Not every exhibitor at the Society of Automotive Engineers' 2000 World Congress had's allure, DuPont's booth placement (next to the front door), 's popular pick-your-own-interior side show or 's budget.
Some of the largest Tier One suppliers are naturally good at grabbing attention at the auto industry's largest gathering of engineers - just over 49,200 this year.
But there were 1,300 exhibitors in all, and most of them aren't household names. The vast majority are small startups with good ideas but limited marketing dollars, or fairly large companies with a low profile but deserving of attention.
In fact, a big draw for SAE participants is the chance to discover new technology and, in this era of consolidation, perhaps a new partner for an expanded product range. Says Edward Planchon, senior vice president ofNorth America: "We hope to find several startups at SAE this week with new innovations."
Surely there were more companies worth visiting at the show, but here are some of the unexpected treasures we uncovered below the surface at SAE 2000.
First, Belgian exhaust supplier Bosal Intl. is making serious waves in North America. From plants in Michigan and Mexico, Bosal has new contracts to supply full exhaust systems for the '00 Buick LeSabre and Pontiac Bonneville, '01 Oldsmobile Aurora and the '01 Pontiac Aztec and '02 Buick Rendezvous. Plus, Bosal has had all ofCorp.'s minivan exhaust business since 1996 - its first OE contract in North America.
While Bosal sits in the shadows of the largest exhaust suppliers,Automotive and Arvin Industries, Bosal makes much of its inroads with GM at Arvin's expense. Bosal has doubled its manufacturing capacity in Michigan, Georgia and Mexico.
And Bosal has developed its own metallic substrates for catalytic converters. Its modular block substrate, displayed at SAE, is smaller than conventional substrates and is coated with precious metals before being shaped. The process allows for more efficient application of the metals, which are enormously expensive these days.
Bosal's ManiCat dual-wall exhaust manifold uses strategic heat management to reduce corrosion and improve effectiveness for transverse-mounted V-6s. Watch for it on a European sport/luxury car in '02.
And if you were looking closely at several concept cars at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, there was a name that kept popping up: Brembo.
The Italian brake-components maker that made its name on Ferraris and in Formula One race cars was featured on new offerings from Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and, believe it or not, Oldsmobile.
At SAE, Brembo reveals an unusual strategy: with such a stellar brand image, it wants to be perceived as more of a commodity producer. A specialist in low-volume, high-performance systems (such as the newMustang Cobra R), Brembo now wants to be on high-volume North American platforms.
After all, Brembo makes more than 23 million brake rotors annually, for everything from motorcycles to over-the-road rigs. One executive suggests Brembo could handle rotors for the high-volume DaimlerChrysler Corp. minivan.
Brembo currently makes brake rotors in a Mexican joint venture with Sanluis Rassini. By 2004 or '05, the company plans to have its own brake caliper manufacturing site in North America as well.
Sanluis Rassini graduated to a larger booth at this year's show. It's fitting for the Mexican supplier (brakes and springs) that has built six new plants and expanded two old ones since 1995, in addition to the construction of a $3 million technical center in Plymouth, MI.
It has landed several new contracts: front and rear rotors for the newExpedition ('01), Pontiac Aztec ('01) and Cadillac Catera ('02). Despite its phenomenal recent growth, Rassini will add capacity for brake production, and acquisitions are a distinct possibility, executives say.
Rassini also supplies leaf springs for nine out of the 15 best-selling pickups in North America. At SAE, the company displays its hybrid leaf spring, which is a sandwich of two high-strength fiberglass composite layers on either side of one steel leaf spring. It can weigh 50% less than a traditional spring with as many as four steel leafs. Plus, it's quieter and more corrosion resistant.
Another supplier that continues its quiet but determined expansion is Kolben-schmidt Pierburg AG, a German company that manages to astound U.S. journalists each year at SAE with a raft of new products, initiatives and ventures. Its 1999 sales exceeded $1.5 billion.
A key market for KP is pistons. Its acquisition of Zollner made KP the top piston supplier in North America, with about 30% of the market. Like its competition, KP is promoting modular pistons, complete with hardware and connecting rod.
KP has five new contracts to supply the so-called "power cylinder" module, including a unit for the 7.3L V-8 direct-injection diesel produced in Brazil by Maxion Intl., a joint venture between Navistar and Maxion. The engine will power various light trucks in the U.S. KP also has a major power cylinder contract with GM.
In addition, KP is spending $50 million for a new aluminum casting foundry in Germany for more engine block production; in Nova Odessa, Brazil, it has new facilities for producing water and oil pumps forAuto SpA; oil pumps also are a new addition to KP's plant in Greenville, SC, which is about to double its size; it has a new "Fueltech" joint venture with Italy's Bitron SpA to produce complete fuel delivery systems; and it acquired the pump business of Magneti Marelli SpA.
If that's not enough, KP is building a new technical center in Auburn Hills, MI, with a scheduled opening in late 2001. Not bad for a company that recreated itself after the demise of the carburetor.
Another German supplier, lighting specialistKG Hueck & Co., takes a solid stab at the concept of a rear taillamp that indicates how much braking force the driver's exerting. Trailing motorists surely could use that information.
At SAE,shows a multi-segment taillamp that progressively lights the segments in sequence. Easy braking lights just one segment, and a full emergency stop instantly lights all segments.
Joseph V. Borruso, president and CEO of Hella North America, says the company is conducting clinics with both consumers and OEMs to measure the appeal of the brake-force lighting system.
At the other end of the car, Hella's in production with its unique Bi-Xenon projection headlight system, which uses a single Xenon light "arc" for both high- and low-beam operation. The headlight can adapt for vehicle load changes to keep the beam on an even keel, even if the car is viciously accelerating or decelerating.
That's precisely what the '01 Porsche 911 Turbo does best, and its way is lit by the Bi-Xenon lights.