Lessons Learned at the 2017 Southern Automotive Conference

Bob Newsome
I had the opportunity to attend the tenth annual Southern Automotive Conference in Birmingham, Alabama, on October 6-8, 2017.This conference has become one of the premiere events in the automotive manufacturing industry, providing a space for top tier manufacturers and their suppliers to network, learn from one another, and lead the industry forward.

The Southeast region of the United States now contains more than 50% of the U.S. automotive manufacturing workforce. This was reflected in this year’s conference participants, which included major automakers and suppliers from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky. With nearly one thousand attendees at the conference, a good mix of national and international suppliers and industry colleagues were also represented.

The first seminar of the conference, entitled “Challenges and Opportunities for the Future of the Industry”, touched on several key topics that thematically related to the breakout sessions for the rest of the conference. A focal point was the mass, industry-wide movement away from fossil-fuel powered cars, in favor of alternative fuels. The speaker, Vice President of Purchasing for Honda North America Tom Lake, stated that by the year 2040, 60% of the Honda U.S. production will be comprised of electric vehicles (EVs). Led by California, many states are moving toward the goal of exclusive sales and use of EVs by 2030. Given that this group of states makes up 40% of the Honda current U.S. market, the automotive giant plans to accommodate this market shift in 2018 by limiting the expansion of gas vehicle production lines and transition them to EV production.

The market shift from petroleum powered vehicles to electrical and clean powered vehicles is undeniable, and this will be a high priority trend...

This trend extends beyond the U.S. and into the international automobile market. Countries such as Germany, France and the U.K. have also set goals to ban the sale of gas powered vehicles by the year 2030. The market shift from petroleum powered vehicles to electrical and clean powered vehicles is undeniable, and this will be a high priority trend for those connected to the industry for the foreseeable future.

Another trend in the automotive industry that came up frequently at the conference was the issue of a shrinking work-force. In a recently released study conducted by Deliotte for the Manufacturing Institute, it was estimated that the total U.S. automotive market will need to acquire 3.4 million additional employees in the next 10 years. The study additionally stated that under current employment trends, two million of those jobs will go unfilled. Key drivers of this personnel gap include market growth, an aging worker population and a general lack of interest and skills from prospective employees. Industry leaders are assembling to work with politicians in Washington D.C. to deal with this national issue, and hope to have more to report in the next quarter.

Key drivers of this personnel gap include market growth, an aging worker population and a general lack of interest and skills from prospective employees.

The Southern Automotive Conference included several excellent programs beyond the opening seminar. One, entitled “Industry 4.0: The Path to i4.0”, discussed the fourth industrial revolution that is currently taking place through innovations in automated production processes. There were many technical discussions around robotic technology and options for waste stream reduction, presented by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and NASA, respectively. Additional speakers at the conference included Kay Ivey, Governor of Alabama; Jay Timmons, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers; a panel featuring representatives from multiple OEMs including Kia, Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota; and more.

Overall, the conference was a great opportunity to meet new industry participants and renew and build up current relationships. Faithful+Gould has attended for the last two years, and we look forward to doing so again in 2018 to collaborate with industry colleagues and learn more about the future of automotive manufacturing.

Click here for more information on the Southern Automotive Conference.

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