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Looking Ahead: SEMA Show Trends Point to Vehicle Customization Future

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Last month, we ended the article with the prediction of a growing number of color and designs that allow for several years of production. Well, we hit it on the head. I haven’t seen that many color variations at the SEMA Show since the Tuner revolution of the early 1990s.

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Take a look at this display at the right. Chrome plated wheels are in the minority here. The colored portion of the lip that you see is an interchangeable plastic trim that is attached in various ways. Some designs use bolts or screws to secure the attached trim, while others use a permanent adhesive and have to be ordered in the color that your customer wants. A word of caution here: Many of you have lived through this type of trend before, but for those who are new to this type of styling, closely scrutinize the particular wheel that you are interested in selling. Some of the trim packages are flimsy and may tend to break, crack, squeak or just plain not line up.

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On the other end of the spectrum, some manufacturers offer wheels with a combination of effects. This Donz wheel (donzwheelz.com) is a 3-piece with a yellow center highlighted by a carbon fiber graphic and bolted to a black rim accented by a red stripe.

Another example is this Hemi orange wheel with a matte black face from Rodtana (rodtana.com). It’s built to fit the new Challenger, by the way.

Since the latest industry theme and that of most of the world is “going green,” so has the types of finishes that are available. I showed you an environmentally-friendly chrome look finish a couple of years ago from Helios Coatings Inc. (helioscoatingsinc.com). Mark Leininger, chairman and CEO, told us that the process would eventually replace the hexavalent chrome plating, which has been the dominant process for decades. It is also one of the most hazardous materials and has been regulated out of existence in most parts of the U.S. I am glad to say that after several years of persistence, this new process has now passed several major durability hurdles and is now being used by American Eagle Alloys.

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Below, take a look at the Helios Coatings wheel on the left compared to the electroplated wheel on the right after each went through an accelerated corrosion test.

This process has opened up a multitude of finish options that could help wheel companies stretch new styles well past the current two- to three-year lifespan by offering different finishes throughout the lifecycle of the design. Options like black chrome, titanium, bronze and even a coating made of scrap tires are available.

I can see the scrap tire finish product being applied to truck wheels, perhaps with a machined face variant. Another potential market could be to use it for boat trailer wheels.

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More Noteworthy Products
Moving to the tire side, John Kelsey of Kelsey Tire Inc. (kelseytire.com) was in attendance and manning the company’s booth, where vintage and antique tires made by Goodyear were on display. This included everything from the Polyglas tires for the original muscle cars to 475/19 whitewalls for early 1930s Model A Fords.

Another old name gets a new life at Mickey Thompson Tires. The RWL Sportsman S/T is back and looking to take some market share from the BFGoodrich Radial T/A.

This set was mounted on American Racing Salt Flat wheels, accenting a beautiful GTO. You can’t get much more period correct than that. Look for the tires to be ready in early 2009, just in time for spring.

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In regards to vehicle electronics, the next big obstacle in our industry is electronic stability control (ESC) and its many variations. As many times as you have heard the TPMS drum beat over the last four years, ESC may eclipse TPMS in the lack of information and high level of regulation and desperation that it may present to an already struggling industry.

I won’t get into the specifics here, but I want you to know that great strides have been made in the last year and I want to thank John Waraniak with SEMA along with countless others and the many OEM engineers who are listening to the aftermarket and providing an adaptive system with several levels of control. By the way, September 2011 is the target for 100% compliance at the OEM level, while the aftermarket has until September 2012 to provide products that comply.

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One example of how ESC will affect future products is in brakes. Performance Friction Brakes (performancefriction.com) introduced new products like its Z-Rated brake upgrade kits. It is designed to fit many late model vehicles like the Lexus IS-F, BMW E36/E46, Mitsubishi Evo X, Mustang, and Corvette C6 Z06.

Enhancements to the OE brake system are increased stopping power, longer pad life and lighter weight. Each brake upgrade system is balanced for a specific chassis to help keep from overloading the front brakes, which could kick in the ABS. For vehicles with ESC, the driver will have some options as to how much the computer will help, but how it will handle upgrades like this type of braking system could be a potential variable to consider. According to Glen Grissom, performance street program manager, “This is as close as you can get to a pure race rotor and caliper. In our experience, for example, with the Mitsubishi Evo X, (and its ESC) there are no issues. We test and tune and balance each Z-Rated brake kit for its specific chassis to make sure it integrates with the OE computer chassis controls.”

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Advances in casting techniques, proprietary alloys and machining assures the rotor is balanced right from the casting – there are no balance cuts or clip weights. The calipers are multi piston and each piston is in charge of a separate pad. This design increases the number of biting edges and the ABS can modulate quicker due to the increase in rigidity of the forged aluminum caliper itself. The forged aluminum caliper of the Z-Rated kit shares the architecture of the full race version, which is made of very expensive exotic alloys. To accommodate degrees of performance, there are brake pad options for the same vehicle. Custom colors are available as well.

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In the tools category, I ran across VIP Automotive (vimeo.com/1829928) that has developed Lock Jack, a jack that incorporates a locking mechanism much like a standard lift.

The company said it is looking to license the product and received several interested parties during the show.

In last month’s issue, I mentioned many of the deals to be had in the wheel industry right now. I worked with a customer last month to find a set of 18×9 Centerline wheels for an F150 for only $135 retail. These are rotary forged wheels that only weigh 27 lbs! We’re matching them with LT325/60R18 Nitto Terra Grapplers for less than $1700. Why can’t I find deals like that for myself?

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Be looking for more real world solutions to common problems in 2009 as we get our hands dirty and put our money where our mouth is.

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