Specialty Equipment Market Association members make specialized products for vehicles and need garages outfitted with hig-tech equipment to test new designs. With its first California garage at capacity, SEMA purchased a second, larger space in the Detroit area to help more members.
While the pandemic has highlighted the ability for many fields to work entirely remote, there are some industries where that isn’t possible. For example, members of the Specialty Equipment Market Association need hands-on, in-person spaces for building vehicle parts and accessories.
Knowing this, the association recently purchased a building it plans to use as a second SEMA Garage, where members can test products.
“You can do a certain amount of design and understanding through the computer and engineering, but there still comes a point where you have to test and put the product on the vehicle, to see the vehicle,” said Mike Spagnola, SEMA vice president of OEM and product development. “The basic premise of the SEMA garage is a product-development center. We help members get product to market, highly engineered, in a much faster manner.”
The new garage is in the Detroit area and is three times the size of the first SEMA Garage in California, which is at capacity due to its popularity with members.
“As it grew, we ended up with two shifts running in the garage with all the services we offer,” Spagnola said. “It was obvious that we were going to have to look for a second location or expand.”
SEMA opted to put the second garage in the Detroit area because more than 500 members are within 300 miles of the location and both auto manufacturers and test tracks are nearby. While SEMA’s board approved purchasing a second garage in December 2019 and Spagnola spent January and February 2020 getting to know the Detroit market, the pandemic put a halt to everything.
Once SEMA lifted its travel ban in late 2020, Spagnola began looking at spaces early this year and eventually found a property that met the space, heating, and air conditioning needs. The 45,000-square-foot building, which was previously an industrial space, will require renovation to transform it into a high-tech garage that meets member needs.
“We are putting in an emissions lab, so that requires very specific and high-end architecture and engineering to design something like that,” Spagnola said. “Our technology center is going to require some very specialized equipment—equipment that takes, from the time you order it to the time it’s ready to be installed, about a year.”
Some parts of the garage are expected to open next January, while the full thing is expected to debut in summer 2022.
Having the facility located close to so many automakers should be helpful, Spagnola said. This year, SEMA secured a pre-release Ford Bronco that members can access at the California garage. “For our members to actually get to see it in advance of it coming out, it helps them with the creative ideas, as well as design and development,” Spagnola said. He hopes for more access and partnerships once the Detroit facility is up and running.
Even though the final garage opening is a year away, members are already excited. “Member feedback has been phenomenal,” Spagnola said. “Having more capacity, as well as members being able to go to the Detroit facility, will be a big plus.”