His nickname comes from a character in the legendary comic strip ``Gasoline Alley,'' but the new chairman of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) is a tire guy who's serious about his business and goals for the trade group representing aftermarket parts makers.
It was Joseph ``Corky'' Coker's love for vintage cars that started him down the road toward the leadership of SEMA. Mr. Coker, 49, was a founder of the Automotive Restoration Market Organization-a council within SEMA that promotes restoring vintage autos and fights efforts at getting them off the road via scrappage programs. Vintage cars are at the heart of Mr. Coker's day job as president of Coker Tire Co. in Chattanooga, Tenn. The 45-year-old business distributes vintage tire designs from BFGoodrich, Firestone, U.S. Royal and Michelin.
Mr. Coker, who began his two-year term as chairman of the 5,000-member trade group in mid-2003, was interviewed recently by Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business:
What are some of your goals as SEMA chairman?
``I know how important it is at SEMA to not forget where I came from-hardcore performance and manufacturing. One of my goals is to strengthen the whole auto aftermarket. The national economy the last 18 months has been a little soft. Despite that, (SEMA's) membership is up 37 percent. I have items on my agenda to make marketing strong, expand the International Auto Salon show with an event on the East Coast and put emphasis on the restyling and truck accessories business.''
How is SEMA's relationship with auto makers?
``I feel that the auto makers are interested in SEMA because it brings them a closer, quicker, stronger connection with consumers. Products such as sunroofs and running boards came from SEMA members.
``Auto makers know how to do things in mass quantity. We want to make sure we continue a strong relationship with them. They're building our platform. Auto makers have a tremendous number of accessories that you can buy from a dealership. In this country we have the freedom to decide what we want and do whatever you want to your vehicle, within reason.''
How does SEMA react when auto makers take a stand against car dealers' adding aftermarket products, such as General Motors Corp.'s warning to its dealers about aftermarket wheels?
``Too often, they are sending notices out to dealers about voiding the warranty with aftermarket products. That's not a pleasant experience for us at SEMA. Sometimes marriages are not always pleasant experiences. We also really need to work closer with auto dealers across the nation. It's all about how we love cars and parts. Auto makers and dealers want to sell cars. It's all about making more money. We can show them how to make more money selling our products.''
How big an issue is the sale of counterfeit parts?
``I can tell from my position at SEMA, any part made that had a trademark, it is the responsibility of the association to stop any counterfeit production. When no intellectual property is involved, nothing prohibits anybody from making anything. I'm a licensee of Ford, building tires with the Ford script name on them for 1932 to 1947 Fords. I would never consider putting it on anything without paying Ford their due.''
Is SEMA concerned that adding aftermarket parts to new vehicles hurts the resale value?
``I haven't seen that. Maybe some of the customized vans of years ago, I can remember that. What I see is that the customer has freedom of choice. I find that very seldom do customers buy a new car and they're not concerned about what changes would do to the value.''
Has the SEMA show grown to the point where a company other than one of the Big 3 car makers could be named as the manufacturer of the show?
``We've had ongoing discussions with all the auto makers. We will see an increase in participation by auto makers. We had 12 participating (in the 2003 SEMA show). As far as a time frame as to whom we are discussing, I'll leave that to a future announcement. We've had conversations. They're interested and enthused. We are rivaling our good friends in Detroit with an international presence.''