It is likely that 2008 will be a challenging year for the specialty vehicle equipment market, in the view of Chris Kersting, president of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).
However, this means 2008 will be a great year for SEMA and its members, at least in regard to the myriad ways the association can help its members.
``We believe the association can be most useful to its members when they're facing a tough market, and this is a tough market,'' Mr. Kersting said. ``We hope they will tune in to the tools the association has to offer to help them maximize their profits.''
The major thrust of SEMA's efforts in this area is its ongoing program to help its members comprehend the increasing complexity of vehicle technology, Mr. Kersting said. In May 2006, SEMA hired John Waraniak as its vice president of vehicle technology, to head the association's efforts on gathering technical information and gaining the cooperation of vehicle and parts manufacturers.
So far Mr. Waraniak's efforts have been outstandingly successful, Mr. Kersting said. One important result of his work is SEMA's new technical briefing seminars, in which key technical people from supplier and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) companies provide information to SEMA members to help them integrate new products into their business.
``We're also looking for better ways for our industry to collaborate to find solutions to ease the integration of specific equipment with new vehicle technology,'' Mr. Kersting told Tire Business.
SEMA plans to record some of the technology briefing seminars for wider dissemination, though it has not done so yet. It plans to post a schedule of recorded seminars sometime in the near future at www.sema.org.
As in past years, SEMA is placing special emphasis on expanding its educational programs, Mr. Kersting said. The Diamond Bar-based trade association plans its second annual National Educational Conference in Nashville, Tenn., in April, geared toward honing leadership skills and providing the know-how to use the tools that can help automotive professionals do business more efficiently and effectively, he said.
This past fall, the association also established the SEMA Educational Institute to increase educational opportunities for its members, Mr. Kersting said. The institute will make outreach efforts to establish ties with automotive technical schools as well as with colleges and universities with auto technical programs, he said.
A major portion of SEMA's activities traditionally go toward preparing for and operating its annual trade show in Las Vegas, and 2008 will be no different, according to Mr. Kersting.
``By all measures, the 2007 show was our most successful,'' he said. ``In 2008, we will continue our focus on new products that our members bring to the show, to make sure the attendees are exposed to that great array of new products.''
Mr. Kersting also finds it encouraging that many SEMA members attending the trade show take advantage of the opportunities there to make contacts with international marketing representatives.
``Over 20 percent of the show's attendees come from overseas markets, at a time when the U.S. market and economy are soft,'' he said.
SEMA also is producing technical seminars of specific interest to the tire industry, Mr. Kersting said. These include seminars on electronic stability control (ESC) systems and their relation to tires. At least one of these seminars has been taped and will be made available online, he said. SEMA's Wheel and Tire Council also continues to work on the issue of integrating ESC and tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), he said.
Government affairs will be particularly important to SEMA in the coming year, especially in connection with vehicle safety and emissions issues, Mr. Kersting said.
``With all the public attention on the air quality front, particularly global warming, we expect a good deal of activity on the regulatory level,'' he said. ``We expect federal regulators will continue to seek improvements in vehicle safety, using new technologies. We want to make sure we're given the opportunity to integrate our products with these new technologies.''
Among SEMA's other activities, Mr. Kersting is especially pleased with the public reaction to the ``Pro-Pledge'' aftermarket parts warranty program it introduced on a trial basis in 2006. Pro-Pledge offers auto dealers a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty on both aftermarket parts and their installation.
The program currently is offered in nine test markets in the U.S., and the association plans to expand Pro-Pledge shortly to other markets, he said.
SEMA also is working to help its members integrate business-to-business programs, he said, and other advanced business technologies into their day-to-day operations.
``We foresee electronic cataloguing and paperless transactions working securely between our member companies,'' Mr. Kersting added.