By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Vehicles of the future – from the technologies in them to the role of entrepreneurs in bringing new ideas to market – highlighted a panel discussion that was a key part of last week’s “Launch Day” for the autoXLR8R in Spring Hill.
The topics, presented by industry experts from Tennessee and three other southern states, were exactly what the entrepreneurs in the audience needed to hear as they started their 13-week journey in the one-of-a-kind accelerator focused on the automotive industry.
All of the panelists struck several common themes including the importance of collaborating across state boundaries.
“We have grown into a region,” Tom Brewer, President of the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association (TAMA), said about the automotive industry in the South as he kicked-off the panel discussion “What’s good for Tennessee is also good for Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina.”
In the case of the Volunteer State, Brewer noted that 35 percent of all manufacturing jobs are tied to the automotive industry. That’s almost 16,000 jobs with an annual payroll of $6.5 billion.
“It’s one-fourth of the Tennessee economy,” the TAMA President said.
The panel that Brewer moderated included Suzanne Dickerson, Director of International Business Development for Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR); Ron Davis, President of the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association (AAMA); and Rick Walker, President of the Georgia Automotive Manufacturers Association (GAMA).
“We are perfectly poised for the materials revolution,” Dickerson said. For those who are not familiar with CU-ICAR, it is a major automotive research center.
She noted that one of the technologies being explored during this year’s autoXLR8R – wireless charging – is an area where Clemson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and two automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers are collaborating.
“The autonomous tech train has already left the station,” Walker said in reference to the driverless or self-driving vehicles. “The other side (public policy including the nation’s laws) has to catch-up.”
For Davis, the power train is a huge issue. He said it will take “some game changing efforts” to reach the new federal standards.
Dickerson noted that cost reduction is a continuing big challenge for the industry.
“If we can reduce energy usage and other costs, we will see faster adoption of these technologies,” she said.
As far as the role of entrepreneurial initiatives like the autoXLR8R, Davis said simply, “The need (for innovation) is more aggressive than even the car companies can come-up with.” He added that the needs are “fundamental, basic opportunities that are not high tech.”
Walker talked about the pervasiveness of technology in today’s connected vehicles.
“You may have a lot of things (in your car) that you may not even know are there,” he said, citing drowsiness and lane controls, night vision assistance, blind spot detection, and radar sensors.
“There’s a lot going on in the car,” Walker added. With even more technology coming, Davis cited the emerging need for systems integration expertise.
“The worker of yesterday had ‘one-level skill,’” he said. “Today, he’s a systems operator.”