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 in his keynote address for the second day of the Rubber in Automotive conference, held June 13-14 in Troy, Mich., and 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," he 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, and 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."
Business model shifting
One thing that is certain is that the traditional business model in the automotive industry is no longer in play. It had bosses who told workers what to do, physical prototypes and focused on individuals. "All of those factors that are part of the old business model are shifting rather dramatically," Cole said. "It's now leaders that look like coaches. We're talking virtual prototypes. And it's the team and not the individual."