If you make it to Detroit for this year's Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, be prepared to answer a few questions from research-types with clipboards.

They won't try to pitch you on a get-rich-quick scheme. Instead, they'll ask something useful - like whether SAE, Detroit's largest convention, should stay at Cobo Center.

It might not be a fair question for people who just slogged through a foot of snow and are probably dreaming about Las Vegas or Orlando. Nonetheless, SAE wants feedback.

Even though SAE wants to keep the event in Detroit, in the heart of the auto industry, some exhibitors are open to a change, especially after last year's suspicious fire that destroyed shipping crates for some 200 exhibitor companies. The ensuing fiasco surrounding the snail-paced fire investigation and the question of the city's liability didn't help.

So more research is being done to find out if the congress can or should be held elsewhere.

"SEMA (the Specialty Equipment Market Assn.) is not headquartered in Las Vegas, yet its show does well there," says an exhibitor. "Once I pack up my truck, I pay a little more to go to Las Vegas, rather than to Cobo."

If Detroit wants to keep SAE, it needs to expand Cobo. The center has about 700,000 sq. ft. (65,000 sq. m) and needs about 1 million (93,000 sq. m) to accommodate the waiting list of companies wanting to participate, says SAE's Dave Amati.

Registration for this year's congress has moved to adjacent Cobo Arena to free up room for another 50 exhibitor companies in Michigan Hall below the main floor.

Mr. Amati says the Pontiac Silverdome 30 miles north of Cobo has been ruled out as a potential site because there isn't enough space or power on the main floor (see WAW - Feb.'00, p.9).