*I have been given compensation for this post by Hyundai Motor America. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
PHOTOS AND WORDS BY JOEY LEE (STICKYDILJOE)
So this year’s SEMA Show was a little bit different for me… Those of you who follow my site for any measure of time can understand that I’ve always been the type to sort of do things my own way, on my own time, and with little to no care of answering to anyone. I just prefer to run The Chronicles how I choose to because it is something that I built from the ground-up. We are going on 10 years now and I think my core audience respects the fact that I never have a problem speaking my mind, whether it is of popular opinion or not. I think being so devoted to that idea has presented me with an audience that truly respects my opinion. It hasn’t always gotten me the most “corporate” of gigs or put me in a specific position to deal with companies directly but I’ve been okay with that. I can be honest with myself and at the end of the day, I can go to bed at night with the comfort of knowing that I am not one of “those” who will do anything because someone has provided me with an opportunity or money to stray from my path. I’ve been in this industry a very long time. I know the ins and outs of much of it and if it is a situation where I haven’t seen it directly, I’ve had plenty of industry friends who have, so they advise me and tell me about their experiences.
I found it very interesting one day not too long ago when I was contacted by Hyundai USA to “experience” the SEMA Show with them and sort of show the world what the SEMA Show was about, particularly with the involvement with the Hyundai brand. It sounded interesting, I’m not going to lie, and I’ve never done anything like it so I decided to take them up on their offer. I guess you can say I’m a SEMA veteran. I’ve been going for a very long time now and continue to go annually because it is an event that I deem as an important one in terms of being connected to this industry.
I just don’t think Hyundai realized that I was that involved with the industry and had already been to SEMA plenty of times. There is this term that is common in the social media age these days for “important” people in any particular community or industry. That word, is “influencer”. It is a little over-used these days I have to admit because people have all of a sudden been able to acquire a bit of power or clout based on the numbers that they produce on social media. I’m not a numbers guy. I believe I have just been able to get by on producing quality content over the years and have developed a bit of a following. I guess you can say I am one of these “influencers” though I cringe a bit when I hear the word used, but I understand and move forward confidently knowing that what I say may have some merit to certain people and by all accounts, in the import automotive tuning community, I am an “influencer”.
Methanol-injected Blood Type Racing Hyundai Elantra Sport Concept which makes 260 horsepower and 300LB-FT of torque
Hyundai USA offers me a pretty great deal. They want me to experience the SEMA Show with their help, and in exchange, I offer to take a closer look at what they as a brand have to offer at the SEMA Show this year along with the custom Hyundai automobiles presented at the show. I told them that I had planned to go to SEMA anyway so I would have no problem working with them. There was a bit of hesitation on my side at first because I really didn’t know what it all entailed, but I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that there isn’t anything that can be presented to me that I can’t handle.
So I agreed. They’d offer me a place to stay, I’d get to grab a bite or two with a select group of others who were offered the same type of gig and all I’d have to do was present them with what I thought was a Hyundai experience at the SEMA Show. It sounds easy enough, right? I wouldn’t sit here and lie to you and tell you I knew all about the Hyundai brand. Honestly, I don’t know much about them. My only connection to the brand would be through Bisimoto Engineering, and that would only be like on a “six degrees of separation” type of thing because I’d worked with Bisi before while he was tinkering with Hondas. If I can go on this trip to SEMA with them and get to learn a little bit about Hyundai and what the companies tuning them had to offer, I’d be okay with that. It sounds like something that would be better served for some individuals who say, hadn’t been to SEMA before and learned of all its inner workings. They could provide that excitement of going to SEMA because it was truly their first time. I don’t get excited about SEMA anymore. There are things about SEMA that I like and that keep me going year-to-year, but I honestly don’t get very excited about anything. That is just who I am. Ask anyone that knows me.
The Rockstar Energy Moab Extreme Off-Roader Santa Fe Sport Concept
My thoughts were reaffirmed when I went to SEMA on day 1 of the event. Hyundai provided me with an incredible place to stay, which was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. Like, this place was absolutely stunning. Way too nice for me to be honest. I even took a bath because the tub was nice-looking and I don’t remember the last time I sat in a bath with amazing bath salts and blazing hot water. I almost cooked myself. The bath was amazing as was the entire hotel. Doing this as long as I have, I don’t even think I deserve to be in a place like that, but you know what? I’ll give it a shot. It is nice to experience something foreign and new. Dinner was provided and I was very well taken care of. Hyundai is amazing for believing in me and I appreciate it. I’d wish more manufacturers understood that. I knew that I might have possibly been the wrong guy for the job, or at least I think I was in the wrong position, when I got on the Hyundai-provided shuttle service to go to the SEMA Show. This was my first exposure to some of the other “influencers” or social media personalities that trip because during the dinner, I generally kept to myself and chatted with one or two other people I had known in the industry.
On the bus I could really see the the buzz and excitement with these people. It really was their first time, with the exception of a few who had been to SEMA once or maybe twice before. Everyone else just seemed excited and nervous because they didn’t know what to expect. It was fun to see because it is cool to see people get excited about stuff. There’s something genuine about someone experiencing something for the first time and seeing the joy in their facial expressions or responses. I honestly feel like I was better off being one of the people who were more involved with building a Hyundai for SEMA instead of someone who was brought in to tell you more about them. I think if I had been given that opportunity, I could do some things for that brand that some of these other companies haven’t been able to do. They need cars that generate a buzz and it is hard to do that unless you have a real pulse on the industry and understand the community and its people. It helps to have your eyes and ears on what is current and how to translate that to the vehicles. In that sense, I think you can consider me an “influencer” because I think I also have a good understanding of how to take risks and challenge the status quo when it comes to putting an innovative or exciting vehicle together for an event. I have a good team of friends who have been building cars for years now so it isn’t like we lack the resources to build an custom car. I think people are just asking the wrong questions. You can assume that since I am media, I can only do media. That’s a fair assumption. But dig a little deeper and know that I can do so much more than that.
The Vaccar turbocharged Hyundai Tuscon Sport Concept
I think it is incredibly important to have vehicles present at an event like this that is relatable to the tuner audience. Hyundai is doing a good job in seeking out people and tuning shops to produce these custom vehicles, but there is a lot more that can be done with the right individuals on board to create with them. I took this opportunity as a challenge to myself to try to see things from a different perspective and to force myself out of my own comfort zone to study something new that I really didn’t know too much about. To be frank, I like the ideas of some of the Hyundai vehicles at the show, but it is difficult to fully re-train your mind to understanding something of this magnitude in such a short amount of time. You have to ask yourself if the ideas that are going into these vehicles make sense in today’s sport compact scene. You have to ask yourself if people care and if you can make them care based on what is trending or how to make something that ultimately becomes a trending idea.
Self-employed student, Deven Hitchens sits down at the SEMA showroom floors to sketch the Blood Type Racing Hyundai Elantra GT
As far as my SEMA experience goes, I had a great time. Hyundai actually only had me staying for two nights in Las Vegas but I actually extended my stay for the rest of the work week since I had planned to be at the SEMA Show anyway. Having a longer stay than the others also granted me with more time to really go back to look over their display vehicles at the show. I didn’t feel rushed at all so I went back often to see how their booth display would change from day to day. I remember at the previous years of the SEMA Show that Hyundai would change the layout of their display area and I like that idea. There was some variety at the booth too, including the new Elantra modified by BTR, an Ioniq Hybrid “concept” created by Bisimoto, a customized Tuscon CUV, as well as a Santa Fe Sport which was pretty interesting in the way it was converted to be a full camp-ready vehicle. The one that stood-out to me the most was the i30 N Racecar, which was a fully-prepped vehicle used as a 24-hours of Nurburgring Endurance Race competitor. Outside of their display area, there weren’t very many other customized Hyundai vehicles. I recall seeing one that was prepared by the Tjin Edition team and a luxury custom Hyundai Equus in the North Hall. The individuals or shops that were called upon to create these custom cars did a great job with their execution and quality of work, though I need to mention that the most difficult part of building a car for SEMA is getting them noticed by other enthusiasts who are particularly invested in this genre of automobile modification. It can’t be an easy task trying to compete in the custom car genre with other vehicle makes that have a longer history of racing or with a reputation for being “tuner” vehicles. It’s a bit of an uphill climb, that is, if that is what Hyundai is looking to do. If putting their vehicles together for SEMA is done purely for the sake of branding and brand recognition, I think they are doing just fine. Their display for the last few years have been great and I think everyone recognizes their presence at the SEMA Show from year-to-year.
The i30 N Racecar which competed in the SP3T class at the 24 Hours Nurgburgring Endurance Race
With all that said, I can’t help but be thankful to Hyundai USA for taking a chance on inviting me to experience SEMA with them. It was a really cool experience to be so very well taken care of, especially considering I was going to go to this event on my own already. Having Hyundai’s generosity helped to add a completely new layer to my trip in 2017. I wish other manufacturers would get involved with social media outlets and influencers to do something like this more often. It’s such a smart way of getting people involved and allowing people to be a part of an event like SEMA, which is often seen as something very business-oriented and inaccessible to consumers and/or casual car enthusiasts.
As far as my own car tastes go, there’s nothing much newer than about 2006 that I’m honestly interested in owning and I don’t see that changing, but I have huge respect for how quickly Hyundai’s been advancing. When you look at the new Genesis line, and then at the BTR Elantra and i30 endurance racer here, their scope is incredible. It wasn’t that long ago at all that they were a real punch line, too, but now they’re putting out solid cars and catering to almost every kind of driver. Kudos to Hyundai!