Several U.S. cities have been lobbying the Society of Automotive Engineers to relocate its World Congress, but the organization has no interest in leaving this hub of automotive development and home to North America's largest auto makers.

Robert Chalker, SAE International's director-sales and marketing, would not identify the interested cities but says some have offered financial incentives and other inducements to host the Congress, a week-long confab attended by more than 30,000 engineers and hundreds of automotive supplier exhibitors.

“We are committed to keeping the Congress in Detroit,” Chalker says at a recent Automotive Press Assn. luncheon in advance of the Congress, to be held April 3-6 at Cobo Center. “We're not seriously entertaining offers from other cities.”

Any movement of the show is not likely to occur anytime soon, as SAE has a multi-year contract to hold the World Congress at Cobo. Still, speculation on the subject has become routine this time of year.

Chicago and Detroit are locked in a battle for bragging rights to claim North America's most significant auto show.

Detroit's North American International Auto Show, by virtue of its Motor City roots, tends to create more news for the throngs of international journalists in attendance.

The Chicago show is not as heavily covered, but it is larger, thanks to the massive — and constantly expanding — McCormick Place.

Chicago's expo center has 2.2 million sq.-ft. (204,380 sq.-m) of exhibit space, compared with Cobo's measly 700,000 sq.-ft. (65,030 sq.-m).

Chalker refuses to say if Chicago is one of those cities lobbying for the World Congress, but it would not come as a surprise.

The Chicago auto show occupies only two of three exhibit halls at McCormick Place, creating a perfect venue for an expo that could accommodate both component suppliers and auto makers, much like the major international shows in Frankfurt and Tokyo.

Certain elements of the auto industry have suggested Detroit expand Cobo to accommodate both the auto show and World Congress. But such an expansion has become a low priority for a city whose fiscal crisis nearly forced the closure of the Detroit Zoo.

One supplier executive likes the idea of combining the World Congress with an auto show, preferably in Detroit.

“We are interested in telling a story about our company,” Don Whitsitt, executive vice president of Aisin World Corp. of America, tells Ward's.

The audience for that story would be much larger if the World Congress were affiliated with an auto show, Whitsitt says.

Still, he says it is important that engineers from the technical centers of his auto maker customers attend the World Congress. Because those engineers are based in southeast Michigan, he says Detroit is a good location.

Detroit's proximity, however, does not ensure that pool of OEM engineers will attend the SAE Congress, especially because many auto makers now host suppliers for more in-depth private showings of technology, lessening the importance of the Congress.

Whitsitt says because of these private showings, some auto makers are less inclined to urge engineers to attend the World Congress.

But Toyota Motor Corp., which owns part of Aisin, sends engineers “by the busload” to the Congress from the Toyota Technical Center near Ann Arbor, MI, Whitsitt says.

Another supplier executive questions the need to combine the World Congress with an auto show.

Robert Last, vice president-operations and communications for FEV Engine Technology Inc., says the World Congress is one of the few venues where the shiny vehicles take a backseat to the componentry inside.

FEV will sponsor a Powertrain Innovation Forum at this year's Congress.

BMW AG is this year's host company. Next year's host for the World Congress is Toyota, followed in 2008 by DaimlerChrysler Corp.

In 2005, 35,908 people attended the event, up slightly from 2004, but down 37% from 2000's 49,249. Attendance has fallen since most of the major Tier 1 suppliers (including Delphi Corp., Visteon Corp., Robert Bosch GmbH and Siemens VDO Automotive) bailed as exhibitors.

Chalker says 2006 will represent the “Comeback Congress,” and he says several major suppliers are back in the show. Lear Corp. is one of the major Tier 1s that left the show previously and returns this year as an exhibitor.

Also returning is Behr GmbH & Co., an engine-cooling and air-conditioning supplier that has not exhibited at the show for four years.

As of mid-March, the SAE website identified 624 exhibitors for 2006.