Getting under the hood of SEMA 2019
The annual SEMA show in Las Vegas is… different. Simply calling it a business-to-business expo of aftermarket car equipment doesn’t come close to capturing the wild spirit of the event. For instance, when was the last time you ended a business conference holding up a beer in your clenched fist cheering on a truck’s tire-exploding burnout?
For several decades, the show has been a showcase for how far car customization and aftermarket tuning can take a bone-stock performer, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this show made sense – such as it does – now that auto engineering has become so sophisticated and that cars roll out of the factory with more customization options than ever before.
“It’s tougher to find horsepower, but our engineers are coming up with more creative ways to get horsepower to customers,” says Adam Stadler, director of brand and content marketing at K&N Engineering. For 50 years, K&N has been manufacturing aftermarket products like air filters and intakes for cars and motorcycles, and I thought its booth would be a good place to start when it came to making sense of SEMA.
Naturally, Adam agrees, as well as stating that adding a new air filter is “a great first step” for those bitten by the car mod bug. “Anyone can drop in an air filter,” Adam says, “it’s a good entry level modification. If you’re not comfortable getting under the hood and wrenching, it’s a good way of dipping your toe in the water of customizing your car.”
A quick glance around the booth and there’s plenty of examples of what K&N offers, from filters and air intakes promising boosts of horsepower, to throttle control modules allowing that power to be delivered when you need it. All told, it all seems more accessible than most of the tools and parts on display across the convention hall.
What's the future of modding electric cars?
Notably scarce are any electric or electrified cars. It’s clear that this is internal combustion territory and I ask Adam what K&N’s plans are for an EV-filled future. “Electric is the way of the future but we don’t thing gas is going away anytime soon.” Adam continues to say that K&N’s betting that while EVs become daily drivers, gas-powered cars will still be in the garages of enthusiasts, something James May seems to agree with. Let’s not forget that cabin filters are still necessary and other mods like throttle boost controls will have applications.
SEMA in a nutshell
In the end I came to understand that SEMA is more about people than it is about cars. It’s about people who want to make “A” car “their” car, whether that means small tweaks to squeeze out a bit more performance, or slamming it to the ground and bolting nine wings to it. The SEMA crowd is about pushing boundaries, which I consider as I watch a pickup truck designed to haul cargo drift sideways around the Hoonigan burnyard outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. That desire really comes from a very personal level of car love, and that’s something you can’t get factory installed.