customers and employees. As always, companies will need to continually adapt to meet the changing needs of their customers, focusing on the customer experience.

The SEMA Show and AAPEX will return as in-person trade shows, but they will probably be different, due in part to alternatives explored online.

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Copyright © 2020 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #666r1