TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.—Sustainability in an auto industry on the cusp of great change was among the major themes at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars.
The annual event, traditionally a who's who of the automotive industry, took place Aug. 4-5 and featured more than 50 speakers, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Magna International CEO Swamy Kotagiri and other executives of major auto makers and suppliers in Michigan and beyond.
The event was a hybrid of in-person and virtual events and sessions, and it was smaller than previous years as organizers look to regain footing after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to all-virtual last year.
"MBS has been known for years as being the place where you can have all those networking opportunities and where business deals can get done," said Carla Bailo, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based nonprofit that produces the event. "Time will tell how conferences will go in the future ... I think the hybrid events are the wave of the future."
Around 510 people registered to attend in-person, while 60 signed up to participate virtually, Bailo said. In years past, the event had 800-1,000 attendees.
Lower attendance was likely the result of a few factors, Bailo said. First is comfort level. The pandemic is not over, and many people are still averse to large crowds. Additionally, many companies still have travel and expense restrictions and some may have cut the conference, which costs $1,350 to attend, out of their budgets.
The other big complication was planning. Registration first opened at the end of April, when pandemic restrictions were still in effect in Michigan, including capacity limits. Bailo said she had been planning for just 350 registrants and is pleased by the number of attendees consider the circumstances.
Each presentation over the course of the event was livestreamed and recorded. Bailo said around 80 percent of the speakers were in-person, while a few delivered speeches via Zoom. The event included a diverse roster of presenters that come from the auto industry, government and academia.
Sustainability was a central topic, not just in terms of the industry adapting to electrification and new business climates, but also as it relates to workforce, talent retention, materials and purchasing, and trade, Bailo said.
Other subjects included autonomous vehicles, equity in transportation, financial and capital markets, data capture and analysis, and industry 4.0. There were a host of ancillary events in the Traverse City area, including a golf outing, Women in Auto meet-up and casino night as well as parties hosted by companies such as Continental Automotive.