Detroit’s North American International Auto Show may have a raft of new exhibitors this coming January, but they won’t be vehicle producers.

NAIAS has invited some 50 Tier 1 suppliers to occupy space in Michigan Hall, the lower level of Cobo Center, and they had an Aug. 6 deadline to submit exhibit proposals. Rod Alberts, director of NAIAS, says suppliers have expressed “a lot of interest” in exhibiting

Having a significant supplier presence on the show floor would make NAIAS 2002 (Jan. 6-21) a small version of the Frankfurt Motor Show, which spreads OEM and supplier exhibits across 11 buildings and 2.5 million sq. ft. of space.

Mr. Alberts says he envisions a “supplier showcase” row of 9 or 10 suppliers in Michigan Hall. Among the suppliers invited: Delphi Automotive Systems, Visteon Corp., Robert Bosch GmbH, Magna International Inc.’s Steyr Engineering division and ArvinMeritor Inc. None would say whether they would submit proposals.

Both Delphi and Visteon, along with several other major Tier 1 suppliers, did not exhibit at the Society of Automotive Engineers’ World Congress at Cobo this past March. The biggest complaint has been that most important audience – OEM engineers – aren’t attending SAE in great numbers. With NAIAS, these suppliers can build their brands and market some of their products direct to consumers – a strategy many are starting to pursue. A media throng of some 7,000 international journalists may also be attractive.

For several years, Volkswagen AG, Korean automakers and specialty car producers such as Callaway and Saleen have occupied Michigan Hall. But at the 2001 show, more than a third of Michigan Hall sat vacant, and a food court occupied 20,000 sq. ft. of space there. In 2002, Mr. Alberts says the food court will be moved next door to Cobo Arena, freeing up exhibit space, which is crucial as OEMs demand more of it.

Mr. Alberts says it’s likely that VW will keep its double-deck exhibit space, but that it’s too early to say if the other traditional exhibitors will stay there and share space with suppliers.

He says long-range plans call for renovating Michigan Hall, partly to accommodate the supplier showcase. “In two to three years you will see a dramatic difference in that area,” he says. “That space has potential.”

It’s also not clear how much suppliers will pay for the space. Johnson Controls Inc. and PPG Industries Inc. already pay between $60,000 and $125,000 a year to sponsor NAIAS and to hold private parties in second-floor suites, away from the show floor.