by Norm Layton
The SEMA Show is the premiere auto show of the year. Never mind Detroit, LA, Chicago or Frankfurt, SEMA is the show that sets the tone. It’s where trends begin, it’s where auto company designers hang out incognito, it’s the show the trend setters follow, to be sure that their ideas and concepts, actually get traction.
Concept cars may be born for other venues, but they all come to SEMA for validation and that validation is in the form of the multi-billion dollar aftermarket. Mass market compacts may bring the operating revenue to automakers, but SEMA is where their halos are polished, inspired and conceived. Designs first seen at SEMA can be the inspiration for future cars, or die on the vine of impracticality. It’s where 5,000 watt amps seem commonplace and navigation systems are as common as power windows.
For decades, Mopar Performance has worked with suppliers and vendors to bring Chrysler fans the best of the aftermarket. Aftermarket specialties that soon find their way into the mainstream list of options, then to the list of standard equipment.
When the Fiat 500 was nothing more than a future and unknown product, the SEMA Mopar Alley already had 500s with Mopar Performance Parts.
Mopar Alley first saw the Chrysler 300 SRT8, the Ram Runner, Wrangler Nukizer, and a plethora of special projects, like the Charger police package, among others.
This year the Mopar presence was noticeably smaller, including the demise of the popular Mopar Alley. It’s quite possible that Mopar was the last brand to be effected by the rebuilding of Chrysler and the re-assignments of scarce engineering resources and funding. If so, we hope the downsizing and lack of Mopar Performance part numbers is a temporary condition and isn’t an indication of the future direction of Chrysler. There was a vast difference between the dynamic GM and Ford displays and the slower pace of the Mopar booth.
The KL Cherokee’s Mopar-customized offering included the full compliment of interior accessories, already shown to dealers, as well as a graphic and tire package. While the tire clearance indicates it’s not yet ready for public sale, it might show up at Moab next Spring, ready for the trail. The rear cargo floor was longer than I anticipated from photos, but the slope of the rear deck makes useable cargo space dependent upon your type of use. For daily drivers, it’s acceptable, for Jeepers, on the trail, or a weekend picnic, the rear seat will need to be folded down, which could pose problems for families of three or four. Even though this edition is not yet for sale it does show the potential of the model.
The most exciting Mopar Concept shown at SEMA, unfortunately, wasn’t to be found in the Mopar exhibit, it was the AEV Ram prominently displayed at the American Expedition Vehicles booth. AEV automatically generates excitement because of their attention to detail, OEM type quality, and engineering prowess.
The same suspension engineering skill found on the AEV Wranglers is now evident on the AEV Ram, designed by legendary suspension engineer Jim Fens. This truck has the potential to be the best trail performance truck in the industry. From the Katzin leather seats to the suspension design and the new bumpers, this truck hints at becoming a factory offering similar to the AEV COD MW3 Wrangler that became a Special Edition offering through Jeep dealers.
With AEV parts now being installed upon the Jeep assembly line as OEM parts, this next step is a natural. This truck is massive, with 40” tires and only a 2” lift, using the AEV high line fender treatment to accommodate the large tires. Upfitted with larger brakes and a nice blend of the best of Chrysler and AEV interior treatments, this truck is going to be a popular seller.
Back at Mopar, there were several signs touting the new Scat-Pack 3 Stage performance kits, however there were no part numbers and in the past, that has meant, no parts yet in the system; and, sadly, even parts with assigned numbers at SEMA have failed to reach market, so it’s not yet known how soon, or if ever, these parts will make it to market.
Since Chrysler does not talk about future products, that will remain a mystery for a while longer.
The main Mopar display was as interesting as ever, but the focus and the mood seemed to be changing, in spite of the Chrysler Communications folks being as engaged and upbeat as ever.
From the optimism and excitement of the immediate post bankruptcy period, to a more subdued presentation, perhaps acknowledging that there is still a ways to go. From the euphoria of survival to the recognition that there is still a lot of hard work to do.
Hopefully this was a year to regroup and is a pause before a big new product push, as I suspect the focus on engineering this year was to get several new models into the production pipeline.
by Ray Alexander
I drove my SRT8 Charger this year and arrived with a smile and no tickets. Still, the California Highway Patrol has me worried. They have taken to hiding off the road and not turning on their radar. As one officer on the LX Forum says, “All is fair in radar versus radar detectors.” Mine has saved me so many times, I can afford the tickets but my insurance is outrageous. Darn Dodge.
The expected attendance was 130,000 and I think everyone made it. Day one is usually very light on foot traffic, not this year.
This was the first year that I used the media center. It was neat; it had WiFi and at least 60 PCs. The PCs were loaded with photos taken before the show opened.
Just after I got my credentials I saw this: an old Ford with two classic Hemi engines and four blowers. One for each bank of cylinders. Got boost?
I thought press credentials were good before the show but, when I tried to enter South Hall the guard stopped me, and then informed me that I could not enter until tomorrow. He went on, “I am not going to argue with you, and you are not getting in.”
I am an old man and don’t usually break the rules but there was no need to treat me in that manner. I went outside and walked along the west wall until I saw Mopar crates and ducked into an open freight door. A blue thing in the corner got my attention.
It was the new blue Viper for the 2014. Via social media, we common folks were given an opportunity to name the blue. I entered “blew by you” or “Blue Bayou.” As I was I walking toward an approved exit, I noticed that not one square inch of the aisles were carpeted. The rolls of carpet were there.
There was a truck outside that baffled me. It was rusty, in fact it had rust holes. There was no poster advising the significance. It was not really very old. The owner must watch “Pawn Stars” and was well aware of the detrimental effect of disturbing the patina.
When we see an old car today, it truly is an old car. Sadly, that will not be true in the future. Old automobile bodies are starting to be remanufactured. The end results are still unknown but, I don’t have a good feeling.
I had not seen a Henry J in many years. It had unforgettable lines. Kaiser’s car lines were in their dying throes when this car was introduced (they saved themselves by buying Willys/Jeep and selling their car designs and tooling to a South American firm). Oddly, a Hemi was installed in this car. Do you suppose the front end would have gotten lighter at speed.
Two weeks ago, I was in Phoenix to cover Airpark’s Jeep Jamboree 8 (writeup coming next Monday). I rode the trail part of the event with Jason De Monto. He failed to mention that he was no longer employed by the dealership. As I was intently moving toward an old military motorcycle, Jason interrupted my journey. He then informed me he has a business named Trail Concepts, it adds features to a Jeep per the customer’s wants/needs.
From my “Best in the Desert” experience that strip of LEDs at the top of the windshield will put out an unbelievable amount of light.
Someone on a forum asked what are some must see items at SEMA. That was a tough question, if I knew what was going to be there, I might not go. I answered, “The PPG booth; it is a different theme every year.” This year it was a carnival (within a circus).
I use Vredestein tires on my Dodge. I just put new 315s on the rear. In past years Vredestein has had a small booth near a wall, this year they have a large booth in a high traffic area. I stopped to complain about their poor marketing. I live in San Diego and the only way that I can get the tire is to order from New Orleans. I told them I used the Sessanta. They replied, “We have a better tire now, it is the Ultrac Vorti.”
I can’t wait to put these on the front, providing I can find them.
Moving on, I have developed my own tenet for making your road/track car faster and safer:
Invest in the driver
I have taken two courses at Bob Bondurant’s driving school in Phoenix. The learning is accomplished by putting the student in driving situations beyond what they are likely to encounter on the street and certainly coaching for getting around a track configuration more quickly.
Bob taught at other locations before moving to his dedicated facility. He designed this track for teaching. It can be set up in many different configurations.
I signed up for a one-off two-day course and it will be in a C7. The C7 can do heel toe rev matching.
Early the next morning I encountered Eric Petersen, the tire expert for the Silver State Challenge. He told me Steve Mott, the chief of Technical Inspection for Silver State was outside with Jimi Day. Steve was one of the Silver State Drivers picked for the Optima Battery Ultimate Street Car Challenge. I am always relieved when Eric has inspected all four of my tires and has moved to the next car. The same feeling as when you passed a higher math test.
I spent some time chasing Jimi Day, I am trying to get my Dodge into the Optima Battery Ultimate Street Car Challenge. It will not happen this year. My Dodge has safety equipment that limits it to 110 mph. Maybe that is the easiest way to get in, take the Dodge and run it in Silver State again.
I went to the Optima booth when one group of drivers was being given their credentials and a very nice tool set. One of the drivers was a lady — Lynda Jacobs, who will drive a 1966 Chevelle convertible with a 436 hp LS3 engine.
Optima announced the winners of positions in the Optima Battery Ultimate Street Car Challenge, chosen from the SEMA show cars. I am trying to get my Dodge in this event but, it is not going to happen this year.
I spoke to Mark Trostle, chief SRT designer, and suggested that more of the special testing for SRTs needs to be leaked out. He thought about it and agreed but said he was not the person to leak it. I also spoke with Beth Parreta about NASCAR, and she said nothing was happening; it is too late to announce a team switch for next year, so 2014 will see no Dodges running NASCAR.
The Mopar CEO took the stage for the press conference and talked at length about how a buyer could personalize their purchase from the factory, thanks to new in-factory customization shops; buyers can even have some purchases appear right on the Monroney form, which means the Mopar options can be financed along with the car. Chrysler now has as many wheel choices as all the wheel vendors at SEMA combined. They have managed to omit some of the really ugly ones.
The CEO of Dodge addressed two important programs, the Scat Pack and the shaker hood. The Scat Pack will offer three stages of build up. Stage 1 (for Hemi cars) will be a CAI and exhaust options. Some will have side outlet in front of the rear wheel. Stage 2 will be a cam. Stage 3 will be heads and exhaust headers. All California-legal, I assume. Dart options mainly address cornering and brakes, though there is also a revised engine computer that requires premium gas.
After the program was over, I was talking to Alex, the driver of Shop Hemi, and someone started one of the Challengers. We were both amazed at the sound; it had the Mopar remote-controlled side-exit exhaust dump, which lets drivers control when their cars “let loose.”
On Wednesday, the foot traffic was heavy, movement was slow, and getting a clear picture was tough. If you are going to miss part of SEMA, make it the last part.
In thinking about Chrysler’s press release there need to be a stage 4, a Kenny Bell blower. There was no mention or hint of the rumored 6.2 L engine with a blower.
In the past, Mopar Alley has taken some turns for the better and worse. This year, the turn was for the worst. Toyo Tire has that area. Ralph Gilles said, “When SEMA was in decline they virtually gave the area away. Now SEMA has gotten bigger every year, and they want too much money for the space.”
The time had come to pack up and head for home. Put SEMA on your bucket list.
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