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C.A.R 2014 MBS Day 4 - Wrap-up



By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Another year of the Management Briefing Seminars is history as we pick up our bag lunches for the road. I feel like we’ve just been to a futurist’s conference with a gaggle of science, engineering, and tech folks as well as business executives, designers, sociologists, psychologists and aesthetes predicting what automobiles and the automobile business will look like in upcoming decades.

We adjourn at noon on day four with some attendees heading home and many staying the weekend in the Traverse City area eating cherry pie and Moomer’s ice cream, strolling the beaches or perusing the touristy shops downtown. The big questions are: Did we learn anything of value or make significant connections?

The answer is: Yes, and yes.

We learned much about what the future holds for us related to our beloved automobiles. For example, urban transportation will change the most with autonomous cars, car sharing schemes, powertrain innovations we’ve probably not thought of yet and a larger government roll in design and regulation of not just automobiles but all forms of transportation. While we have a relatively clear view through 2018 or so, most of the analysts agree that beyond that point government policies have the potential to move the industry in a variety of directions.

We learned that lots of smart people within many innovative companies are working very hard to move the industry into ever more efficient and practical transportation models. The sciences of fuel development, electronic integration of systems, light-weighting of materials, new and more exotic powertrains, government policy, marketing . . . all are front and center inspiring R&D folks throughout the auto industry. After a week immersed in this conference my feeling is: we’re in good hands.

And speaking of people in the industry, we learned that companies have an intense need for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educated people to fill hundreds of well-paying jobs in manufacturing, design, R&D, testing, and other fields. Many students and young professionals attend the conference looking toward bright futures in this business. As you saw in some previous reports, the industry is supporting many efforts, both formal and informal, to meet these needs.

Vehicle design, manufacturing processes, the chain of suppliers and all the other elements of what it takes to produce vehicles is a remarkably complex and interactive system that a guy like me looking in from the outside must struggle to understand. For example, many parts will be designed and even produced using 3D printing. Other manufacturing processes that make futurists drool were on display or represented here by company engineers and executives. Perhaps the dominant topic here was “light-weighting” facilitated by innovations in materials, processes and particularly design.

One of our final sessions on Thursday morning revolved around a presentation by Tim Mahoney, Chevy’s chief marketing officer, who talked about his brand’s new tag line and marketing thrust. He referred to this all as their “new marketing platform,” which may sound like bureaucratic-speak. After seeing a series of new ads based on the new tag line “Find New Roads” we agree it is a fresh way to follow up from their previous tag line classics. Mr. Mahoney also talked about some of the new products coming from Chevy like the compact CUV Trax and mid-size pickups Colorado and Canyon.

News made by Chevy’s Mahoney included introduction of the second-generation Volt at the upcoming North American International Auto Show, sort of a “re-Volt” says our TAC New York bureau chief, Larry Nutson. The other news was the new in-vehicle Wi-Fi system called 4G LTE that will bring the world into your car and be accessible within 50 feet of the vehicle, your own WiFi hotspot. He also promised lots of new product introductions for 2014 and 2015.

Even news generated off-site often creates buzz here simply because so many automotive movers and shakers are in this one place. As suppliers took center stage on day four, Automotive News reported that Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne, who is not attending the event, is complaining loudly that his suppliers’ double-digit profits were “jacking up his blood pressure.” Supplier relations were dismal and getting worse before the economy tanked in 2009 when cooperation became essential for survival. Our supplier panel agreed that relations are at a high point now and both sides are dedicated to keeping it good.

I guess the best thing about the conference is the plethora of connections made with this rich variety of people who have some roll in making the cars we so love. In every hall, at every meal, during endless social events and with every casual conversation we learn something more about the business, the industry and the people who make it work. -designers, bean counters, deep thinkers, managers, engineers, students, analysts, government people, . . . you name it.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the coverage and learned a little something yourselves.

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved