DETROIT - Some will find new customers, some will discover a new technology, and some will adopt a new supplier. But the only thing guaranteed to everyone attending the 1999 SAE Congress and Exposition in Detroit is sore feet.
More than 1,100 companies will sprawl over 330,000 square feet inside Detroit's Cobo Center convention hall during this year's expo, March 1-4.
SAE's continued success defies supplier industry trends, which would seem to threaten the engineering convention with irrelevance.
Those trends include global consolidation, which is pruning the number of suppliers, and an increasing dependence on private automaker technology shows.
A few top suppliers have yanked their SAE exhibits, saying private shows are the only venue they feel comfortable using to show new technology to potential customers.
Ford Motor Co. alone runs 65 exhibitions per year near its Dearborn, Mich., headquarters. In each, about 900 of the company's engineers pass through. The events proved so popular that Ford expanded the program to its European operations last year, says Gordon Rama, Ford's director of technical planning and business strategy.
'We get to see the real technology that our suppliers won't show us at the shows,' he says.
But SAE continues to pack in exhibitors and spectators. One reason is that private shows are typically reserved for Tier 1 module suppliers, not small companies. The emergence of new supply bases in electronics and software also have worked to keep SAE's roster filled with nontraditional names.
For exhibitors, hope springs eternal for the big deal.
Despite the odds, it happens, says Paul Klapproth, director of communications for Siemens Automotive Corp. In the waning hours of last year's convention, a Chrysler Corp. executive strolled into the Siemens display just as exhausted employees were packing up. An impromptu conversation about Siemens technology eventually led to a contract with Chrysler.
SAE is 'hours and hours of boredom,' says Klapproth, 'spiked by a few moments of terror.'