Flash equals cash: Big and bold ruled the roost at SEMA

Feb. 1, 2005

Flash was the operative word when it came to custom wheels at last November's Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show. There was no shortage of glitzy rims at the event.

"I think there were a lot more wheels than last year," says Tom Bello, general manager of Mr. Fox Tire Co. in Buffalo, N.Y., a major tire and wheel dealership in northwestern New York.

Bello was taken aback by some of the extreme wheel sizes on display. "I thought sizes were going to stop getting larger, but it isn't going that way."

"Twenty-two inches is the commodity 20-inch of two years ago," says David Insull, director of custom wheels for American Tire Distributors (ATD). "But there's still a lot of activity in the 15-, 16- and 17-inch range. We are still overwhelmed with inquiries for 17-inch wheels."

Respondents to Modern Tire Dealer's 2004 High Performance Tire and Custom Wheel Survey say 17-inch wheels make up 23% of their total custom wheel sales, second only to 16-inch rims, which comprise 27% of overall sales.

"People sometimes look at what's the latest and greatest and overlook what's their core business," says Insull.

Like a lot of dealerships, Moosic, Pa.-based Jack Williams Tire Co. is ramping up its wheel business. Representatives from the chain met with plenty of wheel firms at the show. "We were really involved with the wheel part this year," says Jack Williams Tire official Jason Williams.

A large number of wheel companies used the event as a showcase for new products.

ATD introduced two new brands at the show: Drifz and Cruiser Alloy. Drifz, which comes out next month, is a dedicated tuner/sport compact line. "It's an expansion of our efforts to go after the tuner market," says Insull. The brand will sport four styles, two of which -- the 515 and 517 -- were displayed at the SEMA Show.

ATD's Cruiser Alloy brand targets the sport truck and SUV markets. It's available in seven styles, ranging from 15 to 24 inches in diameter, and has a chrome finish.

Also new from ATD is its Maas line, which is designed for luxury sedans and high-end SUVs. Drivers of these vehicles "want a clean, elegant look," says Insull. "They aren't necessarily looking for the most cutting-edge look." In addition, ATD added nine styles to its ICW Racing brand, increasing ICW's total style offerings to 23.


Big wheels keep on rolling

The new wheels introduced at the SEMA Show included a lot of the larger sizes, including 24-inch wheels. Here's a snapshot of the offerings.

* BBS' new CK comes in 19 and 20 inches and targets upscale sedans like BMWs and Audis. It will be available next month.

* Boyd Coddington Wheels unveiled its Mercenary line.

* Branzach Corp. unveiled the BZ-3, a 19-inch passenger car wheel, and the Anarchy, Sabotage and Vice, which all fall under the company's Saint brand name.

Also new from Branzach are the 20-inch Zeppelin, a chrome wheel for cars, and the 22-inch Syko, which targets SUVs. All of Branzach's new rims hit the shelves in March.

* Capital Original Wheels rolled out two chrome rims: the 17-inch ES 330 and the 17- and 18-inch Dodge Magnum.

*Carlsson North America displayed six new designs. Carlsson's wheels are engineered for cars and mid-size SUVs.

* Dayton Wheel Concepts Inc.'s new Sceptre 622 is available in 22- and 24-inch configurations with chrome and gold accessories, according to Dayton Sales Manager Brad Crutchleo. Dayton's Classic II is a 1950s-style steel wheel with a 14- to 22-inch range.

* Enkei International Inc. unveiled several rims, including additions to its popular Evo line. Also new from Enkei are the LX-65, LX-F and LX-5 for luxury cars. Enkei's 20-inch TS-P1 light truck/SUV wheel comes with a chrome or painted finish. Enkei also has expanded its racing line with the RPF 1, the RS+M and the RP03.

* Enzo Luxury Alloys Inc. displayed its E Forged line of two-piece, chrome or powder-coated wheels. The E Forged line contains 10 styles, ranging from 19 to 28 inches, "with more on the way," says Enzo Sales Representative Winston Kaya.

* Giovanna Wheels introduced its first off-road wheel, the TS, a one-piece forged, 20- and 22-inch rim. "A lot of people are doing lifted trucks with up-sized wheels," says Giovanna spokesman Fernando Guzman.


* Konig Wheels' new Tuner 2 ranges in size from 17 to 20 inches and is specifically engineered for the sport compact market. Konig's Unknown "covers a wide variety of vehicles," says Konig Sales Manager Jim Fisher. The Unknown ranges from 17 to 20 inches in diameter. Konig also has entered the light truck/SUV market with three new rims: the Coastal, the No Road and the Open Road. "We've always been just tuner."

* Lexani Luxury Alloy Wheels introduced the new Firestar SUV wheel, ranging from 18 to 24 inches. It comes in a chrome finish with other decorative options. Lexani's Fire and Ice light truck/SUV wheels range from 18 to 24 inches. And for real high rollers, Lexani unveiled the Avanti SUV rim, which features cubic zirconium on its face, according to David Robinson, Lexani regional sales representative. The wheel will retail for a whopping $250,000 per set, he says.

* Mangels unveiled the Maxima and Futura, which range from 15 to 18 inches in diameter. Both are available in chrome and painted finishes. Mangels is making a concentrated effort to boost its business in the United States, says Ken Cherpeski, Mangels' North American sales representative.

* Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels, a subsidiary of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., has designed a new three-piece drag racing wheel. The ET Drag Wheel features a dual bolt pattern, and is available in front and rear sizes.

* Player Wire Wheels displayed a 50-inch chrome wire wheel, a prototype "for display only," according to a Player Wire Wheels representative. Player also displayed a 20-inch double spinner designed for high-end passenger and SUV applications and the 22-inch 818, which targets front wheel drive cars. "Chrome always sells," says Player Wire Wheels Sales Manager Dave Henley.


* Prime Industries Inc. displayed five new rims as part of its Image Alloy Wheels line: the 500, the 503, two versions of the 509 (in black or chrome), and the chrome 510, a 24-inch rim.

* Pro Competition Tire Co.'s new Series 609 and Series 6089 wheels sport multi-lug designs and are available in polished and chrome finishes. They hit the market this month.

* Rota rolled out the Boost, a 17-inch alloy wheel, and the Auto X, a 15-inch rim available in black, white, bronze and other finishes.

* Team Dynamics' new Rimfire SUV wheel will be available this month in 18-, 20- and 22-inch sizes in both chrome and silver. It will be offered in a variety of offsets in five- and six-lug configurations, says Team Dynamics Vice President Don Kane.

* Tireco Inc. introduced a number of Forte wheels plus a new wheel line. The gloss black Forte F5 Black Russ, which features a mirror-machined lip, is available in 18x7.5, 20x8.5 and 22x9.5 sizes. The new Forte F3 Signs also is a gloss black wheel; it features mirror machined spoke tops and is available in 20x8.5 and 22x9.5 sizes.

"Mirror machining is accomplished with a diamond-tip lathe that cuts at high revolutions and leaves a mirror finish that looks like chrome," says Rick Papelian, director of wheel sales.

New Forte chrome styles include Evil Twin, the Schottze and the Jube.

Tireco's Rumble Customs wheel line -- the RC1 Double Diamond, the RC2 Holeshot and the RC6 Stingray - was designed in conjunction with Tom Langton of Rumble Customs Motorcycles of Canada. The styles are available in 18- through 22-inch sizes.


* TSW Alloy Wheels introduced several new rims. The Mondello is designed for passenger cars and ranges from 18 to 20 inches in diameter. The Montage targets upscale cars like BMWs, Porsches and the Chrysler 300c and SUVs like the Mercedes ML and Porsche Cayenne; it tops out at 22 inches. TSW's Kyalami is available in 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-, 19- and 20-inch configurations, in both high and low offsets. And the 12-spoke Catalunya comes in a similar size range with multiple finish options, including chrome and high-gloss paint.

* Ultra Wheels Co. debuted a number of wheels. The Baja Champ light truck/SUV wheel is the latest in the company's Ultra line. The F6 tuner wheel is the newest addition to the company's Focal line. Ultra's Platinum line boasts four new rims, including the 18- to 24-inch Shield; the 15- to 20-inch Split Lance; the Octavo SUV wheel, which comes in 20, 22 and 24 inches; and the Retro light truck/SUV rim, which ranges from 16 to 18 inches.

Ultra also has added the Geneva to its Arelli line. The all-chrome rim comes with chrome or gold-plated accents, says Ultra Sales Manager Jay Scott. "It's for the bling-bling guys."

* Vision Custom Wheels unveiled several new light truck/SUV tires under its Milanni brand name, including the 184, 313, 331 and 332. All are chrome plated and primarily range in size from 18 to 24 inches. Vision also introduced its Milanni 330 rim for front-wheel drive tuner cars.

What factors determine the wheels customers buy? Sixty-three percent of dealers who responded to MTD's survey said buyers cite wheel styling as "extremely important" in helping them pick rims. Other considerations include price, dealer recommendation, performance and brand recognition.