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Canadian aftermarket firms shine in Vegas

Published November 8, 2012

Out front of the SEMA show in Las Vegas, there’s a big maple leaf. That’s not unexpected, since this trade show — possibly the world’s largest dedicated to the auto aftermarket — is international.

What is surprising is that, while we’re not the manufacturing giant we used to be, many companies are still making products right here, and for some very important clients.

Held the first week of November, SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) features about 2,200 companies showing off new products for everything automotive. Not open to the public, it’s for retailers and manufacturers to determine what will eventually make its way to consumers.

That’s the main focus, but there’s lots of flash as well. There are thousands of customized cars, showing off a company’s products or simply drawing people in for a closer look.

The maple leaf hangs over Jim McLaughlin’s 1956 Chevrolet pickup truck. McLaughlin and his brother Martin, who own an auto shop in Cambridge, built the truck using a 450-horsepower engine, a Camaro front suspension, Corvette taillights, and a handmade tailgate that swings sideways at the push of a button.

It was selected by car-care-products company Meguiar’s as part of its Car Crazy display of vehicles from around the world.

“Meguiar’s picks 10 vehicles at 10 Canadian shows,” says McLaughlin, a finalist earlier this year at the Megaspeed Custom Car and Truck Show in Mississauga. “They put those on the Internet, people pick their favourites, and we won.

“The truck belonged to a family friend and I used to drive it. He passed on and we acquired the truck. It was all-original at the time, and we built this over 12 years.”

McLaughlin’s truck got a steady stream of visitors. “It’s kind of funny to see a truck here that my brother and I built in my mother’s garage,” he says. “It’s mind-boggling when you see the stuff here, and here’s this truck from Cambridge.”

Although McLaughlin’s truck was there as eye candy, other Canadians at the show were all about the product.

Plombco, based in Valleyfield, Que., was showing off Plasteel, its proprietary new plastic-coated wheel weight.

“Plombco started as a tire shop, and turned into a weight company,” says sales representative Anthony Arless. “We think we have a superior product and at the best price. A lot of weights are made in China, but they don’t have the same quality.”

Environmentally unfriendly lead wheel weights are being phased out, so Plombco focuses on replacement metals. The Plasteel weights go on alloy or plastic-clad wheels without scratching, and all Wal-Mart auto centres in the U.S. are using them.

The company invested $10 million into production last year, and now makes 1.5 million weights per day. It’s also the primary supplier of zinc weights to all of Honda’s manufacturing plants in North America.

Canadian products were scattered throughout the show, including air compressors from Barrie, and tool boxes, tire racks and air tools from Quebec.

In another booth, RW Coomber Aluminum Fabricators showed off its running boards made in Mississauga.

“I came up with the idea of manufacturing in 2001, when I was a rep for an extruded aluminum company,” says company vice-president Terry Coomber. “No one was making aluminum bracketry, which doesn’t corrode.”

He supplied running boards for the first-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Toyota Tundra, and has just been awarded a contract to supply North American and European production of the Cadillac Escalade.

Nearby, Timbren Industries displayed its rubber suspension products, all of which are made in a family-owned plant in Whitby. In addition to aftermarket, the company is an original equipment supplier to Peterbilt.

“We also hold 90 per cent of the market share on front suspensions for snow ploughs,” says key account manager Larry Gillies. “And here’s a switch: we just bought an American company. We bought STI Suspension out of Canton, Ohio, which makes air suspensions for trucks and trailers.”

Whitman Manufacturing had a large display. Based in Milton, the company makes catalytic converters, mufflers and exhaust tubing.

“We supply the aftermarket, and we’re also original equipment for agriculture, including John Deere, Husqvarna, MTD and others,” says president Gerald Whitman. “We’re now setting up in Mexico as well, so we can sandwich the U.S. and service South America. Manufacturing is alive and well in Canada.”

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