12 highlights from SEMA, the world's craziest car show

Graham Hope

24 Oct 2021

The weird, wild and wonderful from the annual Vegas extravganza

When it comes to motor shows, there’s none louder, brasher and more outrageous than SEMA, the Las Vegas extravaganza which this year takes place between November 2 and 5. Organised by America’s Speciality Equipment Manufacturers Association, it’s a massive trade-only industry event that acts as a thrilling showcase for tuners, aftermarket suppliers and manufacturers to try to outdo each other with their creations. Over the years SEMA has become a theatre for some absurd, outlandish and exciting vehicles. With the countdown to 2021 now on in earnest, here’s a reminder of some of the highlights of the past decade.

Tonka 4Runner

SEMA has offered up some unlikely collaborations and one of the more bizarre was between Toyota and the Funrise Toy Corporation in 2015, which saw the introduction of the Tonka 4Runner. The concept used the 4.0-litre V6 engine from the Japanese company’s 4Runner US SUV in a life-size Tonka SUV – complete with suspension lifted by ten inches and illuminated tyres – to deliver what was claimed to be “the ultimate off-road adventure”. A pop-up tent on the roof provided a neat finishing touch.

Mercedes Metris

Some manufacturers see SEMA as a useful opportunity to preview new product. That was Mercedes’ thinking in 2014 when it unveiled four tasters of the mid-size Metris van, which was slated to go on sale in 2015. (The Metris is sold in Europe as the Vito). The Metris you can see here was the funkiest on display at SEMA; a collaboration with tuner RENNtech, the Party van featured a clamshell roof that opened and acted as a backdrop for a DJ dropping some tunes.


Local Motors LM3D Swim

Significant new technology is also a feature of SEMA. In 2015, Arizona-based company Local Motors created quite a stir when it showcased a homologated, road-ready car built by direct digital manufacturing – including extensive 3D printing – the LM3D Swim. A year earlier, it had given note of its intentions by live-printing the Swim’s predecessor, the Strati, in Vegas. The cars paved the way for the company’s current offering, a 3D-printed autonomous shuttle called Olli.


Honda Rugged Open Air Vehicle Concept

Part of the fun of SEMA is seeing traditionally mainstream manufacturers embrace their more adventurous side. In 2018, Honda – maker of the Jazz and Civic, remember – showed us what it’s capable of when it throws off the shackles. The Rugged Open Air Vehicle Concept was based on the company’s mid-size Ridgeline pick-up and borrowed elements from the Pioneer 1000 All-Terrain Vehicle to illustrate what the ultimate Honda four-wheel-drive vehicle could look like.

Toyota Tundrasine

Toyota has always taken SEMA more seriously than many manufacturers – although ‘serious’ is not really a term that could be applied to the Tundrasine, which made an appearance in 2015. A limousine based on the Tundra pick-up – hence the rather clunky name – the Tundrasine was over 26 feet in length with a wheelbase of 235.9 inches, and came with eight doors and a custom-made brown leather interior inspired by a private jet.


GR Supra Sport Top

Like so many shows around the world, last year’s SEMA fell foul of Covid and was held in a digital format. But that didn’t stop the innovation and Toyota was again among the headline grabbers with this sensational open-air Supra wearing the GR badge – denoting Toyota’s motorsport arm, Gazoo Racing – and based on a GR Supra Heritage Edition which had starred at SEMA in 2019. The targa-topped stunner received a great reaction online, with many fans hailing it too good to remain a concept.


Ford Mustang

As well as being a forum for some of the most extrovert automotive creations imaginable, SEMA also has a competitive element. The ‘Hottest’ Cars of the Show are chosen by the specialty equipment producers as the best platforms for showcasing their work, and the awards are much coveted by the car manufacturers. 2015 proved a landmark year for Ford, as it became the first car maker to win three of the awards in the same year – Hottest Car (the Mustang, below), Hottest Sport-Compact (the Focus) and Hottest Truck (the F-Series).


Hyundai Veloster Grappler

One of the joys of SEMA is the opportunity it affords makers to run riot with their imagination, and Hyundai certainly took advantage of this in 2019 with the Veloster Grappler, an off-roader concept based on the firm’s curious three-door coupe. With raised suspension for improved ground clearance, massive tyres and roof-mounted lighting, it was a Veloster the likes of which we’d never seen before – and will never see again.


Mazda MX-5 Speedster Evolution

Occasionally there’s a car unveiled at SEMA that it’s hard not to look at and wonder wistfully at what might have been. Such was the case with the MX-5 Speedster, displayed in 2015. The focus was on shedding weight, and with no roof, windscreen and carbon fibre doors and seats, it tipped the scales at just 943kg – over 100kg less than the standard car. A year later at SEMA it went a step further with the Speedster Evolution (pictured). Tweaks to the interior and brakes shed another 45kg. One can only imagine what a thrill this featherweight MX-5 must be to drive.


Chevrolet E-10

Nothing appears to be off-limits at SEMA, even crazy ideas like this – a retro design inspired by a hot-rod pick up showcasing electrification tech. Taking its inspiration for Chevy’s classic C-10 US truck of the 1960s, the 2019 E-10 featured two electric motors providing the equivalent of 450bhp and two battery packs from the firm’s Bolt EV (in the bed under a tonneau cover). Chevrolet claimed a 0-60mph time of about five seconds, and even provided an artificial soundtrack that emulated a V8 engine to add more drama.


Kia Telluride Horizon Roamer

Korean brand Kia was another which used SEMA to preview a forthcoming model, when in 2018 it brought four different versions of the Telluride to the show prior to the large SUV’s official debut at the Detroit expo a few months later. The most interesting of these was the Telluride Horizon Roamer, a vision in bright orange which hinted at extreme off-road capability with 32-inch tyres, a snorkel to assist water fording and a roof rack. We’ve yet to see a production model in this vein, but in terms of generating interest it was job done for Kia, and the Telluride has gone on to be a big success, winning 2020 World Car of the Year.


Toyota C-HR R-Tuned

Maximising the performance potential of a mainstream model is another tried and tested aspect of SEMA, and Toyota went down this route in 2017 with the C-HR R-Tuned concept, hailed at the time as “the world’s quickest crossover”. Looking rather different from the C-HRs you might encounter on the school run, this version featured a whole array of enhancements including upgraded suspension, a limited slip differential and aerodynamic improvements. But, of course, the heart of the matter was the engine, a turbocharged 2.4-litre four-cylinder delivering in excess of 600bhp. This CH-R wasn’t ‘all show and no go’ either, proving its worth on a number of different track tests.



360° View

Full Specs

Used Car



Search any model to find out everything you need to know. Get full specs, news, reviews, videos and much more!

Graham Hope

24 Oct 2021