Veterans of SAE World Congresses in decades past said the event held in Detroit last week was significantly smaller than it used to be – no big surprise – but the folks in charge said that was by design. Apparently, not everyone who wanted to exhibit was accepted, and SAE execs touted the innovative technology offered by those who made the cut.
Small does have its advantages: less exhibit space left more room on the main floor for Ride-n-Drive, ample space was available in the networking lounge, and the buffet tables that flanked the vendors’ booths were buzzing by mid-afternoon.
The exhibit floor and concourse reflected the Congress theme – “Ecollaboration : Engage, Exchange, Excel.” Besides coming off an horrendous year, the automotive industry is engaged in a massive transformation from gasoline-powered technology to electrification that reminded some attendees of the early days of the last century (when, ironically, the switch flipped the other way).
A lot of attention was paid to powertrain technology last week with panels on Tuesday assessing the near-term (now to 2016) and far-term prospects (2016 and beyond). More than 50 technical sessions were devoted to powertrain/propulsion topics. Other sessions focused on emissions/environment/sustainability, integrated design and manufacturing, materials, safety/testing, and electronics. “How to” design for reliability was common to most of those tracks.
Engineers throughout the automotive industry agree that it’s no longer feasible, if it’s even possible, for an OEM to design a vehicle by itself if that vehicle contains several dozen electronic control units (ECUs) and a jillion lines of code. Automakers have to engage, and they are doing so in a growing number of consortiums and working groups. They have to exchange ideas, and the World Congress provided a platform for that. Finally, to gain/regain or maintain the trust of customers, they must excel in performance – better mileage with lower emissions – and reliability.
Electrification won’t happen overnight, by any means, but the direction is clear and the momentum is building. This is an exciting time to be part of the industry.