Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

The 2010 SAE International World Congress will have a decidedly different look and feel this year, as organizers of the annual event pare down the number of exhibitors to offer attendees a more valuable experience, the event’s chairman says.

Exhibitors at this year’s conference won’t be there “just to generate sales,” but rather offer “something with content,” Paul Mascarenas, Ford Motor Co.’s vice president-product development-The Americas, tells Ward’s.

The number of exhibitors has dropped dramatically from past years, with some 80-100 expected, compared with 324 last year. This year’s World Congress, hosted by Ford and supplier Magna International Inc., will take place April 13-15 at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.

Exhibitors aren’t the only ones seeing their numbers dwindle. SAE expects about 10,000 visitors this year, reflecting an ongoing downward trend in attendance.

In 2000, 49,249 attended the conference, and that number has for the most part fallen every year since. The most precipitous drop occurred last year, when about 16,000 people showed up for the event, down from 33,097 in 2008.

Mascarenas is not discouraged. “Naturally (attendance is) down, because there are fewer people (in the auto industry),” he says. “Our focus is on making it as attractive as possible in the sense that it brings value to the participants.”

Attendance may be down, but spirits should be up, Mascarenas says, noting there are signs the auto industry is in recovery mode. “There are enough positive signs over the last couple of months for a level of optimism. But we have to keep a balance; we can’t become complacent as an industry.”

This year’s conference, themed “Ecollaboration – Engage, Exchange, Excel,” will focus heavily on emerging fuel-saving technologies, such as electric powertrains and methods to make vehicles lighter.

“We expect a lot of electric-vehicle (presentations),” Mascarenas says. “Our EV technology will be a central part of our exhibit, and we expect to see many of the other exhibitors focusing on the same area."

In addition to the exhibits, many of the so-called “white papers” presented by supplier and OEM engineers will focus on fuel-saving technologies.

Mascarenas says the papers, along with planned panel discussions, offer an opportunity for engineers from around the world to share ideas and work toward creating standards that help “shape and develop” the industry.

“I look at this as an opportunity for us collectively as a team to reflect on the lessons and experiences of the past and look forward,” he says. “It gives us opportunities to discuss issues and challenges about how we can work together in partnership with suppliers, government and academia.”

In the past, journalists attending the event were able to test-drive new vehicles on a pre-determined route around Cobo. This year, organizers have opened the ride-and-drives to all attendees, a move Mascarenas supports.

About 35-40 vehicles are expected to be offered up for test drives. Mascarenas declines to reveal how many Ford vehicles will be on hand, but promises it will be a “good number.”

Also new this year, the conference will be three days, instead of four; technology experts will facilitate small discussion groups; and an attendee list is being circulated before the Congress to enhance networking opportunities.

The World Congress closes with an annual banquet, to be held April 15 at the AVL Technology Leadership Center at Cobo. The featured speaker will be Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford.

bpope@wardsauto.com