WARREN, MI – General Motors and its development partners will present 51 vehicles at next week’s Specialty Equipment Marketers Assn. show in Las Vegas, including 30 tricked-out Chevrolet small cars.

“This is our opportunity to focus on small cars,” says Jim Campbell, vice president-performance vehicles and motorsports, at GM.

GM has made small cars a focus of its business since the auto maker’s 2009 bankruptcy, highlighted by last year’s launch of the all-new Chevy Cruze sedan. The Cruze overtook the Toyota Corolla as the best-selling compact car in the U.S. in April, according to WardsAuto data, and has held the title since.

The all-new Chevy Sonic subcompact sedan and 5-door hatchback began arriving at U.S. dealers earlier this month. The Buick Verano, an upscale compact car, comes later this year, and the Chevy Spark A-car bows next year.

GM also likely will show some of the customized pickups and SUVs it has been known for over the years. But with its business plan intended to be more balanced between cars and trucks, the Cruze and Sonic will play most predominately at SEMA.

Campbell says SEMA offers an opportunity to create buzz around new products, which the auto maker’s designers and independent customization houses tweak with sometimes-outrageous effects. But the annual event also demonstrates to aftermarket specialists the potential for making specific accessories for the models shown.

Unlike an auto show, SEMA is open only to manufacturers and aftermarket specialists, who inspire each other and trade accessory ideas. Items that create a positive buzz among the aftermarket community are considered for production.

The aftermarket industry boasts about $30 billion in annual revenue, giving auto makers and their dealers – who install many of the items – a profitable chunk of business.

“Customers do want to take their cars and customize them, personalize them and get more performance capability, whether you are talking a small car like the Sonic or classics like the Camaro and Corvette,” Campbell tells WardsAuto during a sneak peek here of some of the cars GM will show.

The auto maker will put crate engines, special transmissions and controllers on display.

“That market is also quite big,” Campbell says. “As the economy continues to strengthen we’ll see that market improve, and we’re already seeing some early signs of it.

“Some of it is pent-up demand. People deferred some purchases when they were restoring cars, but we’re starting to see the business percolate.”

GM sells general accessories through its dealers. For example, at SEMA the auto maker will have 18 different sets of Camaro wheels. Nine currently are available and the rest will come within 12 months.

“Accessories and performance-parts kits give dealers a chance to meet customer needs, but it also is a revenue opportunity for them,” Campbell says.

He says dealers find most of their success in accessories and performance parts at the time the vehicle is purchased, rather than after the sale.

“We’re finding dealers doing that are having great success,” Campbell says. In some cases, the customization can be financed in the vehicle loan.

Among the cars GM plans for SEMA are three Sonic Z-Spec designs. Z-Spec is the aftermarket brand for Chevy cars. Many Z-Spec parts currently are available.

The Z-Spec Sonics include items such as ground effects, spoilers, special wheels and tires, re-trimmed interiors and performance upgrades such as bigger brakes, high-flow exhaust systems and upgraded suspension parts.

SEMA also makes a good venue for testing new colors. A Sonic Dusk concept features a deep Berlin Blue exterior and Mojave leather interior, while another turns the table on the matte-black craze in the segment with Flat White paint.

One Sonic concept features Ashen Gray Metallic, another matte finish but with slight pearl accents so the paint highlights the vehicle’s dimensions.

“We’ll see what people think,” Campbell says.

GM plans to announce additional SEMA vehicles later in the week and promises “a few other surprises” from the show.

jamend@wardsauto.com