Scuttlebutt Will SAE's Greenbrier conference sustain another year?

For 51 years Detroit's movers and shakers have gathered every fall with their spouses at the five-star Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV, for a long weekend of high-level seminars, golf and networking under the auspices of the Society of Automotive Engineers' Detroit section. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. historically have sponsored the exclusive event on a rotating basis, but DC has decided not to support the event next year, suddenly casting doubt on its future. SAE organizers now are scrambling for a new sponsor to kick in the $250,000 to $500,000 needed. They are hoping for a Japanese automaker or a big supplier such as Visteon or Delphi to step up, but so far the response has been cool. Despite their overwhelming presence in the global automotive industry, executives from Japanese automakers have seldom or ever been involved with the event. A delegation from Toyota did attend this year, however. A source at Visteon says it won't sponsor the event, at least not alone. Attendees didn't help their cause at this year's conference, held Oct. 12-15, when roughly 80% charged off to the links after the morning keynote address, leaving the rest of the first day's business events sparsely attended. It was so bad that Richard Parry-Jones, group vice president for product development at Ford, and general chairperson for the event, grabbed a microphone and publicly scolded everyone at the evening cocktail reception, calling the poor attendance a personal embarrassment. Attendance improved the next day, especially among Ford executives. Ironically, the theme of this year's conference was "Sustainability."