Contrasting fortunes in the replacement parts and accessory sectors were highlighted by the 2002 Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week. Last year, Chuck Blum, the then president of the Speciality Equipment Market Association (SEMA) described the difference between the two parts of this annual Las Vegas-based event as being what people "want" and what people "need" for their cars. This year SEMA buzzed, in contrast with the more staid AAPEX writes Ian Wagstaff.

This year the Las Vegas Convention Center, where SEMA's own performance and accessory show joined forces with the International Tire Expo, positively buzzed. By contrast, the Sands Convention Center, home to the more staid, replacement parts and servicing-oriented AAPEX, appeared to have little moved from the post-September 11 doldrums that affected it last year.

The SEMA Show benefited from the addition of a new hall allowing it to take on 412 first-time exhibitors. Importantly, it enabled the association to break the exhibition into more structured sectors. In theory this enabled those interested in only one or two areas to spare the shoe leather. In practice, there were many who queried whether this show had grown a little too large.

People are questioning the need to visit shows

The packed nature of the SEMA halls was in direct contrast to those of AAPEX. Worldwide, people are questioning the need to visit shows. While SEMA reflects a fashion industry and the requirement to keep pace with trends, AAPEX is the home of the traditional parts suppliers long known to be suffering from lengthening service intervals and improved reliability. They have little new to say. As one seasoned observer remarked, "why travel a long distance to see a new oil can?" Kayaba's Mike Howarth, a first-timer at the show felt the main AAPEX hall reflected the fact that for those present "the business situation is not good; they're not making profits. Those with big market shares are seeing a decline." Howarth had seen a similar situation at Automechanika, "it was almost depressing."

There were those at AAPEX though determined to fight the prevailing conditions. Japanese shock absorber manufacturer, Kayaba had just appointed Englishman Howarth as a senior vice president with a brief to improve the company's position in the US aftermarket - a very weak third behind Monroe and Arvin. The move reflected the fact that Kayaba has very quickly established itself as a serious player in the UK aftermarket.

Bullish Delphi at AAPEX

The SEMA show saw the launch of a line
of continuation 1960s Shelby Mustangs,
to be created by Unique Motorcars of Irving,
Texas, using "rescued" vintage Mustangs and
incorporating modern technology.
Carroll Shelby, the legendary 1959 Le Mans winner,
was on hand to give the project his blessing.
Delphi is one that continues to use AAPEX to appear bullish, aftermarket general manager Frank Ordonez making his annual rallying call, the change in message being that his company is no longer coming in the US aftermarket but has arrived. For Ordonez the fact that the show seemed quiet was not important. What mattered was that the right people were present. By lunch time on the first day "we had already seen three of the five buying groups."

He compared AAPEX to Automechanika. In Frankfurt "you book sales, but you don't do sales here. I can cover my customers with five meetings in the USA."

Delphi's effort again contrasted with Visteon who, for the second year running, appeared low key. The third member of the world's top three component manufacturers, Bosch, relied on history to ensure that it was noticed and celebrated the 100th anniversary of its first spark plug.  Valeo was another major European manufacturer with some specific to say at the show, in this case, the introduction of clutch kits.

Perhaps the main change at AAPEX in recent years has been the way in which the Third World pavilions have come to dominate the lower hall of the show, having once existed on the fringes.

Comparisons between the AAIW and the planet's other major aftermarket event, Automechanika are probably invidious. Whereas the Frankfurt show is a meeting place for the entire world, Las Vegas remains somewhere to sell to the North Americans. In this respect it is perhaps nearer to Equip'Auto, which tends to give the impression that it is mainly for the French. However, Chuck Blum's successor Chris Kersting does see the possibility that at least the SEMA half of the week is heading towards becoming a global meeting place.

SEMA attracts vehicle makers and concept cars

Unlike automotive trade shows in Europe, SEMA attracts the vehicle manufacturers. This year there were 12 of them showing concept cars, thus bringing glamour to their ranges. Kersting stated that there were some 1,500 vehicle at the exhibition; "it's a very important aspect of the show. It gives attendees a chance to see the innovations."  Kersting also believes the cars on display reflected the passion those involved have for this side of the aftermarket.

It may be a reflection of Volkswagen's flagging popularity among the SEMA-type buyer that it was no longer present at the show having been one a pioneer along VMs at exhibiting there.  However, there was certainly one car that had attracted the attention of the customising fraternity, as it has so many others in the USA. Whereas, in 2001, there were only a couple of Minis on display, there were many to be found this. Even Paddy Hopkirk (plus suitably liveried new Mini), who has made the accessory sector his business since his rallying days, was present promoting the Jac roof rack brand; quite a contrast to the Andrettis, Unsers and other homegrown heroes who appear on the stands at these shows. Monte Carlo Rally winner Hopkirk may have an obvious connection to the Mini, but unlikely US names such as Indy 500 racer Billy Boat had also got into the act with his performance exhaust system for the car. Brakes manufacturer Brembo was showing a performance application for the Mini and reported a "phenomenal response".

The long queues for racing drivers' autographs are one of the features of the AAIW. Unlike in Europe, 'fans' (including visitors to trade-only events such as this) positively worship individual drivers. (Where else, other than the US, would people wander around with Viagra-liveried clothing?) That gives sponsors, particular those involved in NASCAR stock car racing, a major marketing tool. It was pertinent that NASCAR's own stand was not at SEMA but at AAPEX where is could talk about its successful aftermarket licensing programme. Daytona 500 race winner Ward Burton pointed out that it was NASCAR itself that approached him regarding sponsorship from WD-40, the results of which were there to see on the stand of this noted lubricant. NASCAR was also able to point to a new initiative, its backing of an impressive Technical Institute for budding mechanics, both road and race, opened a few months ago in Mooresville, North Carolina.

The North American markets have obvious appeal for the rest of the world. Prodrive was one that used Las Vegas for the formal launch of its US operation, a joint venture with Irvine-based Aria "They're doing the packaging, we are doing the engineering" said Prodrive's Ben Sayer. The new venture reflected the current popularity of the sport compact with the unveiling of its cultured Honda CR1 'canyon racer'.

Another new performance vehicle at SEMA was the Panoz Brabham Esperante Coupe named after Panoz racing driver, David Brabham. Company president Danny Panoz had thought he was the first to drive a limited edition car named after one this famous family of racers but then someone had told him about the Vauxhall Brabham Viva. Had anyone else heard of the Vauxhall Viva, he asked his audience. There was silence, but then the AAIW is still very much an American event.