Changing times in the industry call for a new approach by the Society of Automotive Engineers to its annual world congress in Detroit.
So the organization moved this year's event to April 11-14 from the traditional mid-March slot, hoping for better weather and higher attendance. SAE leaders are doing other things to increase the number and rank of attendees, from offering evening activities to seeking more interest among senior executives.
All told, SAE is trying to underscore its belief that the world congress is one of the global industry's premier events.
Still the largest
"This is still the biggest technology event in the world this year," says Dave Amati, SAE's director of global automotive business. "And it's the largest management conference for the world automotive industry."
Amati said last week that 15,000 people had already registered for the event. He expects attendance of 35,000 to 40,000 again this year. That's the estimate of how many attended last year's congress. Industry consolidation over the past year has tempered Amati's 2004 expectations of 3 percent to 4 percent growth in attendance.
Robert Last of engineering firm FEV Engine Technology Inc. checks out technology at the 2004 show.
On the plus side, a record 12 percent of all attendees last year were senior executives, Amati says. That is roughly what he expects this year.
Asian attendees outnumbered European registrants last year for the first time, and Amati expects a significantly higher ratio of Asians to Europeans this year.
The switch to April is the event's biggest change this year. March snowstorms have hurt attendance at each world congress in the past few years, Amati says. And now the event does not overlap with the Geneva auto show.
Valeo SA CEO Thierry Morin gave the keynote speech at the 2004 SAE World Congress.
BMW is sponsoring the 2006 congress; Ford Motor Co. sponsored last year's.
Since 2003, automakers have been alternating sponsorship while expecting their major suppliers to pick up some of the load.
"They've sent a clear message to other OEMs as well as the supplier community that as the OEMs are coming together to support the world congress, maybe suppliers ought to as well," Amati says.
One result: Automakers are submitting more technical papers - 30 percent of this year's total, compared with 20 percent three years ago. Overall, more than 2,200 technical paper abstracts were submitted this year, breaking last year's record of 2,000.
Also this year, SAE's Detroit chapter plans to hold its monthly meeting at the world congress for the first time. GM will supply performance vehicles, including the 2005 Corvette Z06, for that meeting.
Beyond that, SAE has added functions each evening, including a conference with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm on April 13.