Detroit Auto Show at 25

Global stage offers opportunities for suppliers

Denso and other suppliers had displays at the 2013 Detroit auto show.
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On the surface, it might not make sense for executives from companies selling automotive components, insurance and paint to attend the North American International Auto Show.

After all, the news media focus on new production vehicles and concept cars, and on grilling automaker executives. When the public arrives after press days, the majority of consumers come to shop for their next vehicle.

But suppliers such as Michelin North America, Denso International America, Johnson Controls and others have found the show to be a valuable one-stop shop to conduct business meetings, introduce products and technologies and interact with the public. The show also lets suppliers keep an eye on competitors' products.

Some companies also use the show as a forum to recruit engineers during the supplier preview days.

"Suppliers have been an integral part of NAIAS for more than 20 years," said Rod Alberts, executive director of the show. "Like the OE exhibitors, the key Tier 1 suppliers are offered the opportunity to host press conferences, and many choose the NAIAS as a global stage for product announcements and launches."

With the expansion of Cobo Center, the 2014 Detroit show will include a record 28 suppliers, including newcomers Comau Group, Ricardo PLC and Samsung Electronics Co.

Michelin has sponsored the media center for 25 years and is perhaps the supplier with the highest profile. The French tire maker has held press conferences at the show to introduce tires, and will again at the 2014 show.

Part of the show
They don't make cars, but these exhibitors have been a part of the Detroit auto show: Aisin Group, Allstate, Alpine Electronics, College for Creative Studies, Denso International America, Dow Kokam, EDS, Johnson Controls, Michelin North America, Microsoft, Panasonic Automotive Systems, PPG Industries, R.L. Polk, State Farm, Schaeffler Group and ZF Group

Ken Kruithof, Michelin's North American marketing and sales career manager, said the show enables the company to demonstrate how tires help automakers create vehicles that meet design, appearance, performance and fuel economy goals.

Michelin's advances in tires with low rolling resistance might otherwise pass under the radar. But at a time of increased interest in fuel economy, said Kruithof, "The show allows us to have that conversation with media."

Over the show's 25 years, insurance companies, software firms, transmission manufacturers, electronics suppliers, and others have had displays. Most have been in the Cobo basement or lobby rather than on the main floor. Japanese supplier Denso has had a stand on the main floor since 2008, staffed by engineers and executives.

At last year's show, Denso displayed several fuel-saving technologies, such as advanced starters for stop-start systems and an electrically powered air conditioning compressor used in hybrid and electric vehicles.

Terry Helgesen, Denso's senior vice president of industry relations, said the company's stand and integrated offices on the show floor make it easy to hold meetings and display products.

After press days, Denso has opened its display to groups of high school students. Spokeswoman Bridgette LaRose said the show enables the company to show its support for the region and the industry.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.


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