By Jeff Gilbert, CBS Detroit

Car companies look to the land and sea as they come up with interesting ideas for the SEMA aftermarket show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Perhaps the most unique is a “Sponge Bob Square Pants” version of Toyota’s new Highlander SUV.

“You walk by, they’ve got a whole aquarium in the back of the Highlander,” said Toyota marketing VP Jack Hollis.

Hollis says the concept vehicle was a collaboration between Nickelodeon, Toyota and the show “Tanked” from Animal Planet.

“It’s just a fun idea, and they took off with it.”

You will get to see the vehicle at January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

It’s one of eight customized vehicles that Toyota has brought to SEMA, all dealing with different customer lifestyles.

“How can we have fun with the vehicles, and you the guest, and your lifestyle.”

The halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center are filled with various aftermarket products and concepts.  Most deal with performance.  But, many deal with customization.

And the products vary.  Among the dozens of vehicles at the Ford display are a variety of concepts involving the new version of the Transit Connect cargo van.

“We have van-demonium,” said Ford sales and marketing Vice President John Felice.  “We have ten customized transit connects.”

The aftermarket is important to carmakers, who are competing with other companies for a segment of the market now valued at $31 billion.

Ford also using Gene Simmons from the 70’s rock band KISS, and his wife actress Shannon Tweed, to show off a customized 1956 F-150, that will be auctioned off for charity.

The SEMA show also expanding to sea, as Ford announced a deal to use engines built at its Romeo plant in boats built by Indimar.

“Ford is pleased to be working with Indmar Marine as it plans to re-enter the marine market,” said Jamy Hall, president and CEO for Ford Component Sales. “Ford has a long history of bringing power to the marine industry and views this effort as a strategic opportunity for the company.”

This marks Ford’s return to the marine business after a 20 year absence.

In a different kind of engine announcement, Ford says it will use Ecoboost engines for the first time in racing.  Vehicles with the engine will be driven in endurance races by long time driver Scott Pruett.

Pruett says in those type of races, fuel economy can be as important as horsepower.

“We want to be able to run fast,” he said.  “But, there’s also that opportunity to run fast in a more efficient way.  Even if it eliminates one pit stop, it’s a huge amount of time.

Follow Jeff Gilbert on Twitter or Facebook.


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