TROY, Mich.—When it comes to preparing for the automotive industry's future, the best we can do is guess.
As auto makers and suppliers work to prepare for the next generation of vehicles and meet the demands of drivers and passengers, they also must do their best to react to factors beyond their control, factors that will impact the industry and its innovation.
David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research and chairman of both AutoHarvest and Building America's Tomorrow, explored some of the factors that impact the automotive industry's uncertain future. He presented the information as part of the keynote address for the second day of the two-day Rubber in Automotive conference, organized jointly by Rubber & Plastics News and Freudenberg-NOK.
“We are certainly in some very interesting times in the auto business, and I'm sure all of you are well aware of that,” Cole said. “The surprises are coming pretty regularly and that certainly is behind the (presentation) title I have selected: ‘The Auto Future: Fast, Furious and Uncertain.'
“In many ways,” he added, “that is not the comfortable type of thing to be dealing with, this idea of surprises, but it is the reality of the world we are in today.”
Throughout his presentation, Cole touched on several issues that affect the future of automotive manufacturers and suppliers, including the lack of qualified candidates for manufacturing jobs and changing business models, as well as foreign and domestic political factors.
“The Trump effect is another interesting issue,” Cole said. “Every day we wake up and something new is going on. When you look at the uncertainties just related to the new administration, whether we are talking about trade, regulations—particularly things like CAFE—there are economics issues, tax policy and international relations, I think we would all have to agree we are in an era where surprises are likely. It may not be bad surprises, but we are probably looking at factors that are going to change and be very difficult to predict.”
Cole's presentation was the first of eight that were given during the second day of the inaugural Rubber in Automotive conference. Other topics discussed June 14 included the newest generation of driveline lubricants for hybrids and electric vehicles, trends within the synthetic rubber feedstock arena, and the role that software plays in helping to economically and efficiently identify defects and predict the durability of molded rubber goods.
The program was organized by Joseph Walker, Freudenberg-NOK global technology director for materials and laboratory services, who also served as Rubber in Automotive conference chairman.