Article > Opinion

Counter-Tech: Three Tech Trends... at SEMA 2011

By Mandy Aguilar

Mandy Aguilar
I never thought the words, “I’m a writer for Counterman magazine” would ever roll off my tongue; but here I am. For several months now, I have been fortunate to be given the opportunity to write a column for you folks and going forward we will continue to do this under a monthly section in the magazine aptly named: Counter-Tech.

The idea is to share my views, opinions, experiences and perhaps a rant or two on how technology has intertwined itself in our daily chores of selling auto parts, and focusing on ways to leverage these changes to increase our collective sales. This will be an interactive adventure and your comments are most welcome — you, too, can become a writer just by giving us your opinion at

In November 2011, I went back to SEMA, this time as a rookie writer/reporter. As such, it was quite interesting to see how the demeanor shifts at a vendor’s booth when you say you are a writer for a magazine (not quite celebrity status for me yet, but getting there). The guys and gals manning these booths suddenly arise from their expo-comatose slumber and swiftly prop themselves up, sharing their product knowledge with you. This was a lot of fun, but truth is, I’m more of an AAPEX guy, not really visiting SEMA every year; I’m just not in that business. Writer or not, when I did visit SEMA this year, I have to admit I was a bit lost with the vastness of the exhibit halls; but, I guess it was almost preordained that I would enter the show, not where the bikinis, tattoos and hot rods are displayed for our veneration, but through the one section dedicated to mobile technology and electronics; you know: “Geek’s alley.”

In last month’s column we talked about technology not found at AAPEX, which was disappointing. I did find a bit of redemption at SEMA, although the stuff I found there was more cool than actually practical for me, in terms of new business opportunities for us hard parts guys. Nonetheless, this stuff is exciting and clearly points to new trends. Three areas caught my attention and I think perhaps they will pique your curiosity, too.

As existential arguments go nowadays, we hear lots about the benefits of technology versus the rights we give up on privacy. On-board cameras are clearly iconic for this issue. These are not the backup cameras that help you park without the slightest need to turn your neck backwards.

No, these are two-channel cameras mounted on the dashboard that record the driver while driving (inside) and also the POV what the driver sees (outside). Many of the systems are connected to GPS and G-shock sensors that instantly pinpoint and alert remote dispatchers in case of a sudden accident. It’s a simple, inexpensive tool that gives you the most complete record of what was/is happening with the driver and the car at all times. All this info goes into a black box for reviewing later in case of an accident, just like a jet plane.

The applications for these technologies are extensive. They have gained popularity with fleets for obvious reasons, but also families with teenage drivers are making the investment to create a proactive environment to control speeding and dangerous driver’s distractions. According to some of the vendors at SEMA, widespread insurance premium discounts will soon be norm for customers who install these systems. I know that the instant insurance companies will help us with the cost of deploying these, we will most likely install them in every one of our delivery trucks. Boy, I’m already afraid of what I might learn!

I have never owned a radar detector and up until this SEMA show, I never even thought of them as being cool tech. My take is that they used to be more popular years ago; back then, a bunch of my buddies used to buy one before they even put a stereo in their hand-me-down Mavericks, Pacers and K cars inherited from their parents. A detector before a stereo? No way, Jose! Today’s generation does not seem to be too keen on them; but then again, I’m no expert.

At the show I saw a connected radar detector. Yes folks, social networking for the speeding crowd. The idea is simple but revolutionary. First, you create an electronic handshake between the radar detector and your smartphone using an app. Then your radar detector does its thing, sending the info up to the cloud using the smartphone’s wireless network, and the cloud relays the info back to other drivers in the areas via their smartphones. The other drivers must also have the detector’s app installed.  Their phones will flash and alert them miles in advance that a laser radar gun has fired ahead of them. It’s real-time ticket protection – traffic lawyers beware.  We all know very soon cars will be networked in one way or another and that info will be very valuable to our industry as we develop strategies to leverage these technologies into new parts-selling opportunities.

The sheer number of booths offering smart rear-view mirrors was amazing. As my walk around SEMA commenced that day, I visited the OnStar booth, clearly the most recognizable name in this category; but, soon I realized there were tens of other vendors selling mirrors that can also be used to display maps, driving info, GPS directions and entertainment recaps. One vendor said it best: “We are all trained to regularly glance at the rear view mirrors. Why not add some info right here that will enhance the driving experience?” Hard to argue with that. The trick is to display the right kind of info, quickly so that driver can go back to driving.

The most common use was to show a video from a rear bumper mounted camera that only turns on when the car goes in reverse; the drivers gets the best of both worlds with a monitor on one half of the mirror and the actual image from the mirror as he backs up. The monitor quickly turns off and the full mirror returns once the driver shift backs to drive. They also use this technology to display radar detection info, GPS alerts and song changes in the stereo systems; all in quick flashes that help keep the drivers informed in the one place he usually takes a look at while driving. 

I’m certain the commercialization opportunities for any of these three tech trends are just around the corner. Connected vehicles are here now and will be as common smartphones soon. The more exposed we are to ideas and trends like these, the better positioned we will be as an industry to capitalize on it. I can almost see it now: A customer slows down after his smartphone alerts him of a speed trap ahead and gets off the highway. He drives by a quick lube place that transmits a video coupon to his rear view mirror with a $9.99 oil change offer just valid in the next five minutes and we see the customer shining his pearly whites with satisfaction on his on-board camera as he pulls in to the service lane.

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