Nissan’s R&D operation in North America is on a roll. New positions are being added, and the group’s book of business is expanding—including numerous vehicle-development programs and advanced projects such as core research on hydrogen fuel cells. At the helm is Carla Bailo, who last year became Senior Vice President in charge of Nissan’s R&D and vehicle engineering operations in Michigan, Arizona, California, Mexico, and Brazil. She joined Nissan in 1989 as a vehicle test engineer. AEI Senior Editor Lindsay Brooke interviewed her recently at Nissan’s Technical Center in Farmington Hills, MI.
Your team has been taking on a lot of development work. How is that affecting the Farmington Hills facility’s workload?
When I came in we were over capacity by about 30%, including 10% overtime. One of the first things I did was rebalance workload across the region and also determine where we want our core expertise located. I had to make sure from a total cost perspective that the Americas are where we need to be on a global basis, so I can get the business here.
Did that drive your hiring plans?
I had to determine where our standard workload should stay relative to our growth; that’s how we got the additional staff for this fiscal year and next year. We also developed, for the first time, a strategic way of managing our outsourcing, taking a look at what the contract-engineering companies in the region have to offer. We now have a really good process for this, including a structure inside this house to manage it, so when I see that mountain of work coming, I’m ready to hand it off where it makes sense.
How many engineers have you hired?
In all of the Americas we’ve hired about 150, and I still have about 30 here in Farmington Hills that need to be filled. Everything in Mexico has been filled this fiscal year. There are certain areas in which we’re really struggling to find the right people, particularly in the electrified-vehicle, EV components, HVAC, and Powertrain areas.
What’s the focus of your fuel cell R&D at Farmington Hills?
We’re working on the stack, fuel tanks, cost reduction, infrastructure development. Our main research focuses mainly on the chemistry with the goal of improving efficiency, and also reducing precious-metals content, which helps reduce cost. Our team in Sacramento is focusing on downsizing the package itself. They’re also driving our evaluation fleet vehicles to confirm the effectiveness of our technology.
Do you foresee Nissan Americas doing core-vehicle platform and powertrain engineering?
Absolutely. There are four areas in which I have a strategic plan to improve our capabilities and get more work here—chassis, powertrain, materials, and vehicle packaging and performance planning. For example, there are certain materials technologies here in the Americas that are far ahead of those in Japan. Instead of being asked from Japan and giving the information back, we’re going to start pushing from here.
Nissan is SAE International’s strategic OEM partner at the 2012 World Congress. What do you expect to achieve from the event?
I gain a lot from the Congress. As the sponsor we’re showing our clear dedication to developing zero-emission vehicles; the “Get Connected” theme is obvious. We always see good collaboration among the engineers in the industry at the Congress. We’re already headed into unexplored waters, with different infrastructures for EV charging, for example. Is one better than the other? Probably not. But we have to keep the end goal of the customer in mind and work collaboratively to find the best alternatives.