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Jay Leno, Keith Urban help kick off SEMA show in Las Vegas

Updated November 3, 2021 - 6:17 am

Electric vehicles took center stage Tuesday as the massive SEMA automotive trade show returned to Las Vegas for the first time since 2019.

Celebrity cameos kicked off the Specialty Equipment Market Association event, the largest trade show and convention to be held in the city since January 2020. The SEMA show runs through Friday and is expected to draw 100,000 industry professionals, by far the largest convention crowd in the valley during the pandemic.

Ford debuted its Eluminator electric crate engine for retrofitting internal combustion cars at a Tuesday morning event featuring former talk show host and car enthusiast Jay Leno and country music artist Keith Urban.

The 205-pound, 281-horsepower engine sat on a pedestal display next to a ’78 F-100 pickup retrofitted with the electric engine. The pickup also received a Mach-E GT electric powertrain, which, combined with the electric engine, raises its horsepower to 480, Ford Vehicle Personalization Design Chief Mark Rushbrook said.

“This thing would’ve absolutely blown minds in 1978,” Rushbrook said.

Eluminator crate motors are Ford’s first performance electric crate motors and can be retrofitted to classic or custom cars. The zero-emission engines cost $3,900. Rushbrook said Ford is investing more than $30 billion in new electric vehicles, including in staples such as the F-150 pickup and the Mustang sports car, by 2025.

Leno, who hosted the Ford event, talked up the company’s electric engines for their performance and nonpolluting qualities.

“For people skeptic about electric cars, this is gonna save our gas engine cars,” Leno told a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd gathered around the Ford exhibit stage.

Leno also introduced a refurbished blue Ford Mustang owned by Urban.

Urban knew his ’69 Mustang was getting a revamp, but the Tuesday event at the Ford exhibitor’s area was the first time he had seen the cleaned-up, customized car. He got behind the wheel and started it up. The Mustang engine turned over and growled its classic sound.

Mike Spagnola, vice president of product development at SEMA, led Urban to the trunk, where the country music star pulled out a custom-made Stratocaster guitar to match his car.

SEMA Electrified

Electric vehicle products peppered the show floor Tuesday, and SEMA dedicated a section of the north hall show floor dubbed “SEMA Electrified” to electric vehicles.

Alternative powertrains make up just 1 percent of vehicles on the roads, according to the Diamond Bar, California-based association. But the number of electric cars on the road is growing, presenting opportunities for parts, products and converting gas-powered cars to electric.

“The SEMA Electrified area at this year’s SEMA Show is sure to spark attendees’ imaginations and open up ideas for endless possibilities for modifying, converting and accessorizing alternative-power platforms,” said Tom Gattuso, SEMA vice president of events.

Joshua Lange rolled up with a knee scooter to a 1963 Buick Electra 225 and admired his handiwork. He was part of the team that gussied up and electrified the classic car for the Discovery+ show “Celebrity IOU: Joyride.”

In the episode, actor James Marsden wanted to give back to his friend of 30 years and former brother-in-law. Will Linde had been forced to sell his grandmother’s Buick “unable to keep up with the costs and maintenance,” according to a Discovery+ release. Through the show, Marsden and the team restored the Buick to gift it back to Linde.

Lange revamped the rusted hood and trunk. “Oh my gosh, it was it was terribly dilapidated. Oh, it was awful,” Lange recalled of the car’s state. “The hood had literally 6-inch holes in it.”

He souped up the car with a copper-colored, reflective, carbon-fiber hood.

Mechanic Ruben Derizans was part of the team that retrofitted the car with a plug-in hybrid engine. Derizans said the team compressed roughly a year’s worth of work into three or four months to show the vehicle at SEMA.

Derizans predicted nearly all cars will be electric in a decade, and it’s a matter of keeping up with the technology.

“(It) certainly helps to get people more comfortable with electric vehicles when it’s something they’re familiar with,” Lange noted, referring to the custom retrofitted car.

Turnkey solution

Hypercraft, a Provo, Utah-based company founded last year, showcased its turnkey electric vehicle drive systems for motorsports, small-to-medium-sized manufacturers and motorboats.

CEO Jacob Hawksworth said electric vehicle drive systems are complicated, and Hypercraft makes them for others to build around.

“There’s a lot of demand for electric now because people believe it is the future,” Hawksworth said.

SEMA was canceled in August 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Association officials have called the 2021 show is a homecoming of sorts for automotive enthusiasts across the country.

Show booths display car accessories, parts, gadgets and add-ons for attendees to see up close. Many of the parts are mounted on a variety of vehicles so attendees can see them functioning in their product setting.

A second automotive aftermarket show, the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo, is co-located with SEMA at the same time and is staged at The Venetian Expo. The two shows represent Automotive Aftermarket Week in Las Vegas.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian Expo.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Rick Velotta contributed to this report.

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