New SEMA Garage Propels Aftermarket Industry To Future Technologies

The growth of advanced driver assistance systems (ADA
S) and popularity of electric vehicles means new opportunities for the $50 billion aftermarket industry. That, in large, part, led to the opening Thursday of a new 45,000 square foot product development center outside Detroit, built by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) which represents over 3,000 companies manufacturing vehicle accessories, customization, appearance and comfort products.

The SEMA Garage in Plymouth, Mich., is the organization’s second such facility, although more than three times the size of the 12,000 square-foot garage in Diamond Bar, Calif.

“The amount of engineers in Michigan is incredible, automotive engineers. So having access to that brain trust here, having access to the test systems available here, and wanted to be near the automakers,” said SEMA president and CEO Mike Spagnola who gave a private tour of the new SEMA Garage ahead of Thursday night’s planned grand opening ceremony.

He also pointed out the convenience of relatively close test tracks at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac and Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti.

SEMA members have access to the facility’s emissions testing and dyno labs, workspaces, tools and even a kitchen.

But the key addition is the 5,000 square foot ADAS technology center, developed to help unlock new mysteries for aftermarket product manufacturers.

“With the aftermarket, and really nobody has done it yet, is to understand what happens to all those systems when a vehicle is modified,” explained Spagnola. “When you think about putting a larger set of tires on a vehicle, lifting, lowering it, those sort of things, what happens to all those systems and safety systems?”

Walking through one of the ADAS labs, Spagnola pointed out a number of operations aimed at answering those questions including looking at ADAS calibration, braking, lane change departure technology and “what happens if you lift a truck two inches?”

The ADAS tech center offers SEMA members static calibration of on-board vehicle ADAS systems (radars and cameras) along with what it describes as “OEM-quality equipment and procedures” enabling them to troubleshoot software and hardware issues.

Another lab is designed to mirror what an auto manufacturer might see in its own lab so “We can compare what the OE (automaker) sees and what the aftermarket sees. If someone in the field has an issue we should be able to replicate it,” Spagnola explained.

If ADAS is one “frontier” the SEMA Garage hopes to tackle, the second one, Spagnola said, is the onslaught of new electric vehicles hitting the market over the next few years.

“It’s electric vehicle conversion,” he said. “Taking a ’69 Camaro and putting in an electric motor, battery pack, wire harnesses. So we’re working really hard to develop that market and find out all these widget makers. We see that as a huge opportunity to unite those suppliers of all those different components with builders who do those conversions.”

For the aftermarket industry, a real key is working with automakers before their new products reach showrooms so they can develop, and have available, their own offerings as soon as the first customers take ownership.

That’s another function of the SEMA Garage and how it was used in conjunction with the launch of the Ford Bronco.

“We had that Bronco six months in advance,” said Spagnola. “Ford worked with us, so the aftermarket could develop products so when that vehicle hit the market the products were ready to go.”

Demand for this newest SEMA Garage is already strong as aftermarket companies look to stay on pace with automakers. There’s already a backlog of appointments for members, Spagnola said and the starting engineering staff of nine could grow to about 35.

Plus, SEMA bought new offices in Indianapolis and expects to “eventually do garage work there,” Spagnola said.

For SEMA, with facilities like its SEMA Garages, conducting the research and testing in order to create aftermarket products in sync with future technologies, lest they languish as missed opportunity after thoughts.

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