Specialty Market Support

I meddling seems to be finding its way into V facet of society. But for American car enthusiasts there's a powerful lobby in the fight against unfair legislation as Huw Evans finds out...

Every year, usually in November the Specialty Equipment Market Association; otherwise known as SEMA, puts on its annual Expo at the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center; smack dab in the middle of Sin City. Since 1963, SEMA has presented those in the business of accessorising vehicles a chance to show their wares to the movers and shakers in the industry, as well as provide a good excuse for building some tricked out vehicles and engage in social gatherings.

Today the performance and restoration aftermarket industry has become a $32 billion dollar a year business in North America, so it's got some serious traction. That also means, that, If you want to, you can build an entire car out of a parts catalogue, from something like a 1933 Ford Roadster right up to a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle. And even if your tastes happen to run into off-brand stuff, there are new parts appearing all the time - including such stuff as engine cornpoienb for classic Ponliacs and floor pans 'or vintage Packards.

But SEMA is more than just a big car show. The organization itself, based in Diamond Bar, California has also grown to become essentially the 'voice,' of the car hcbby in North America and these days, that's a good thing. In 19S7 it formed the SEMA Action Network, an arm devoted to protecting car enthusiasts and those that make their living in the aftermarket industry from a growing list of 'Nanny Laws' that attempted to restrict or curtail the activities of car enthusiasts. Today more, than 10 years on, the SAN, which has its own full-time lobbyist centre in Washington DC, has grown to encompass mere than 40,000 members across the US and Canada. It has resulted in enacting an official day for enthusiasts - dubbed 'Car Collector Appreciation Day,' which we highlighted in a previous column. But as it has grown in scope and power, so has the number of potential bil s targetirg car enthusiasts.

Perhaps the most publicised in recent years was the 'Cash for Clunker's bill which President Barack Obama signed in back in 2009. Like many so-called scrappage programs it basically targeted older vehicles as a route cause of pollution, givirg those that owned them an incentive to retire their ride in favour of a new, late-model vehicle, without taking into account how mnrh those older cars actually pollute As a result, when the statistics were weighed in, a number of these 'older' vehicles, far from being old bangers, were actually well-maintained legitimate collector cars and trucks; *or which owners were given a fraction of their true value to put towards the cost of a new car. Thanks to persistent lobbying by the SAN and it's members, cars more than 25 years-old were exempted from the programme, but still, a sizeable number of decent future collectibles and solid project cars were lost, while essentially nothing was gained, save for a short term spike in new car sales, that is now all but forgotten.

Yet it could have been worse. There are plenty of other laws out there that target hobbyists, from incperable vehicles (some states want simply to be given the power to seize and dispose of project cars on your own property if they deem them an eyesore), to rules governing engine swaps or exhaust noise - the list goes on.

However, thanks to the efforts of SAN, mary of these bills have fallen flat on their face. According to the SAN's Vice President of GovernneriL Affairs; Steve McDonald, the biggest problem is that these who draft these bills are often not educated on the subject matter and thus aren't able to make informed decisions - the SAN's role is to help change that. In addition, because of the current environmental political hot potato, much like cigarettes, cars (especially classics and hot rods,) are prime target for political activists who seek to gain the popular vote.

'It's a hot button issue right now,' says McDonald, 'so we need to be more active than ever. The best part about the SAN is that it's free to join and puts you in touch, not only with other enthusiasts all over North America bet those ir office that actually understand our hobby and support it/ In fact, in Washington D.C, there is actually a Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus, comprised of some 100 members of the Senate and House of Representatives, who actively work on behalf of the enthusiast public to introduce laws that are both responsible and fair, while lobbying against draconian legislation.

In addition to this, there is also a State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus of some 120 members - who have helped enact legislation favourable to hobbyists across the country. But as McDonald says: 'unfair legislation is a moving target. We've made great progress, but the threat is always there. That's why we encourage every enthusiast to get involved -there's strength in numbers.' He's got a point. And considering that the political threat to the auto hobbyist's fun is pan-national, perhaps it's time organisations like the SAN and FIV, FHBVC or even the AIAA in Europe consider joining forces... Now there's some food for thought! ★

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