The International Body Engineering Conference and Exposition, held last week at Detroit's Cobo Center, hosted a disappointing 500 attendees and 18 exhibitors, down from 1,100 attendees and more than 50 exhibitors last year.

But the Society of Automotive Engineers has a three-year plan to boost attendance and make the event truly international.

General Motors Corp. will host next year's event in Detroit, Renault SA will host the 2002 IBEC in France and a Japanese automaker, possibly Toyota Motor Corp., will host the 2003 conference in Yokohama, says Dave Porreca, manager of engineering meetings division at SAE. DaimlerChrysler Corp. hosted IBEC this year.

Why the low attendance this year? Mr. Porreca says some engineers overseas have been disenchanted that this “international” body engineering conference has been held the past three years in Detroit.

SAE, along with the Engineering Society of Detroit, acquired the trade show from the Automotive Technology Group in 1997. But this past summer, the ESD handed over full control to SAE.

Automakers remain committed to IBEC as an important meeting for body engineers, Mr. Porreca says. “The body is the first impression for car customers,” he says. “It's where the customer makes a relationship with the automobile.” He says body engineering employs 40% of the designers and engineers devoted to a new vehicle program. IBEC was first held in 1993.