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SEMA anticipating another strong year

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DIAMOND BAR, Calif.—The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) had a very strong year in 2015, and anticipates an even better year in 2016, according to Chris Kersting, the association's president and CEO.

The automotive specialty market, including all non-repair parts and accessories, generated $36 billion in sales in 2014, the latest year for which SEMA has data. This represents an 8-percent sales increase over 2013 and the fifth consecutive year the segment has seen strong growth, according to Mr. Kersting.

“It's very good to see the market has gone beyond just being stabilized,” he said. “We're getting good, steady growth.”

All signs suggest further growth in the near future, between new vehicle sales and attendance at last November's SEMA Show, according to Mr. Kersting.

“The light truck (market) continues to rebound very nicely,” he said. “We had 9-percent growth in that segment for 2014.”

The off-road segment enjoyed 8-percent growth in 2014, and with its youth component is poised for future growth, Mr. Kersting said.

At the 2015 SEMA Show, there was also a nice upturn in interest for the tuner (light sport vehicle) segment, Mr. Kersting said. “The tuner segment is at levels we haven't seen in years,” he told Tire Business.

While the association has no final numbers yet, according to Mr. Kersting, the Las Vegas show once again saw substantial growth in terms of both attendance and exhibiting companies.

“The New Products Showcase alone featured more than 3,000 products, up 31 percent from 2014,” he said.

Mr. Kersting was particularly proud of participation in the show's education seminars, where attendance at last fall's show was 6,900—up a whopping 42 percent from 2014.

“We're seeing those numbers due to the selection of relevant topics and the increase of marketing programs,” he said. “There's an increased concern over the value of services.”

In the Global Tire Expo-Powered by TIA—the Tire Industry Association's (TIA) portion of the SEMA Show—attendance grew by approximately 20 percent, according to Mr. Kersting, due largely again to the expo's educational programs.

“In the exit surveys, attendees of the Global Tire Expo rated the show at 4.4 out of 5,” he said.

The SEMA Show continues to get more media attention, with media participation up 13 percent in 2015 from the previous year, he said.

Also, the second annual “SEMA Ignited” event, which closed the four-day show run on Friday night, attracted more than 16,000 attendees, he said.

Among other achievements, Mr. Kersting said he was especially proud of a bill—passed by Congress just before year-end 2015—that benefited low-volume manufacturers of vintage car replicas. The new law releases those manufacturers from following the same regulations as mass-production auto makers.

“This is an opportunity for manufacturers in our industry to supply parts for a new segment of vehicle sales,” he said. “Without this legislation, that wouldn't exist.”

Mr. Kersting said SEMA also is devoting a great deal of attention to its education, training and career programs.

“This year we have made our Career Paths initiative our top priority,” he said.

“We are helping the industry to fill jobs with qualified candidates.”

SEMA is building strong relationships with educators throughout the U.S. to inform students about the career opportunities in the specialty aftermarket, Mr. Kersting said.

The association's youth outreach efforts also are paying off, Mr. Kersting said. The student program at the SEMA Show had attendance of about 600 last year, up from 400 in 2014.

The Diamond Bar-based trade group also has given high priority to information and vehicle technology, according to Mr. Kersting. It continues to educate the industry on the importance of standardized digital production information, and the SEMA Data Co-op now has more than 420 brands represented in its database, he said.

The SEMA Garage, meanwhile, offers SEMA members a unique center for automotive innovations, including vehicle technology, technology transfer and emissions certification.

“The SEMA Garage is available to help auto parts manufacturers develop products from start to finish,” Mr. Kersting said. The SEMA Garage website is at www.semagarage.com.

Recently California's Air Resources Board (CARB) recognized the vehicle emissions laboratory at the SEMA Garage as qualified to perform emissions control testing—a proud achievement for SEMA, Mr. Kersting said.

The emissions lab was established one year ago, he said, noting “it is poised to give our industry members a method of emissions certification that is quicker, more efficient and supported by the industry.”

To reach this reporter: mmoore@crain.com

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