From a hydrogen fuel cell truck debut to robo-gloves to a #MeToo discussion, CAR MBS 2018 covered the automotive industry’s important topics and issues

The hallways and conference rooms of the Grand Traverse Resort were once again packed as more than 1,000 automotive industry leaders, experts and influencers attended the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) Management Briefing Seminars (MBS) to discuss the industry’s most pressing issues, exchange ideas, and, in many cases, to simply connect with each other.

Now in its 53rd year, MBS remains the North American automotive industry premier management conference. Its value as a forum to discuss the myriad of challenges and opportunities and fast-pace of change that continues to whipsaw the industry was on full display throughout the week.

Here are 10 of the most memorable and impactful moments from this year’s conference:

Remembering Sergio Marchionne

As the conference began, the industry was still coming to grips with the unexpected passing of Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who died July 25 after complications from surgery that news reports said was related to cancer.

CAR CEO Carla Bailo took a few moments to remember the often-gruff, unpredictable, hard-working, CEO who is credited with saving Fiat in the early 2000s and Chrysler after receiving government funding.

“I’ve seen a lot of people say R.I.P. and my thought is, he never stopped,” Bailo said. “When he was in a country that had a holiday, he would fly his jet to a country that didn’t have a holiday, so he could keep working. I hope he’s been given some great job in his second life and it’s just as busy as before.”

Toyota’s monster hydrogen fuel cell truck

Toyota continues to make advancements in fuel cell vehicle development and showcased its view of the powertrain of the future with the unveiling of its 2nd-generation hydrogen fuel cell truck on the first day of the conference.

The global vehicle maker said its hydrogen fuel cell semi-truck has a range of more than 300 miles and runs virtually noiselessly. It is an advancement of the first fuel-cell semi-truck Toyota introduced in April 2017 and has undergone roughly 10,000 miles of testing.

Toyota said the new truck has greater versatility and maneuverability than its predecessor. New features include a sleeper cab and a unique fuel cabinet combination that further increases interior space without expanding the wheelbase.

Robo-gloves, drones, and collaborative robots

The modern automotive factory is changing in ways that are both profound and seemingly from science fiction movie screens.

Dan Grieshaber, GM’s Global director of manufacturing engineering, said the company is integrating a number of new technologies into its existing manufacturing plants as it looks to improve efficiency.

“We simply cannot afford to recapitalize our entire business and just bulldoze everything and start over,” he said during a panel discussion on the changing fundamentals of manufacturing.

Grieshaber told CAR MBS attendees that GM is using several advanced technologies in its plants including:

  • Drones to inspect hard-to-reach areas, such as to fly to certain areas in the plant’s interior – like the plant’s roof – to perform inspections, improving workplace safety.
  • An operator-controlled robotic glove, called an iron hand, to increase a manufacturing employee’s grip and strength, while reducing hand and arm fatigue and stress.
  • Collaborative robots, or cobots, that work alongside employees on the production line to complete repetitive, ergonomically difficult tasks and jobs.
Nissan’s SAM system inspired by NASA and FAA

In a keynote session, Nissan’s Maarten Sierhuis, director of the Nissan Research Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., said that no matter how good the systems are inside autonomous vehicles they will occasionally need help from a backup system.

“Show me an autonomous system without a human in the loop and I’ll show you a useless system,” Sierhuis said.

That’s why Nissan continues to collaborate with NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration to develop Seamless Autonomous Mobility, or SAM – a driverless system that is monitored by human operators who help the vehicle interpret and adjust to traffic, weather and other conditions in real time.

The system combines the vehicle’s artificial intelligence (AI) with remote human support to help driverless autonomous vehicles make decisions in unpredictable situations. Then, the vehicle broadcasts what it learned to other vehicles in the system.

The automaker believes this technology will enable millions of autonomous vehicles to operate safely and smoothly on the road sooner than if automakers wait for the government to build the infrastructure necessary to support self-driving vehicles.

“If we’re waiting for infrastructure we won’t have driverless vehicles for 20 years,” Sierhuis said.

NVIDIA says simulations are essential for driverless car testing

NVIDIA’S Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive, reminded attendees of the massive computing power that is required to power the artificial intelligence that will process the data necessary for cars to drive themselves.

NVIDIA, which is working with 370 automotive companies on automated driving, provides the AI platform on which automakers can build autonomous vehicle applications. He said the capabilities of the Graphics Processing Unit, or GPU, continue to improve at a rapid pace. Artificial intelligence relies on the GPUs, to process access to vast amounts of data.

“We ingest petabytes and petabytes of information from cameras and radar and lidar and we use that as a ground truth to train these systems on how to recognize different things,” Shapiro said.

Another key to making driverless cars a reality is driver simulation, Shapiro said. While real-world, on-the-road testing is important, the auto industry can make progress much faster by simulating driving in virtual environments.

A fleet of 20 test cars only covers 1 million miles per year while NVIDIA’s Drive Constellation system will enable the industry to safely simulate billions of miles driving in virtual reality. Just as important, the system can repeat a simulation of a difficult or unusual driving environment over and over.

Bo Andersson refuses to adjust

Bo Andersson, was notoriously blunt when he was vice president of purchasing for General Motors demanding price cuts along with strict quality improvement metrics from suppliers.

At CAR MBS, Andersson made it clear he didn’t change during his time leading two Russian automakers. Andersson, who is now President and CEO of Yazaki North & Central America and president of Europe, said he continues to tell suppliers, “if you have perfect quality, perfect launches, perfect service and perfect prices, it helps a lot.”

When asked if he has adjusted to working at Yazaki, Andersson said, “They are adjusting to me….we’re a good Japanese company, but slow. We study, study, study and then finally do something. I do it the other way around.”

Get ready for self-driving race cars

Most of the testing and development for autonomous vehicles is occurring under controlled conditions on test tracks and specifically approved roads and highways.

But the race track is also a promising test bed for self-driving cars, according to John Waraniak, vice president of technology for the Specialty Equipment Market Association.

There are already enough autonomous components available in the aftermarket today to build autonomous vehicles, Waraniak said. Systems such as advanced cruise control, driver vision augmentation, forward collision warning and connected vehicle technology are available both for racing teams and for those who want to add automated features to their vehicles.

Waraniak pointed to the Roborace’s autonomous race car hill climb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June as an example of the kinds of racing that will emerge.

The Roborace Robocar, a futuristic vehicle designed for the new era of driverless transportation, became the first car to complete the Goodwood hill climb without a human at the wheel. The innovative race car was powered by the NVIDIA DRIVE autonomous vehicle computing platform.

Are NAFTA negotiations nearing the end?

As CAR MBS began, news reports were emerging that the U.S. and Mexico might be close to a deal. But after a full year of talks that have already lingered longer than expected, trade officials were reluctant to make predictions.

“Momentum is there, but time will tell if we are able to seize this opportunity,” said Colin Bird, Canada’s Minister – Counsellor, Economic and Trade Policy.

Calling the auto industry, the “Cornerstone of the Canadian/ U.S. economy,” Bird said “No country wants to see the U.S. succeed more than Canada. A prosperous United States supports a prosperous Canada, and vice-versa.”

Bird also said that the U.S. exported $342 billion in goods to Canada in 2017 compared with the $339 billion Canada exported $339 billion to the U.S., giving the U.S. a $3 billion trade surplus.

Guillermo Malpica Soto, head of the Trade & NAFTA Office of the Mexican Ministry of Economy, said NAFTA transformed the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico and has benefited both countries as well as the auto industry.

“The North American automotive sector is a global success story that benefits U.S. consumers, manufacturers, and workers,” he said.


Near perfect weather

One of the allures of CAR MBS is, of course, the weather.

Held annually during the first week of August in Traverse City, CAR MBS provides attendees with a reason to spend several days in one of Michigan’s most beautiful vacation destinations.

This year, thunderstorms forced a golf outing to be canceled on Sunday and caused some complications on the final morning of the conference. But every day in-between was filled with gorgeous Pure Michigan summer days in the low 80s with low humidity.

#MeToo discussion debuts at CAR MBS

Even the title of the final session of the conference – “Don’t be a Jerk! The Cost of Incivility in the Workplace,” was different from CAR MBS’ traditional topics. Three speakers tackled a difficult topic – sexual harassment and discrimination in the automotive industry – head on.

Sharon Carty, senior editor at Automotive News, talked about a study the publication spearheaded last year that found that 65% of women in the automotive industry say they’ve experienced unwanted sexual advances – a rate that is higher than Silicon Valley, advertising and market research industries.

Carty also said companies frequently make a big mistake with “Zero tolerance” policies that encourage women to report colleagues who harass them.

Victims often don’t want to get people fired, Carty said. “They just want it to stop. They just want a fair working environment.”

Also, people who’ve been harassed at work don’t want to talk about it. They’ll just quietly leave. One of the best ways to reduce the problem, the speakers said, is for coworkers to make it clear to other coworkers that inappropriate behavior is unacceptable. Silence, in other words, is at the root of the problem.

CAR MBS 2019

August 6-8, 2019
Grand Traverse Resort & Spa  |  Traverse City, MI

Registration is now open!