SAE Meeting Set for Detroit

April 1, 2006




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The Society of Automotive Engineers brings its annual meeting and exposition to Detroit this week, and it promises to generate some excitement for the first time in several years.

Major companies such Lear, Continental, Bosch, Delphi, and Visteon are all planning events or exhibits. In addition, the rising cost of fuel, which is pushing towards $3 per gallon, and the rising pressure for better fuel economy, have put some new energy into the annual event.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s new fuel economy rules for light trucks and sport-utility vehicles are certain to be a major topic of conversation at this week’s meeting, which is expected to attract some 35,000 visitors from around the world to Detroit’s Cobo Hall this week. The future of both oil supplies and of alternative fuels and developments in diesel engines are among the key topics on the SAE agenda this week.

Safety is another major concern, as the annual SAE meeting is one of the world’s biggest showcases for the latest developments in safety technology. Nearly half the SAE attendees say vehicle safety is a “very important” attribute on which consumers are willing to spend money, according to a survey by DuPont, which also will have a presence at the show. Occupant detection, airbags, and collision avoidance are three technical areas that will get a lot of attention in the next few years, said Michael Sanders, the global director for DuPont Automotive Safety.

“While passive safety improvements are still necessary, the development focus is clearly on active electronic safety systems such as radar and electronic stability control in crash avoidance,” he added.

The SAE exposition has been a huge target for the cost-cutters at various supplier companies that had propped up the exposition and enlivened the whole event. Over the past couple of years, however, more suppliers have reconsidered attendance at SAE. Challenges such as rising fuel prices and the need to control costs have increased the interest in this year’s sessions.

Several companies, such as OsramSylvania, Mann+Hummel, and FEV Technologies, have already announced they will be showing off new technology during this year’s show.

“The demands on our industry today are greater than ever,” notes Robert Last, FEV vice president of operations and communications.  “Success is now measured not by our ability to innovate new technologies, but our ability to bring those new technologies to the street,” Last added.

The U.S. Army and Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide, Inc. of Irvine, Calif., plan to unveil a hydrogen-hybrid demonstration vehicle. Using a Ford Hybrid Escape as the demonstrator platform, the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center is working to pair hybrid electric vehicles with a hydrogen delivery and storage system. The technology has the potential to offer a cost-effective alternative to fuel-cell-powered vehicles, according to the Army

“Currently one of the biggest vehicle technology focuses for the Army is alternative energy, both hybrid and fuel cell. Although the Army has set standards for Future Fleet hybrid energy use, we are looking at many industry solutions to infuse into the Current Fleet,” said Paul Skalny, TARDEC’s acting director.

The SAE meeting this year also will put more emphasis on collaboration. Chris Murphy, the director of the automotive business at DuPont, said collaboration across the automotive engineering fraternity makes sense. “There is no doubt that everyone in the industry is experiencing dramatic changes in technology and in the way we work with each other. By working collaboratively to address intense challenges we can surface innovative, sustainable solutions.”

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