Established in 1991 by five engineers, mostly from the auto industry, SAE Brasil became the first affiliate outside the US of SAE International. The Brazilian group has nearly 4,000 members — 50% professionals, 50% students — and every year it stages the International Congress and Mobility Technology Exhibition in São Paulo City, the work of 150 volunteers.

This year the 15-year celebration exhibition ended up as a mini-auto show, with 102 stands. Even 'pre-launches' were staged.

Magneti Marelli showed off an automated manual gearbox and offered short demo drives in imported Fiat Punto and Lancia Ypsilon models. Four automakers have already shown interest in the new 'box which makes its production debut in Fiat's Grande Punto and Idea in seven months.

Marelli also presented a lighting system for turns that also increases headlight range according to straight line speed.

The 15th congress staged 24 forums and more than 170 technical presentations with the Blue Ribbon panel discussing the competitiveness of Brazilian engineering.

Holger Westendorf, Volkswagen of Brazil vice-president of planning and product development, said the company will face the Chinese challenge by boosting engineer numbers from 910 now to 1,090 by end-2007. Besides designing its own cars, the company will offer engineering services to other group brands.

Jean Pierre Tayals, PSA Peugeot Citroën director of projects, engineering and purchasing in Mercosur, said he needed to hire 500 engineers and technicians (currently: 100) to increase project capacity in Brazil. "We have warned that it is a difficult task because [our] competition is looking for the same, skilled professionals", he told just-auto.

Tayals confirmed that PSA will soon be ready to design new bodies on existing platforms at its design centre in São Paulo City.

Unofficial sources say that, in 2009, Citroën will launch a compact minivan built on the C3 platform to compete with General Motors' Meriva and Fiat's Idea, with the entire Latin American market in mind. Export to, or production in Europe is also under consideration.

Fernando Calmon