The Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress drew 35,392 visitors for the 4-day event this year in Detroit, down from 38,649 last year and 37,233 in 2002.

SAE puts a positive spin on the results, as Congress Chairman Phil Martens, Ford Motor Co. group vice president-North America product creation, says the event garnered great feedback and featured an “all-time high number of presentations.”

Martens also says the turnout at this year’s professional development programs “shattered all previous attendance records.”

SAE says the use of barcodes to verify attendance led to the elimination of any no-shows and double entries that in previous years might have been factored into final numbers.

Attendees from Asia – mostly from China and South Korea – topped the list of overseas visitors to the Congress for the first time. Europeans accounted for the second-largest foreign group.

The number of registered exhibitor personnel was down for 2004. But, says Dave Amati, SAE director-automotive business, “a few years ago, we saw too many sellers in the mix, and we knew that for the event to have the value it needed there needed to be a much better balance.”

SAE also says the number of “decision makers,” such as vice presidents, comprised 12% of this year’s total attendance figure.

Some 80 senior executives attended the Technology Theater at the World Congress, including 17 CEOs, says SAE, adding the number of top-tier suppliers and OEMs presenting papers this year increased.