Opportunities in Automotive Accessories: What's Trending at SEMA?
By Sean Svendsen, Sr. Industrial Designer with contributor Chris Daniels, Sr. Industrial Designer
Every year the automotive trade community descends on Las Vegas for the annual SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association) Show and AAPEX (Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo). Held together, they showcase every aspect of the automotive world from vehicle accessories to service and repair equipment. So, designer (and fellow gear head) Chris Daniels and I made the trek to Vegas again this year to see the show and study emerging product opportunity trends in the automotive aftermarket industry.
The SEMA Show is a massive international trade show for automotive aftermarket products like rubber floor mats, all-season tires, car wax and motor oil, etc. This market segment represents over $750 billion of the US economy and estimated attendance this year was over 161,000 people. SEMA seems to keep expanding every year and 2019 was no exception. My phone app said we logged 26,000 steps (about 12 miles) on the first day of the show and 24,500 steps (about 11 miles) on the second day. And still… we came home to find our social media feeds filled with products we never saw. The show is just that big!
SEMA is also an over-the-top custom car show with 6,000 plus vehicles on display. The wildest, wackiest and most insane vehicles compete for your attention while industry insiders try to conduct business meetings amidst the chaos. It’s probably unlike any other trade show you can imagine. SEMA has become one of the top destinations to see the latest trends and new products in the automotive industry.
This year at SEMA, the two big automotive product development opportunities we saw were in truck accessories and overlanding equipment. We’ll go over what we saw, and how to take advantage of these opportunities.
"The two big automotive product development opportunities we saw were in truck accessories and overlanding equipment."
Certainly the largest trend we noticed at SEMA is the booming growth in pickup truck and SUV accessories. While the trend is not new, it has become one of the dominant themes at the show. This trend is fueled by a growth in new buyers abandoning sedans and coupes for pickup trucks and SUVs. Trucks, vans and SUVs have a versatility that cars don’t have. Whether it’s for work, play or both, these vehicles are modular by nature and offer flexibility for personalization. They present a blank canvas to fit the owner’s lifestyle and these vehicles are now marketed to and bought by consumer segments from every walk of life. Trucks have become just as welcome at the country club as they are at the job site. Automotive accessory manufacturers have taken note and have expanded their offerings in the past few years to support this trend.
Accessory manufacturers are also starting to develop products that quickly allow owners to convert their truck back and forth for multi-use. This lets owners more easily go from working off the tailgate at the jobsite during the week to tailgating at the football game on the weekend. This trend also recognizes the fact that many people don’t want to harm the resale value of their vehicle, so added accessories need to be easily removable.
Similarly, we noticed more emphasis on making accessories that are easily installed by the average DIY’er. In previous years, many accessories often needed a high level of mechanical aptitude and perhaps even some fabrication skills for installation. The new mantra seems to be “ease of installation” and many new truck accessories can be installed with simple (or no) tools.
For manufacturers looking to develop new truck and SUV accessory products making them easy to install and uninstall, as well as providing flexibility for them to convert quickly from work to play, is key for being successful in the broader market.
We see product development growth in the truck and SUV aftermarket accessory space to continue as the big OEMs have recently launched (or will be launching soon) some exciting new vehicles ripe for accessorizing. The new Jeep Gladiator, Ford Ranger, the upcoming Ford Bronco, Mach-E platforms, Rivian and Tesla electric trucks all provide opportunities in this market.
"For manufacturers looking to develop new truck and SUV accessory products, making them easy to install and uninstall, as well as providing flexibility for them to convert quickly from work to play is key for being successful in the broader market."
Over Here, Over There, Overlanding Everywhere!
Another hot new opportunity is the explosive amount of new interest and product development going on in the overlanding and vehicle camping market. A few years ago, an overlanding vehicle at SEMA would have been an odd curiosity. This year though, overlanding vehicles were everywhere, and SEMA even opened up its first ever Overland Experience to showcase this growing segment.
If you are unfamiliar with overlanding, the term refers to travel over land (usually rugged terrain) by some sort of (but not exclusively) mechanized means. Overlanding is self-reliant adventure travel where the journey itself is the principal goal.
Overlanding is not a new market and a small group of dedicated hardcore outdoor enthusiasts have been modifying their machines and exploring the unpaved earth for many decades. Experienced enthusiasts look for accessories that are ultra-rugged to withstand extreme outdoor use, lightweight so they don’t overload the OEM manufacturers’ original weight capacity, and efficient sizing so their products use less space. Accessories that are configurable and have multiple uses also aid in overall efficiency.
While overlanding isn’t new, what is new is that this little-known world of outdoor activity has suddenly caught the attention of a much broader audience who also want to unplug and get outdoors with their vehicles. Aftermarket accessory manufacturers have again taken notice.
The purist will argue that overlanding is about living for extended periods of time on the road and off the grid in a purpose-built vehicle. Now, the term is being used includes anybody with a passion for vehicle-related camping and outdoor activities. The benefit for aftermarket accessory manufacturers and product developers is this broader definition and interest in overlanding means that the very small market of die-hards has now expanded to a much larger audience and the target has opened up.
For broad success in this market, we see the same advice given for truck accessories applying to overlanding accessories as well. It is important to make them easy to install and uninstall with flexibility to quickly convert from daily street use to camping.
In overlanding, we see a highly impassioned market ripe for innovation and design and engineering refinement, especially for the newly emerging consumer.
"The benefit for aftermarket accessory manufacturers and product developers is this broader definition and interest in overlanding means that the very small market of die-hards has now expanded to a much larger audience and the target has opened up."
What's Next? Pro Tips for Developing New Accessories
For manufacturers who are developing or considering developing aftermarket accessories for the truck and overlanding markets here are some things to consider which we think are key to connecting with the intended audience:
For casual enthusiasts:
- Design accessories that can be easily installed and uninstalled with little or no tools
- Design accessories that are flexible and can quickly convert between work and play
- Design in distinction and unique characteristics that set your product apart
- Innovate with tech, materials and/or features that enhance functionality and user experience
- Create options for personalization and self-expression
For serious professionals and hardcore enthusiasts:
- Design accessories which can withstand extreme use
- Keep products lightweight and efficiently sized
- Focus on authentic features and benefits that enhance the user experience, but avoid gimmicks that aren’t relevant
By understanding changes within this market and adapting to new types of consumers we believe there are ample opportunities to develop new products that meet their needs. The future is bright and we’re expecting to see even more innovation at SEMA 2020!
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About The Authors
Sean Svendsen, Sr. Industrial Designer
Sean is an avid car enthusiast and industrial designer as part of the design research and brand development projects at Priority Designs. His forte is helping clients create unique, relevant and authentic brand stories. He helps clients communicate brand stories consistently through visual brand language and compelling user experiences. He has a wide range of experience developing products, packaging, displays, and environments for such diverse client as Nike, Canadian Tire, Mac Tools, Lowe’s, and Taylormade Golf. Always up for adventure, Sean recently spent two weeks camping across the US in a pop-up trailer with his daughter and a cat.
Chris Daniels, Sr. Industrial Designer
Chris is a serious car guy and Jeep overlanding enthusiast who specializes in visual brand language as well as hardware and tool design. He has worked for clients such as Kobalt Tools, Proto Tools, Mac Tools, Burris, Ruger, EOTECH and FN USA. Chris has intense attention to detail and won’t finish a project until it’s perfect. This passion for perfection carries over into his personal life where he has built several hot rods from the ground up and helped build and race a land speed record car at the Bonneville Salt Flats.