SAE, NAIAS Could Compete for Suppliers

It's been a long time since anyone from the Society of Automotive Engineers landed a cherished spot at the podium during the automotive Management Briefing Seminars, an annual summer confab held each August in Traverse City, MI.

But Neil Schilke, this year' SAE president on loan from General Motors Corp., got 10 minutes of prime time before several hundred of the auto industry's movers and shakers. His message: Automakers, particularly the Big Three, must strongly encourage their engineers to attend the SAE World Congress, held each winter in Detroit.

He's meeting with each of the Big Three individually to persuade them that it's not enough to merely suggest that their mid-level engineering managers go to Cobo Center if they have time. It must be a priority, he says.

Without them, the future of the Congress could be in jeopardy. The 2001 event was marked by the departure of several major Tier 1 supplier exhibitors. One of their biggest complaints has been that Big Three engineers no longer attend the event in great numbers.

Further complicating Mr. Schilke's mission is the North American International Auto Show, which has invited some 50 suppliers — including some of the recent SAE departees — to display in Cobo's lower-level Michigan Hall this January. Several suppliers have submitted applications.

At the 2001 auto show, more than a third of Michigan Hall sat vacant. It's unclear how much suppliers will pay for the space at the auto show. Johnson Controls Inc. and PPG Industries Inc. already pay between $60,000 and $125,000 a year as sponsors of NAIAS and to hold private parties in second-floor suites, away from the show floor.