Like every other industry, car nuts look for an excuse to go to Vegas every year "for work." What they do in their free time is their business, but when they are at the convention center, they exhibit some of the coolest concept cars, because they are typically production cars modified in ways you could actually duplicate on your own car.
As with other aspects of the Las Vegas experience, concept cars at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show are about indulging fantasies. For example, there is the off-road desert racing dream, represented this year by the macho Nissan Titan XD (above, a vehicle whose name could encounter trademark problems with the condom industry) and the less-impressive Honda Ridgeline (a vehicle in need of an infusion of macho).
Of course, there's a rule that says you can't have an off-road conversation without including Jeep, so they also showed a concept, but the Red Rock concept is a tribute to the brand's annual foray to the rock-crawling roundup at Moab, Utah for Easter weekend.
SEMA started with Southern California hot-rodders, so the American manufacturers pay homage to these roots with muscled-up concepts every year. This year, Ford showed the Mustang Cobra Jet, a factory-built car for drag racing rather than a one-off concept. You, yes, you, can go to the dealer and leave them all your money (if you've got a hundred grand to spend) and take home one of the 50 Cobra Jets Ford will build. They didn't release any horsepower numbers, but the company does promise that the supercharged Mustang will gun quarter-mile runs in eight seconds. Which is fast.
And if you can't talk off-road without Jeep, you definitely can't talk Mustang without Camaro. Chevy brought six concept versions of the brand-new 2016 Camaro to SEMA. We liked the Camaro Black concept, which is lowered, rides on 20-inch wheels and wears Mosaic Black Metallic paint.
While the show's roots are in modified American cars, the West Coast import tuner culture ensures that foreign brands also show up big at SEMA. Mazda brought a pair of concept versions of the all-new 2016 MX-5 Miata. The Spyder concept features a skimpy bikini top stretched from windshield to rear deck to provide a modicum of shielding from rain and sun, while the Speedster concept is stripped of everything above the beltline, for an authentic bugs-in-your-teeth experience.
Kia went for maximum Americana with its pastel Optima A1A concept, which is a reference to Florida's coastal beach highway. This Optima not only has its top cut off for proper solar appreciation, but its rear doors are remounted with rear hinges, so the doors open wide in the middle for easy ingress and egress.
Blood Type Racing turbocharged the Hyundai Veloster to crank out 500 horsepower. Then then installed a carbon fiber body kit with front splitter and rear wing. Naturally, they painted the whole thing black.
Honda has a trump card in these kinds of competitions, and that is their motorcycle division. While SEMA is typically a steroidal celebration of excess, Honda rolled out a hot rod version of its diminutive Grom minibike. To wild appreciation, even from those who came to SEMA to celebrate steroidal excess.