Design trends at the 2023 SEMA Show

Matt Barnsley of The Render Garage highlights the design trends that defined the incredible builds on display at the 2023 SEMA Show in Las Vegas

Photographers: Matt Barnsely

The annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas has long been regarded as the trendsetting event of the automotive aftermarket industry, and the 2023 edition was no different.

Having attended all four days of this year’s show and clocking up well over 100km on foot in order to check out as much of it as I could, what stood out for me at SEMA this year was the meticulous planning and thoughtful execution evident in the best of the many bespoke car builds on show. That said, there were still cars where styling and modifications missed the mark due to a lack of careful planning, so if you’re thinking of embarking on a SEMA build yourself, consider investing in some project visualisation renders to ensure all your ideas harmonise before you turn a spanner.

Here are my thoughts on the styles and trends I noticed among the rad rides on display at this year’s SEMA Show. It usually takes a few years for these trends to make their way to Australian builds, where they often take on a unique flavour of their own, so it will be interesting to see which of these end up making a mark on our local events like MotorEx and Summernats.


Many top-tier builds opted for a blend of understated charm over bold brashness this year. There was a noticeable shift away from the recent pro touring trend towards more subdued restomod builds with discreet OE-style modifications.

Subdued metallic colours

Vibrant and bold colours took a back seat at SEMA this year in favour of earthier metallic shades like brown, gold, green and blue. The solid greys and pastels popular in recent years also appeared to be on the wane.

Satin-finish wheels

The prevalence of satin-finished bronze or gold wheels was hard to ignore, and these complemented the subdued metallic colours beautifully, calling less attention to themselves than polished or gloss rims. In fact, gloss and satin-black rollers were less dominant this year, and there were also fewer beadlocked, drag racing-style rims than expected.

Modern interior styling

Top-notch builds showcased exquisitely crafted interiors featuring modern-style seats, and bespoke consoles and dashes. Warm, rich colours like brown, tan and red leather were popular trim options in these sophisticated interiors.

Chrome is still cool

The trend of eliminating all traces of chrome to create a unique look has given way to a more balanced approach. Many major builds retained some chrome elements, whether in the form of bumpers, window trims or wheel barrels, which added balance to the car’s appearance and helped preserve its original styling.

Balance is key

The days of stripping every component off a car to achieve a sleek look have passed. The current trend involves reintroducing details like drip rails and window trims, but refining them or carefully recessing them, highlighting the car’s original lines while adding balance.

Keep it tight

This year’s top SEMA builds consistently showcased exceptionally tight and sculpted bumpers and bodylines, ensuring a clean and sharp appearance.

Custom 3D-designed parts

Many builds incorporated custom 3D-designed (and likely 3D-printed) parts, not just for aesthetics but also for functionality. The best cars integrated such parts seamlessly into the overall design, serving a purpose beyond mere ornamentation.

Café racer influence

The ‘café racer’ style traditionally associated with motorcycles is making inroads into the world of cars, with some builds presenting a 1960s race-track appearance but with modern restomod upgrades to deliver the best of both worlds. The influence of US company Singer Design, which restores and reimagines Porsche 911s, was evident in many of these builds.

Retro stripes and decals

A big trend this year was the use of 80s and 90s-inspired decals and stripes, possibly due to the resurgence of 80s and 90s fashions more generally. Stripes along the sides and bonnet found favour on both older and newer vehicles and spanned both the street machining and off-road worlds.

Unique finishes

Innovative details on components like bumpers, grilles, engine bays and window trims helped set builds apart without going overboard. Whether it was a brushed satin finish accentuating vehicle trims, a smooth body-coloured satin finish on bumpers, a well-executed satin engine bay transformation, or even just a cleverly chosen alternative colour for a bumper or rear fascia, when done right, these subtle tweaks propelled certain builds to the next level.