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The focus of the Center for Automotive Research MBS 2013 was “Mobility, Profitability and Sustainability.  With over 900 participants from industry and over 80 different speakers/presenters, the 3.5 days of content were filled with information and interesting ideas.  One of the event’s other most valuable offerings was the networking during breaks and the “social hour” each evening.

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Photo of Networking at SAP Booth during break.  Courtesy of Dyan Schertler.

Mobility: 

First and foremost, the automotive industry needs to provide vehicles to get people and products from one place to another – provide mobility.  For today’s generation, “mobility” takes on a new meaning as young people are particularly interested in connectivity and using their devices in the car.  As automakers adapt to changing expectations, issues arise such as driver distraction.  Both the offline and online experiences in the car need to be safe and secure!

Jim Sayer, Program Manager of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, shared their research which leveraged a working model on streets of Ann Arbor with real personal vehicles.  This study evaluated safety applications and a template of security for connected vehicles, generating volumes of data to support decisions and messages that would need to be delivered from a trusted source.  The ultimate goal of this model would be enriching the drivers experience and avoiding accidents.

Taking those ideas a step further, Connected Car technology will not only benefit safety of the driver but can provide a totally new experience in the car.  Are you interested in having your car drive without you having to pay attention (see video)?   Or are you more interested in entertainment, music, restaurant recommendations, shopping, fueling or charging, keeping connected via Facebook, avoiding traffic,  or turn-by-turn navigation?   Innovation and technology will definitely be changing our driving experience in the future.

Profitability:  Make it Where You Sell It . . . and Monozukuri

Making cars where you sell them is a current focus – not only to building cars in US that will be sold here -but also extending this to automotive suppliers.   “By 2015, 85% of Nissan vehicles sold in US will be built in North America” according to Bill Krueger, Sr. VP Manufacturing, Purchasing, Production Engineering & Supply Chain.  Part of that strategy is also incenting suppliers to locate near the Original Equipment Manufacturers’ (OEMs) plant.  Automotive will clearly help drive the Made in America or Reshoring trend.

Suppliers and procurement were a key topic throughout the event, with one of the first questions put to the panel on Monday morning:  “What are most critical issues, knowledge, and capabilities you look for in a supplier? “   Responses included the importance of open communication, partnerships that can lead us into the next generation, and World-Class or Lean Manufacturing systems and culture.   Automakers typically make it a priority to assist in training suppliers, just as they do their internal workforce.

Lean definitely continues to be a focus for auto manufacturers – as speakers from both Ford and Nissan discussed Monozukuri or the “art of making things” as central to their approach to drive innovations, improve operations, create value, control costs, and ultimately drive profitability.  Improving the production systems and processes extended to Information Technology’s (IT) role in World Class manufacturing.  Mauro Pino, VP Vehicle Assembly Operations and World Class Manufacturing Head for Chrysler group stated “IT plays a key role” and they need to “have real-time information to share best practices between plants “.  Frank Fischer, CEO & Chairman of VW Plant Chattanooga, commented, “How did people build cars without IT?”  VW wants “to see the entire flow of putting the car on the line in the right sequence”, while having solutions in place to make performance transparent both in terms of productivity and quality.

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Photos from seminar on “Purchasing Today:  Changing Dynamics in Automaker/Supplier Relations”.  Format of event included individual speakers (such as Staci Kroon, President, NA Automotive Division, Eaton) followed by panel discussion.

Sustainability: 

Sustainability topics ranged from Energy and Fuel Efficiency (lightweight cars) to Workforce and Talent and to Sustaining the Enterprise.  Kelly Biers, Director Continuous Improvement at ZF, spoke about their Energy Management program, which drives continuous improvement at every plant “from the shop floor up”.  Dr. Jan Spies spoke about “VW Think Blue” which includes defining energy efficiency as the plant is designed.

Although we traditionally think about Energy and Fuel Efficiency when it comes to Sustainability in the auto industry, many of the presentations spoke to focus on workforce and talent management.  Both auto manufacturers and suppliers in NA are operating at or have plans to operate at nearly 100% capacity to meet increasing demand.  Overall there is a skill shortage and an issue with brand image – “manufacturing is not a glamorous job” and there is an ongoing need to get “high school age folks” interested in manufacturing and STEM education.  How can we make manufacturing “sexy“?  One way this is being accomplished is by sponsoring college students to participate in the CAR MBS event!

Ted Duclos – VP & GM, Global Fluid Power Division, Freudenberg-NOK summed up “Sustaining the Enterprise” as the “ability to endure regardless of what you encounter”.  “What are attributes that allow us to endure?  Sound finance, relevant products. . .Are these enough?  No, you need Social Equity too”.

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Innovations for the “Featherweight Competition” featured this Honda Acura MDX outbody on display at the event. Photo courtesy of Dyan Schertler.

Hopefully these brief highlights will inspire you to view some of the presentations now available on the event website.  I look forward to representing SAP and participating in the 2014 CAR MBS, to be held August 4 – 7 next year.   If you would like to learn more about SAP, please visit our SAP Automotive website or feel free to contact me directly at joyce.swanke@sap.com.

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Photo Illustration:  Courtesy Center for Automotive Research (CAR) Management Briefing Seminars.

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