Detroit's dealer-sponsored North American International Auto Show may have a raft of new exhibitors this coming January, but they won't be from automakers.

Show organizers invited some 50 major auto suppliers to set up exhibits in the lower level of Cobo Center, says Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association.

A supplier presence on the show floor would make the Detroit event (Jan. 6-21) a small version of the Frankfurt Motor Show, which spreads OEM and supplier exhibits across 11 buildings and 2.5 million sq. ft. of space.

Mr. Alberts envisions a “supplier showcase” row of 9-10 suppliers. Among those invited are Delphi Automotive Systems, Visteon Corp., Robert Bosch GmbH, Magna International Inc.'s Steyr Engineering division and ArvinMeritor Inc.

At the auto show, suppliers can build their brands and market some of their products directly to consumers — a strategy many are starting to pursue. Another reason for exhibiting: the Detroit auto extravaganza draws about 7,000 journalists from around the world.

For several years, Volkswagen AG, Korean automakers and specialty car producers such as Callaway and Saleen have occupied Cobo's lower level during the auto show. But at the 2001 show, more than a third of that space sat vacant, and a food court occupied 20,000 sq. ft. of space there. Mr. Alberts say if the suppliers move in, the food court will move elsewhere.