12/1/2000 | 3 MINUTE READ

Show Stoppers

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I just returned from this year's SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) trade show in Las Vegas—the aftermarket performance show. For an enthusiast like me, attending this event is like being the proverbial kid in a candy store: I get to spend a couple of days feasting my eyes on a ridiculous number of customized cars and an even more insane number of cool parts. That said, this year's show certainly did not disappoint. Ford, as the featured carmaker, saw to that with its dazzling and particularly ironic display of Focii. Ironic in that this "import performance" compact was stealing the show just as SEMA was moving further away from its traditional, rear-wheel drive, V-8 roots (embodied by that other Ford, the one with the pony emblem), to embrace the skyrocketing import performance market that's usually synonymous with Honda and people under 30. This new style of hot-rodding is what brings the automakers, all of them intent on capturing these enthusiasts—many with their parent's large disposable incomes—as customers. But while the OEMs did display some great-looking one-off show cars out there in the desert, many of the carmakers appear less-than-capable of following through on the promise of their SEMA marketing efforts. Most guilty: those surrounded by the biggest buzz.

First off, the aforementioned Focus. A pretty great car out of the box and also a good platform for aftermarket modifications. But unfortunately, Focus owners are also going to have to worry about some other modifications—namely those done by a dealer for one of three recalls that were announced on Oct. 17. This is particularly troubling because the recalls affect a combined total of over 351,000 vehicles, including 260,390 in which there is a possibility of rear wheel and brake drum assemblies "separating from vehicles." (Perhaps this just makes it easier to complete that big-brake upgrade?) Ford has already been building this car for two years in Europe, yet it still doesn't seem to have worked the bugs out of its processes. Or its design for that matter: all of the recalled cars will also get new interior trim panels that meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 201 requirements for interior head impact protection.

Looking north of the Motor City, you can see an even more absurd situation in the poor planning of those in Auburn Hills (or was it Stuttgart?). While the Focus was the official car of the show, the P.T. Cruiser was the car of the show. Customized Cruisers were everywhere in Vegas; I was surprised that there wasn't one parked in my room when I checked in (the maid apologized, apparently it was out for a wash and wax). Yet you still can't actually buy a Cruiser unless you're willing to put down a deposit and wait. How many young people who want a cool, affordable vehicle that takes to aftermarket customization like a blue-hair to a nickel slot machine have the cash to plunk down at a dealership and wait for a few months? From what I've seen on the street, not as many as middle-aged people who only wish they spelled fat with a "ph-."

While even my hotel maid knows that DaimlerChrysler screwed up with its initial plans to only build 150,000 Cruisers, there's a particularly biting new twist to the story: the week of the SEMA show, DCX idled seven plants. Among them, the Neon plant in Belvidere, IL. Given that that Neon and the Cruiser have a similar lineage, wouldn't it have been a great idea if those platform engineers at DCX had planned a bit more flexibility into the system such that both vehicles could be built on the same line?

Not to twist the knife, but that's probably what Honda would have done.