The annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show is a minefield of tuner cars. From well-established fabricators to little-known backyard tinkerers, everybody has a car on show.
Popular as it is, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) like Toyota, Ford, Hyundai, and Chevrolet have been become increasingly involved, showing off their own interpretations of a current model. The norm for OEMs are lifestyle-targeted vehicles and mild facelifts, and 2013 was no different. Here’s a snapshot of the vehicles that featured compelling design changes from stock.
First, the Scion FR-S Style J/Urban GT is basically a facelifted FR-S; but it looks completely OEM yet with a cleaner, more streamlined appearance. Shaved mirrors (replaced with small cameras in the simulated fender vents) and 19-inch HRE wheels are the only clue that this is not a pure production vehicle. This car’s subtlety is truly refreshing, especially when one considers the setting. It’s reminiscent of VW’s design cues, but pulls off the look with aplomb. Well done Scion!
Scion also showed a personal limo, based on the xB, designed and built by Cartel for the executive on the go. While it could be dismissed as a wannabe Maybach or a cold look at a sybaritic technophile’s personal car, this concept is significant because it could be a credible peak at an autonomous car’s interior. Essentially a mobile office/entertainment center, the ‘Strictly Business’ “requires” a chauffeur, but who says it has to be a human chauffeur?
Both Ford — who had the largest display area at SEMA — and Chrysler showed smallish European vans and we wonder if this portends the future for work vehicles. Sure the usual one-ton trucks also littered their booths, but these small vans are certainly cheaper to operate, have ample space and still make an impact. In fact, there was only one truck in either Ford or Chrysler’s booths that was specifically intended as a work truck (the Ram Case 3500), the rest were festooned with active lifestyle accouterments. While we question the reasoning behind a mobile t-shirt stand (Blood and Grease Transit), the Detroit Steel Wheel Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster Rolling Garage certainly make a convincing case for an aerodynamic toolbox on wheels.
In the same vein, Ford built a van/racecar duo in partnership with the best car company on Earth, Hot Wheels. While the Transit Connect van seemed like more of a rolling PR/media center, it did feature a secondary floor, covering a set of drawers for tool storage as well as sleeping quarters. Much like Mopar’s setup this was intended as a track day hauler and racecar setup. However, unlike Mopar’s rig, this featured a custom EcoBoost-powered off-roader being pulled by the van, rather than a tarted-up production car.
Chevy debuted the Cheyenne pickup truck with the intention of exploring how to reduce a truck’s mass via lightweight materials such as aluminum and carbon fiber. What is unclear despite the truck’s sporting pretensions (hood extractor, Camaro Z28 wheels, carbon ceramic Brembos, and flat-bottom steering wheel among other changes) is whether GM intends to produce another Typhoon-type truck, explore carbon fiber and aluminum’s viability in a work truck or merely provide their EcoTec engines a matte, woven jewelry box in which to shine. It is too early to tell how significant this truck is, but we applaud continued exploration with composites.
One GM product that was completely unambiguous was the Chevrolet Corvette Gran Turismo Concept. Based on the C7 Corvette Stingray (and to be honest, not that different) the Gran Turismo was built to honor the popular video game franchise’s 15th anniversary and upcoming debut of GT6 as well as celebrate the all-new Corvette. The Corvette Gran Turismo features a large carbon fiber spoiler, hood, splitter and lower rocker. Two touches that we really liked were the flat bottom steering wheel and the yellow headlamp covers (perhaps a nod to Le Mans and Louis Chevrolet’s French heritage?).
Finally, Hyundai built a Genesis-based concept called the Legato, which is worth mentioning only because it left us so flat. In a setting where virtually every car sports fender flares and plus-four rims (at least) the Legato was a clearly a Genesis-based Nissan GTR rip-off, and a poorly executed one at that. The finish was fine, however the stance exhibited in the concept sketches was absent from the real concept. Also, the fender flare in the rear did not terminate with the vehicle’s cut lines instead continuing for another inch-and-a-half begging the question: why? It just looks amateurish. Frankly, it’s confusing why Hyundai was so proud of this car, stroked V6 notwithstanding.
The 2013 SEMA show was a typical for what has become the largest aftermarket gathering — there wasn’t much innovation as far as design. Certainly there were striking cars to fall in love with, but there was little new.
Of all the OEMs, Scion and Ford were most impressive because they seemed to understand the future better than their competition. We’d just like to see the OEMs taking bolder design risks when it comes to this show as mistakes can be made here and blamed on the SEMA environment. The LA auto show, which kicks off next week, is much less forgiving.