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C.A.R. Management Breifing Seminars 2013 - Day Four

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Gov. Jay Nixon


By Steve Purdy
With Contribution by Lillie Guyer
Photos By Bob Benko
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

We start our final day here in beautiful Northern Michigan with a speech by the second-term governor of Missouri, the Honorable Jay Nixon. Under his leadership the Missouri legislature established (complete remarks) substantial incentives for auto-related businesses to locate, or relocate in the “Show Me” state. Missouri is better known for corn, soybeans and large-scale livestock production but they see the value inherent in auto-related manufacturing jobs. That illustrates the intense competition between states to garner those auto manufacturing jobs.

We’ll acknowledge that the casual observer here at the MBS might find many of the sessions and speakers a bit tedious and topics esoteric. After all, much of what we’re interested in here is deep technology, obscure business details and the minutia of a variety of hard sciences. We’ve done our best to find those tidbits of interest to automobile enthusiasts and those who contemplate buying a new car.

The conference ended on a more colorful note this morning with a discussion of the relationship of auto racing to the development of advanced automobiles. Roger Curtis is the CEO of Michigan International Speedway host of two NASCAR races each season. At MIS they find dozens of other ways to use the track for engineering development, new product launches, enthusiast events and even concerts. We also heard about Audi’s diesel LeMans race car. It’s nice to know racing is still an integral part of the industry.

Our colleague, journalist and author Lillie Guyer, spent some time delving more deeply into one of the topics we scratched the surface of earlier in the week and graciously offered this story:

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Volkswagen’s Think Blue Factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., will serve as the blueprint for all new plants worldwide and has become a benchmark for environmental efficiency for all existing plants. This was the key message of Dr. Jan Spies, Volkswagen AG head of factory planning, at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City, Mich., today.

The Volkswagen of America plant in Chattanooga was the first automobile factory worldwide to receive platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the US Green Building Council. Platinum certification confirms compliance with the most demanding standards for sustainable, environmentally compatible production.

The payoff of the $3.1 billion total public and VW investment in the Chattanooga, TN area is starting to pay major dividends for the German based automaker, according to Jan Spies, chief of factory planning for VW AG. Chattanooga is about 2.5 hours from Nashville, the state's capitol.

"Through the growing efficiency and productivity of our plants, the Volkswagen brand is already making key contributions to the achievements of Group strategic targets for 2018,” Dr. Spies said. “Sustainable, efficient production is a clear, competitive advantage. With its Think Blue Factory initiative, the Volkswagen brand is pursuing a clear strategy which pools all environmental activities at our plants throughout the world. Our ambitious targets for sustainable vehicle production have now been defined in a way which is clear and comprehensible for our customers."

Chattanooga and Think Blue are now serving as models for VW's worldwide sustainable plant development strategy, Spies said Aug. 7 at the MBS (Management Briefings Seminars) in Traverse City, MI, an international auto conference sponsored by CAR (Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, MI.. Chatttanooga is the blue print for VW's new plant expansions, including five facilities in China, Spies added.

The blueprint focuses on efficiency new technology and production methods, education and training in new tech skills and supplier relations.

VW has made strong efforts to localize its supply base, hire and train locally through its new plant strategy. Spies said hiring and building locally leads to a stronger committed workforce.

The Tennessee plant took 27 months to construct, he added Now, he said, Chattanooga is our "our dream plant."

Thanks Lillie.

That term “sustainability” has become a buzzword not just in the auto industry but throughout the economy as well. VW may be a leader in sustainability and they are on a tear to become the world’s leading automaker by 2018.

We were pleased to see involvement of young people here again this year. In past years groups of both high school and college kids interested in engineering and the hard sciences came here to make contacts and see what it is all about. A big worry for the industry is how they will meet the needs for new engineers in years to come. They’re taking this big opportunity to court at least of few of them.

Finally, we packed up and headed back to our southern Michigan home base with another conference under our belt. While the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminar changes it complexion a bit each year we can always get a sense of the health of the industry and the degree of optimism that will launch it into another year.

There is no question that the designing, manufacturing, marketing – the entire business of making automobiles – is on a solid upswing. We’ll look forward to seeing what unpredictable forces shape the business in the upcoming year.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved