Innovation. It is the lifeblood of the aftermarket industry and one of the things that makes this field so interesting. Just when you think you've seen it all, when you're sure that nothing better will ever be thought of, someone comes up with something that makes you stand back and say, "Wow, what a great idea."
Just a few weeks ago, much of the automotive aftermarket descended on Las Vegas for the annual industry show sponsored by the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA). Thousands of exhibitors lined the halls of the convention center to display their latest wares, some claiming to have reinvented the wheel, some claiming only to have honed it a bit. But either way, the sheer immensity of it all was staggering.
There were a number of products at the show this year that I thought were interesting, but two in particular really stood out in my mind as especially innovative. The first was a key fob winch remote control from Ramsey that purports to work on any electric winch with a solenoid. Imagine, no more cables to haul around; no worrying about getting them caught between a quarter panel and a rock. You can operate the winch with one hand, either inside the vehicle or as far as 50 feet away. It's easy to use, it relies on proven technology, and it serves a specific need that every four-wheeler has. And equally as important, it will be relatively inexpensive to get into.
The second product of note was from Tractech, which has gone and done something really interesting with the TrueTrac locker: the company has made it electric. While the final details are still being hashed out in R&D, there will apparently be a solenoid unit mounted on the diff case, wiring run into the cab, and a switch installed wherever you like that will enable you to engage and disengage the locker any old time you wish. For those who have complained about the harsh around-town steering of such lockers, here you go. Comments about this new locker have so far concentrated on the possibility of ripping the solenoid unit right off the diff case on a stray rock or branch, but I say have faith. The aftermarket is alive and well. If it turns out that there is a need for protection, someone will quickly provide it.
If you'd like to take a look at some of the other new products that will be reaching four-wheelers soon, turn to page 42. I think you'll be intrigued. There are still a great many creative souls out there, and it's a brand-new year.
For the hard-core rockcrawlers among us, we've also included coverage on a brand-new trail out in Colorado. This is the first time that Travis' Trail has been brought to the public eye, and once again we have that perennial trail hound Mark Werkmeister to thank. This trail is proving to be a real challenge to some of the most well-respected names in four-wheeling. So Travis should not be surprised to find both himself and his trail on the top 10 list come next spring.
You'll have noticed by now that this issue is particularly heavy on Toyotas. To be candid, it had been a while since the many Land Cruiser and 4Runner owners around the country had been given their due on these pages, and I felt it was time. We've included some good technical articles as well as three different trail runs devoted to Toyota enthusiasts. Of course, four-wheeling is four-wheeling, and I'm sure everyone will enjoy them.
Finally, in the spirit of bringing you what's new and interesting in the off-road world, we have included an introduction to the 2002 Jeep Liberty. This is the first public unveiling of Jeep's latest SUV, and on page 64 you'll find our comments about its design and performance.Enjoy.