Dana Corp.'s announcement that it will exhibit at this year's Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress is welcome news for an organization that has witnessed the exodus of virtually every top Tier 1 supplier from the floor at Detroit's Cobo Center.

SAE is pleased to have Dana back but is careful not to claim the world's largest automotive engineering exposition soon will return to the flashy grandeur of years past.

Even though Dana returns, many of its colleagues remain absent at this year's exhibit, including Delphi Corp., Visteon Corp. and Robert Bosch GmbH. Those suppliers say it is too expensive to exhibit when OEM customers demand private showings anyway.

Dana, however, has a message and decided the Congress was an ideal place to deliver it. The Toledo, OH, company celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2004, after three difficult years of restructuring. Plus, Dana survived a difficult, unsuccessful hostile takeover bid from ArvinMeritor Inc.

Dana's chief executive, Joe Magliochetti, died suddenly in September and was replaced recently with Michael Burns, the former president of General Motors Europe, effective March 1.

Burns will feel at home at the Dana exhibit, which will occupy the GM Experience, the massive 2-tier pavilion the auto maker has used since 2000 at the North American Intl. Auto Show, also held at Cobo.

Ward's has learned GM has been negotiating with the city and Cobo to leave up the GM Experience year-round, rather than tear it down and rebuild it each fall for the auto show. While the negotiations continue, GM says the booth will remain in place for several months, and that a resolution could come as early as spring.

Sources say that when Ford Motor Co. learned of the talks, Chairman Bill Ford Jr., himself, insisted on equal treatment for the Dearborn auto maker.

Dana will use the second level of the GM Experience to exhibit its products and entertain visitors. The supplier says taking over the GM space saves the expense of building an exhibit from scratch.

The lower level, which GM uses for auto show press conferences, will house the Dana Technical Innovation Forum, a 200-seat theater that will host technical presentations and panel discussions.

Dana will decide next year whether it makes sense to exhibit at SAE in 2005, when the event will be held April 11-15.

SAE is switching to April next year to avoid scheduling conflicts with the Geneva Intl. Auto Show and to take advantage of milder weather. The Congress is locked in to April dates at Cobo until 2010.

Beyond Dana, Japan's Denso Corp. and Yazaki North America Inc. are the biggest Tier 1 exhibitors at this year's Congress. SAE says engineers from North America's largest suppliers, Delphi and Visteon, are scheduled to present more technical papers ā€” 39 each ā€” than any other company. In all, engineers will present 1,200 technical papers.

SAE says auto makers are strongly committed to Congress. Attendance by OEM engineers was up 7% in 2003 over the prior year and was up 8% in 2002 compared with 2001. Attendance reached 38,649 in 2003 and 37,233 in 2002.

About 1,000 exhibitors will participate, up slightly from last year's 943.

Another supplier returning to World Congress this year after sitting out 2003 is Henkel Technologies, which produces adhesives and structural foam and manages the supply of chemicals for about 110 facilities operated by OEMs and suppliers.

Henkel, a German-based chemical conglomerate, acquired the Loctite brand of adhesives in 1997 and last year consolidated all of its automotive technologies under one organization. The company wants to use SAE to launch this new unit for North America.

As a lure for showgoers, the Henkel booth will have a Formula 1 driving simulator, and the top scorer will win a 42-in. (106-cm) plasma-screen television.