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Random Notes From the South Side

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Back from another SEMA Show/Global Tire Expo, as are a supposed 140,000-plus other people in Las Vegas for the automotive world’s biggest week.

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Word was that the combined SEMA-AAPEX world was up considerably from the year prior, good news coming on the back-end of a seemingly endless recession.

Colleagues over at AAPEX report that it was a packed house for the three-day run at the Sands Convention Center, and the general buzz was quite positive. Same can be said over at the Las Vegas Convention Center, though not all floor talk was cheery.

Most popular ask of the week was about the pending anti-dumping and countervailing duties faced by Chinese tire firms exporting consumer tires to the U.S. And the most popular answer was, “I just don’t know…it depends.” Usually that was met with a headshake of agreement, recognition that things were too murky and quirky and that, truly, every potential scenario did indeed depend on the numbers.

Which we won’t know fully until mid-January 2015…and even then appeals and court challenges could drag everything out.

The general off-the-record consensus seemed to be that a combined duty of 45% or under would be tolerable and do the least harm overall. It was agreeable, also off-the-record, that the bigger the number, the more likely and greater the market damage.

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So the best official answer of the week really was, “It depends.”

Most expect pretty sharp duties, and manufacturers and marketers seem resigned to it. But how it unfolds is TBD. This story has been hard to pin down, which is why we have been hesitant to do anything in this space. Filings from various parties came irregularly, the content of which sometimes changed the tone of the story. “Experts” on both sides popped out of the woodwork to offer their musings, so time was expended trying to make sense (if there was any) from those word buffets. And the Department of Commerce’s schedule changed, which naturally led people to question the narrative (“Does this date change mean something???”).

It was interesting to learn how various companies are approaching the impending duties. One wants to increase business in the U.S., but most of its capacity is based in China. Another producer was loudly applauded for its plans to meet its U.S. demand from a plant outside of the PRC. Still others don’t seem a bit phased by it at all.

No doubt, though, their U.S. futures are tied to “It depends.”

No SEMA Show goes by without some bitching about this or that. And 2014 was no different…except that it in some cases it was more pronounced.

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Getting away from the LVCC has never been easy, but the SEMA folks seemed determined to make it harder, moving taxi and limo lines away from the LVCC to accommodate its “need” for more exhibit space. After being on their feet all day, exhausted showgoers and exhibitors were forced to hump it a couple of blocks only to be met with long taxi queues. Many cabbies complained that they didn’t know where to go to pick up show fares, and showgoers weren’t sure where to get cabs.

But that’s OK, because SEMA need­ed the additional space. Which proved to be a sore point with some GTE exhibitors who complained about the low floor traffic, feeling that the added exhibits outside were short-stopping attendees.

I don’t know what the real numbers were between the insiders and outsiders – no one does – but perception is always someone’s reality.

To me (at least) there was a rise in exhibitor complaints about neighboring booths and excess noise. And there was a documented incident where the wife and three-year-old child of an overseas customer were escorted completely out of the building. SEMA apparently has an age rule for attendees, making no allow­ance for business people who traveled from overseas and didn’t think they needed a babysitter. A little compassion and common sense can go a long way, SEMA. If you’re going to police something, I’m pretty sure beltless cargo shorts, halter tops and Daisy Dukes aren’t business dress.

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Every year I hear a few exhibitors say, “Never again,” exasperated with the expense and headaches of exhibiting and not seeing a correlating benefit. A number of tiremakers are already on the sidelines and in no big hurry to return. There are, perhaps, a few more ready to join them.

And I know many tire dealers who come to Vegas once every few years; skipping a couple of shows is no big deal. Same thing warmed over, they feel, and other than catching up with a few friends there see no compelling reason to make more regular visits.

Exhibitors and attendees must make their own attendance decisions based on what they need to accomplish. There are a lot of other custo­mer-contact options – and competing events – out there.

Associations and show planners need to remember that it should always be about the guests. They pay the freight, so there has to be more value than “you have to be there.”

It is up to attendees and exhibitors to control their reality. If you think things should be better, then actively seek change. Don’t just drop-n-dash a complaint note; get to the right people with your concerns and get involved with a fix.

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Supposedly it’s your show, and there is no show without you.

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