Delphi Corp. returns to the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress this month as an exhibitor for the first time since 2000.

The bankrupt supplier plays a first-ever role as a “strategic Tier 1 partner” to Toyota Motor Corp., the 2007 host company for the event.

This year marks the first time an Asian auto maker will host the Congress.

Toyota sought out Delphi for assistance because the No.1 U.S. supplier hosted the Congress in 1999, says David Baxter, senior executive administrator at Toyota Technical Center U.S.A. Inc.

Baxter says Delphi has provided key guidance and suggestions to help Toyota play host to the world's largest gathering of automotive engineers.

Last year, 35,114 people attended the show, down 2.2% from 2005. SAE officials expect similar attendance this year, as well as 700 exhibitor companies and 1,500 technical papers.

Some might consider it odd that Toyota tapped Delphi as its strategic partner for the Congress instead of Japan's Denso Corp., in which Toyota holds a 24.8% stake. Denso is Toyota's No.1 supplier and is riding the Japanese auto maker's success in markets around the world.

But Denso's corporate feathers are not ruffled by Delphi's selection.

“Our feelings are not hurt by this,” Doug Patton, senior vice president-engineering for Denso International America Inc., tells Ward's at a recent World Congress preview luncheon hosted by the Automotive Press Assn.

“It's a simple matter of Toyota demonstrating the diversity it has in its supply base,” Patton says. “This is an opportunity to bring new technologies together. Choosing Delphi facilitates the global exchange of technology. The entire industry benefits.”

In addition, the selection of a high-profile U.S. company such as Delphi likely will strengthen Toyota's efforts to position itself as a true American auto maker in the eyes of the public.

Denso last exhibited at the World Congress in 2004 and will not exhibit again this year. However, the supplier will host the media center, as it has for several years, and will participate in various technical presentations and panel discussions.

Andrew Brown Jr., Delphi's chief technology officer, says the supplier is thrilled to assist Toyota in planning for — and shaping the overall message of — the Congress.

“Our role started two years ago in identifying themes and relevant discussion topics,” Brown says. “We want to make this a world-class event.”

For 2007, the theme of the Congress is “engineering for global sustainable mobility,” Brown says, adding major trends expected to be the focus of the show include “green” (environmental) engineering, improved safety technology and communications and electronics advancements.

Brown says industry observers should not read too much into Toyota overlooking Denso this year. Next year, when DaimlerChrysler AG sponsors the World Congress, Brown says it is entirely possible Denso could be the strategic Tier 1 partner.

Also making a comeback after years of not being represented at the Congress are a gamut of other Tier 1 suppliers.

These include Lear Corp., Timken Co., PPG Industries Inc., Plastic Omnium Auto Exteriors, Yazaki North America, Aisin Group, Behr America Inc., Continental AG, Henkel Corp., Kolbenschmidt Pierburg AG and Magneti Marelli Holding SpA.

Several auto makers, including Toyota, DC, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and BMW AG, also will be presenting their technologies this year as part of the SAE's OEM/Supplier Park.

The arrangement on the show floor is aimed at attracting a greater presence from Tier 1 suppliers, evidenced by this year's roster, says Richard Schaum, 2007 president of SAE International.

However, smaller Tier 2 and 3 companies, which make up most of the event's list of exhibitors, provide the Congress with a greater global reach and breadth of knowledge, he says.
with Mike Sutton