The Society of Automotive Engineers will meet next week with executives from Ford Motor Co. to convince the No. 2 automaker that it – along with the rest of the Big Three – must urge its engineers to attend the annual World Congress in Detroit.

SAE President Neil Schilke says after his remarks Thursday at the Traverse City conference that he is attempting to meet also with Chrysler Group management, and that his dialogue with General Motors Corp. already has begun.

Mr. Schilke is on loan full-time as the 2001 SAE president from GM, where he serves as the general director of engineering for the automaker’s Public Policy Center.

His efforts are crucial to the future of the Congress, as the 2001 event was marked by the departure of several major Tier 1 supplier exhibitors. He says it’s too early to tell if any or all of the suppliers will return to the show. But he is meeting with the suppliers in attempting to meet their needs.

One of their biggest complaints has been that Big Three engineers – the most important target audience for Tier 1 suppliers – no longer attend the event in great numbers.

A decrease in automobile sales also was a factor in driving some suppliers from the show. Without a significant sales rebound, it seems unlikely that many suppliers will return.

“As the industry goes, so goes SAE,” Mr. Schilke says. But he’s not giving up. He wants a new face for SAE as an organization that goes “fast, fast, fast.” SAE, he says, should stand for “Speed And Efficiency” and “Speed And Effectiveness.”

Top suppliers also are being courted to exhibit at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 2002. Mr. Schilke doubts that suppliers could exhibit at both NAIAS and the SAE Congress, but he will attempt to convince suppliers that the Congress is the rightful place for them.

Another model for the future has Congress acting as a showcase for supplier technology at the Tier 2 level and below. Mr. Schilke says the Congress needs to include the top Tier 1s because they often have the most advance technology.

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