When the biggest automotive aftermarket show in North America, and even perhaps the world breaks its attendance record, then you know that there is a reason for the renewed optimism that automotive accessory manufacturers are showing these days. Although aftermarket sales by SEMA members for 2012 are expected to reach almost 30 billion dollars, this is still 4 billion short of its record from five years ago. Seems improbable that its beginnings were as an informal swap meet held in 1976 at a stadium in Los Angeles.SEMA executives have also reported that China and the Middle East have seen explosive growth. These are two entirely different, and dare we say opposite markets however, as Middle East buyers from oil-rich nations do not think twice about extravagantly spending for cars and luxury aftermarket items. China, on the other hand, is justifiably derided for having manufacturers that turn out inferior and unsafe copies of popular aftermarket products and designs.Along the way though, car owners and enthusiasts have seen an explosion of new products from competing manufacturers. These include HID lights, coilover suspensions, engine upgrades and body kits. In terms of mechanical and electronic upgrades, the best seem to come from German, Japanese and U.S. companies. The aftermarket industry includes about a dozen categories, ranging from business services, to collision repair and refinishing, to wheels and tires, mobile electronics and technology, utility vehicles, racing and performance parts, vehicle restorations, body kits and restyling and car care. It also includes a host of other products ranging from automotive accessories to tools and equipment.These new products are sold in traditional brick and mortar outlets as well as online. Nowadays, with most people cramped for time, online sales have also grown exponentially. And often offer the same products cheaper. What’s more, it’s so much easier to compare prices from the comfort of wherever your are, instead of physically going to different stores to check out the same items. This is not to say that you can do all your shopping online. For example, purchasing a coilover suspension and setting it up properly are two different things, and the experience can sour if the product support is not there. Then again, some shops don’t really offer any product support at all. With the vast amount of information available on the net, however, it’s very easy to look up user and long-term review of the products you are looking at. Do remember that you get what you pay for and what looks like a terrific automotive upgrade now may turn out to be a piece of junk down the road.