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2006 SEMA Recap - Off Road Notes

Posted in Features on March 1, 2006
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I just returned from the annual SEMA Show, the show our industry uses to introduce the latest and greatest products to the world. SEMA covers every automotive niche market there is. From slammed imports to monster trucks, if it has to do with the industry, it's there. This diversity makes for a giant, unwieldy show that fills many buildings and gives you plenty of exercise. Every year, one vehicle manufacturer is the "Vehicle Manufacturer of the Show." Their vehicles are prominently displayed throughout the buildings and, usually, many companies take a vehicle from the manufacturer and modify it with their products. This year, that manufacturer was Honda. Honda's entry into the off-road segment is the Ridgeline, their almost-truck that makes me wonder why a company as great as Honda would try to compete in the United States and Canadian truck market with such a vehicle. Evidently almost everyone agreed, as there were few Ridgelines to be found at the show. The vehicle that seemed to be the most popular off-road truck this year was the H3 Hummer. A number of suspension companies had respectable offerings for the H3 that allow it to run 37" tires and still work well. Rancho won Best of Show for theirs. Now, if we could get beefier tie rods and a V8 in the H3 ...

Nitto Tire showed off a new all-terrain tread design that will be coming to the market as the Nitto Dune Runner. Toyo Tire had a press conference announcing the signing of Robby Gordon to drive in the Dakar Rally. I found out that Darren Skilton will be co-driving with Robby in Africa. Maxxis is building radial and bias tires for off-roaders in more sizes than ever before. BFGoodrich had a nice gathering where Scoop Vessels presented the F100 pickup he drove to a Class 8 victory in the 1977 Baja 500 to the Off-Road Hall of Fame. This was the first off-road race ever won on a radial tire, original BFGoodrich Radial TA's, to be exact.

New wheel designs were everywhere. It's obvious that chrome has returned, even for people using their trucks off-road. One wheel manufacturer told me that chrome will hold up better than polished finishes and be easier to clean, too. I can see chipped chrome flaking off that new wheel that just whacked a rock. Maybe I'm wrong. We'll have to wait and see. Larger wheel sizes are all the rage now, with 20" wheels being very popular. We're trying 20" rims on our Project F150, but we're running larger diameter tires that still give us some sidewall for flotation. In my opinion, if you're running 31" tires on a truck that's heading for the dirt, stick to a smaller rim diameter. Anyway, 20" (and larger) rims are flooding the market. Beadlock manufacturers take note.

Master Craft Racing displayed new reclining seats that are really nice, especially for Jeeps. They even have a cover for the rear factory fold-and-tumble seat that matches their front seats. They also have seats for the Yamaha Rhino. I'll say it again - the Rhino, and other side-by-sides, are the Next Big Thing in off-roading. Elka, Fox, and King all offer coilovers for the Rhino, too.

Warn showed their new 9.0R winch that's just 48 pounds and aimed at rock crawlers. A new winch controller was also introduced for Warn Ultimate Performance Series winches. Fabtech and Full Traction both showed off their new 4-link conversion suspension systems for those Super Duty owners who want to update and greatly improve their leaf-sprung Super Duty front suspension. They look very nice. Skyjacker, as usual, had a number of innovative new products and a couple of project vehicles we'll be showing you in the future.

There was a new product section that was overwhelmed with bling, and also some feature trucks, inside and outside, that were totally unusable off-road but looked great at the show to many attendees. UROC had the parking lot filled with obstacles and friends of mine were trying to look interested, day in and day out, crawling over these with their rock buggies. The SEMA Show was big and interesting. Was it all for the off-roader? No. Was it mostly for the off-roader? No. The SEMA Show is a great place to talk with industry movers and shakers and see what's new and happening in our sport/hobby/business. It's also a good place to see developing trends that will impact off-roading. The only problem with it is that most of you won't attend, so I can't meet and talk with you. We'll just have to do that somewhere off-road. See you there!

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