The opening ceremony of the SAE 2010 World Congress in Detroit on April 13 featured a healthy sense of optimism that the automotive industry has successfully weathered its recent financial troubles, countered by the understanding that there are still many challenges and opportunities yet to be addressed.
While acknowledging the importance of the lessons to be learned from the past year, Paul Mascarenas, Ford Vice President of Engineering–Global Product Development, and 2010 World Congress Chair, issued a call to use this year’s World Congress as an opportunity to “look forward and imagine a brighter future for us all.”
Mascarenas believes the automotive industry will continue to be an important economic driver moving forward; however, he used much of his address to shed light on the trends and challenges that must be addressed for it to continue to do so.
As evidenced by this year’s event theme of “Ecollaboration,” Mascarenas believes no single individual or organization has all the answers to all of the solutions. Citing his company’s development with Magna of a zero-emissions battery electric vehicle, Mascarenas said, “working together as an industry through key partnerships and alliances is one of the paths to success.”
The importance of collaboration was resonated by Don Walker, Co-CEO of Magna, who believes that suppliers will play an increasingly important role in how the industry develops new products and technologies moving forward.
“As OEMs strive to remain competitive, they have a strong need for a capable and reliable supply base—suppliers who are healthy and continue to invest in innovation,” Walker said. “Mutually beneficial partnerships keep technological innovations going up and costs coming down.”
Perhaps the most important challenge to be faced, Mascarenas acknowledged, is reducing the environmental impact of automobiles. While recognizing that alternative energy sources are becoming increasingly important, “in the foreseeable future, most passenger cars and light trucks will continue to use petroleum-based fuels,” Mascarenas said. “This is proven, affordable technology supported by an immense infrastructure; our challenge is to make it vastly more efficient.”
Other issues that need to be addressed, Mascarenas said, include: rapidly advancing technology, particularly in the area of consumer electronics; changing demographics, with an aging population in many countries; huge growth in emerging markets, and the growing disparity between emerging and mature markets; and the increasing number of megacities with populations upwards of 10 million, of which there are 11 now and 24 projected in just five years.
While the future remains uncertain and impossible to predict, Mascarenas believes that SAE members have the unique opportunity to lead the development of solutions for industry and society as a whole.
“We have a responsibility to identify the most likely courses of development and help the industry rally around the most desirable future states,” he said. “Taking a leadership position and developing a consensus on our direction will lead to more efficient execution, as all parties drive in a similar direction and develop compatible solutions. We must also recognize that, while it’s important to establish a leadership position and set the direction, we cannot be closed-minded to other perspectives and ideas.”
Echoing statements made earlier by Helmut List, Chairman and CEO of AVL to the effect that “technological advancement is not usually a technological revolution but rather an evolution,” Mascarenas encouraged attendees to view this World Congress as the first step of a long journey.
“We won’t leave here in three days with all the answers, but we can leave here knowing that we have taken that first step,” he said. “We can be confident that we’re capable of transforming our industry and leaving a positive legacy for future generations. We know what the challenges are, and we know they aren’t going away. Our members are intelligent, motivated, and creative people that hold the keys to the solutions.”