Written by Anne Sophie Suhr
From February 23 to 25, 2015 the 4th Annual South Carolina Automotive Summit took place in Greenville, SC. The event provided a variety of talks, panels and presentations designed to stimulate discussion of contemporary automotive sector topics ranging from manufacturing, design, engineering, and R&D to technical education and training.
The Automotive Summit attracted hundreds of local and national industry professionals, making it an ideal opportunity to network and exchange ideas. The state of South Carolina, as well as the entire southeastern region, is home to numerous German automotive companies. Therefore it was no surprise that the GACC South and its members were also well represented at the Summit.
The focus of the first day was innovation. Following a dynamic opening panel featuring industry leaders such as Mike Mansuetti of Robert Bosch and Frank Gabbianelli of Magna, CU-ICAR faculty and students presented current research projects. Summit participants caught a glimpse of possible futures for the automotive sector in the form of voice- and motion-controlled vehicles, self-healing polymers, and predictive cruise control triggered by traffic lights.
Day Two kicked off with economic industry outlooks for both South Carolina and the U.S. as a whole. Dr. Susan Helper of the U.S. Department of Commerce stressed the potentials and dangers of ‘spillover effects’ in the supply chain and the importance of creating shared assets.
A highlight for many Summit attendees, Mr. Ratan Tata of the Indian manufacturer Tata Motors, known for its Nano
vehicle, was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in mechanical engineering from Clemson University. Mr. Tata’s engaging yet humble personality won over the audience. It was truly inspiring to hear about his life path and the growth of Tata Motors, in which he played a key role by “doing what one thought couldn’t be done”.
The day continued with a discussion of a topic that has become particulary relevant in the South: the need for increased education and training to counteract the current deficit in skilled labor. BMW’s Sky Foster led a workforce development best practice panel, offering many practical insights and ideas into the current labor situation – an ongoing concern for so many industry players.
To cap the day, Greenville-based company ProTerra introduced its answer to the challenges of sustainable urban mobility: zero-emission, electric city buses. CEO Ryan Popple, who previously worked for Tesla Motors, outlined the company’s promising business model as a growing, vertically integrated organization. One of their light weight electric buses leaves the manufacturing facility every 10 days, heading to destinations all over the U.S.
The Summit finished strong on Wednesday with a program featuring a presentation on future industry outlooks and trends by KPMG’s Automotive Sector Leader, Gary Silberg. Just a few of the many interesting trends brought up were the development toward mass customization of vehicles, the consumer movement of mobility on demand and the potential impact on vehicle production volumes.
Overall the 2015 Summit proved to be a fascinating and enlightening event for anyone with an interest in the current state of the Southern Automotive Industry.