To be completely transparent, I spent three days at SEMA and left the South Hall on only two occasions, once to visit the Toyo Treadpass and a second time to tour the Mickey Thompson trailer.
As I walked through the hall, the aisles seemed to be busier and attendees more engaged than in 2021. The 2020 show was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What about tire and automotive service dealers? How important is it for them to attend the show?
Again, that depends on whom you ask. And it's equally difficult to measure.
I saw several dealers I know — and met several others — during the event.
One executive at a large dealership told me he has no desire to attend SEMA, downplaying its importance. This person maintains that business can be conducted in person, or virtually, just as well, if not better, than it could be conducted in Las Vegas.
Still, another executive from that same dealership attended this year's show.
At AAPEX, which is geared more to the automotive service sector, shop owners accounted for more than 15,000 of the attendees, according to the Auto Care Association (ACA), one of the event's co-sponsors. That number included around 3,000 Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance Inc. shop owners and technicians who attend the show annually as part of their annual meeting. They walked the floor wearing bright yellow corporate shirts.
"People are saying that the show is very vibrant," ACA President and CEO Bill Hanvey told our reporter, Kathy McCarron. "They are saying that the attendance is really good. They are saying that the exhibits are meaningful and feature quite a bit of training, which is valued by everybody that is participating."
No matter if they had exhibits or not, most major tire manufacturers had some kind of presence in Las Vegas. Many rent hotel suites to meet customers and rarely step foot on the show floor.
Oddly enough, Cooper Tire & Rubber — now a subsidiary of Goodyear — had the most prominent tire-related booth, displaying a Rivian electric truck outfitted in Cooper tires outside a prominent entrance in the South Hall.
Two other exhibiting tire manufacturers generally were pleased with the show.
The Toyo Treadpass, a popular exhibit sponsored by Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp., featured 28 exotic vehicles. The tire maker said it experienced a "noticeable and large increase in traffic" compared with 2021.
"We also received an extremely positive and enthusiastic response to our display and activations in Treadpass, along with strong press and social media coverage and attention," Toyo told Tire Business.
"It provides a wealth of opportunities for us to capture content for our own social media channels and to share that content with followers that are unable to attend SEMA."
The company said the Treadpass is a popular destination for SEMA attendees, while the show itself "continues to be an important and valuable part of Toyo Tires' marketing plan."
Meanwhile, Kenda Tire U.S.A. downsized its booth this year, since it didn't have a vehicle for a new product display, saving the company some money, according to Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president, automotive.
Stotsenburg said the company's schedule was full, calling the show a success.
"There are less dealers than years past, but we had about 50 come to the booth to see us along with international customers and all of our distributors," Stotsenburg said.
He said many visitors inquired about Kenda's Red Letter Klever M/T2, which will be available next year, as well as its new Four Season Vezda Touring 4S tire; the Vezda UHP and Vezda UHP Max tires, which he said will be available early next year.
"We had both dealers and actual racers coming to see them, sizing and timing…." he said.
Stotsenburg said SEMA "seems to be thriving and appreciates that tires and wheels are a huge driver for consumer business — more truck owners accessorize versus traditional car owners. Kenda hopes that trend continues as we sell a lot of our Klever truck tires to these folks."
Joe's Garage, a recently added feature at AAPEX, expanded to 10 service bays this year from eight in 2021, allowing exhibitors to demonstrate service equipment and products.
The exhibit area around Joe's Garage included several exhibitors in each section, designated for transmissions, diagnostics/telematics, alternative fuel, tire servicing, and tools and equipment, including several shop management software providers.
So to answer our original question, SEMA and AAPEX, it seems, continue to thrive.
Has it changed? Certainly. Is it worth exhibiting? Probably for most. Does it work for everyone? Certainly not.
Is it viable both today and into the future? Almost certainly.