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SAE president talks hybrids, electric cars, China, supplier electronics and software expertise

In April 2009, the executive nominating committee for SAE International (www.sae.org) named Andrew Brown, Jr., Ph.D. its candidate for 2010 SAE International president. He was sworn in as president January 2010.

Dr. Brown began his automotive career in 1973 at GM as a project engineer at manufacturing development.

In between his time at GM and today, a couple of noteworthy things occurring along the path of Dr. Brown’s career include being appointed by the National Research Council (NRC) to serve as chair of the Committee on Fuel Economy of Medium and Heavy Duty Vehicles and also helping create USAutoPARTs (United States Automotive Partnership for Advancing Research and Technologies) where he was later appointed chairman.

Additionally, Dr. Brown has served, or is currently serving on, the boards of the following organizations: Ford Design Institute, Society of Automotive Engineers Inc., Engineering Society of Detroit College of Fellows, Convergence Education Foundation, National Inventors Hall of Fame, Convergence Transportation Electronics Foundation, National Council of Engineering Examiners, State of Michigan Board of Professional Engineers, WSU College of Engineering Board of Advisors.

Also balancing Dr. Brown’s current position as president with SAE are his numerous leadership responsibilities with Delphi Corporation as executive director and chief technologist.

We talk with Dr. Brown about SAE’s role and influence in the global automotive electronics sector; trends taking shape under the hood here and abroad, hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) and electric vehicles (EV), the importance for suppliers and component manufacturers to have strong capabilities in both electronics and software if they want to be competitive, and more.

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VentureOutsource.com: In early September 2010, a senior Ford executive told the Wall Street Journal the U.S. auto maker expects 70 percent of its global growth this decade to come from the Asian Pacific region and Africa.

Looking at China’s automobile market, how are Chinese car buyers’ electronics and technology needs and wants different from those of Western car buyers?  And are there any trends SAE is seeing in the Chinese car market?

Dr. Brown: I was in China just recently and we met with several government officials and professional societies, as well as OEMs in China.

This is a very timely and very good question.

We shouldn’t look at the different regions or markets as one being favored over another.  I think each market, each country, has its own unique set of drivers defined by the customer and by the marketplace.

With respect to China, China’s market is driven by the government’s real priority, to move more toward hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) and electric vehicles (EV).

China has stated a priority to rely more on electricity as the primary energy mode for transportation.

Through 2015, China’s HEV and EV market is expected to grow dramatically. And, it will, by that time period, outstrip the growth of Europe and outstrip the growth of the United States, in terms of the number of HEV and EV vehicles on the road. Given the population of China, this is a real possibility.

The China government has put in place regulations that motivate vehicle manufacturers and suppliers to move in this direction. Additionally the Chinese government is providing incentives to consumers to purchase these types of vehicles, and industry, in fact, is making substantial investments in anticipation of this expanding market.

So the assertion that China is going to see a significant growth in HEV and EV vehicles is a strong possibility out through 2015 and beyond.


VentureOutsource.com: Do you see automotive electronics engineering in China’s vehicles differing much from engineering technology in, say, India’s vehicles, where another emerging market exists?

Dr. Brown: Well, again, you have to look at the uniqueness of the marketplace. Both regions. Both countries. India and China; being developing economies, certainly will be reliant upon affordable, reliable transportation.

Both India and China will want to see vehicle solutions people can afford and vehicle solutions people can rely upon.


SAE International President Dr. Andrew Brown talks with members of the media  during the SAE International Vehicle Battery Summit held September 1-3, 2010 in Shanghai, China.

I think one of the major differences between India and China will be the infrastructure on which these vehicles can be utilized.

I think this will be the largest differentiator.

Both markets will want to see solutions crafted to meet their individual market needs and requirements that are affordable for the people in those markets.


VentureOutsource.com: What technology capabilities should organizations serving the automobile electronics industry invest in if they don’t already have these capabilities today?

Dr. Brown: As a society of engineers, we’re seeing the emergence of electronics as a significant discipline, a significant technology.

We’re seeing the transformation of transportation, whether it be a plane, a truck or car to be more dependent upon electronics and software. The transportation vehicle is moving from being a mechanical device to now having a larger proportion that is electrical / electronic.

And so it’s very important suppliers and component manufacturers have a strong capability on the electronics and software side if they want to be competitive in this new technological era.


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VentureOutsource.com: What do you see as some of the top challenges getting North American consumers hooked on electronic or electric vehicles?

Dr. Brown: North America is different, in the sense the price of gasoline here is still comparatively low, when you look at Europe and Asia and other parts of the world.

The price of gasoline is a primary motivator for people desiring more efficient transportation.

As long as the price of gasoline is low, there are fewer incentives to adopt new technology, even if doing so improves fuel economy of the vehicle. The price of gasoline in North America is the big gorilla in the room, so to speak.

In terms of any further adoption, we’re going to have to see how well vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf do in the marketplace.

If people readily accept the Volt, in terms of its ability to provide reliable transportation that is also cost effective, then they will adopt it and they will gravitate to HEVs and EVs.

The Nissan Leaf is a different solution, being more of a pure electric vehicle, a different solution than the Chevrolet Volt.

But again, if a Nissan Leaf is successful on its own merits, this will stimulate interest and further adoption of these technologies.

So, the end of this year / beginning of 2011: where these vehicles start to become available and being to be used more widely —  is going to be a very critical period for the adoption of HEV and EV technologies.

VentureOutsource.com: Where do you see the electric car in North American society five years from now?

Dr. Brown: Again, depending on the adoption, the extent of the use of those vehicles will depend on those solutions.

However, we do have the government, the Obama administration, indicating a preference, a direction to be more reliant upon electrification of the power train and to looking to have smart grid capability established.

So if you look out five years, you would expect some of those technologies to be in place, to be available.

Having that infrastructure in place is going to be a key driver, in terms of the adoption of HEVs and EVs.


VentureOutsource.com: Let’s look under the hood and under the dash a bit more closely. Any particular trends you see for auto electronics, like flexible printed circuits?

Dr. Brown: The key for electronics under the hood is the ability to withstand the environment that they’re going to be subjected to.

The temperatures under the hood are going to be key, and of course, the electronics don’t like high temperatures and humidity, dusty conditions…

But originally, they said you couldn’t have sophisticated electronic control units under the hood, either. Yet, they have been designed to withstand those environments and to perform more than adequately under those conditions.

I think, quite honestly, there’s going to be tremendous opportunity inside the cabin of the vehicle. The ability to bring consumer electronics into the vehicle seamlessly without having special protocols or connectors, I think, is the wave of the future.

Such items as smartphones and key fobs will be integral, in terms of getting the driver and passengers of the vehicle, adapting the vehicle to their personal needs and preferences.


VentureOutsource.com: For SAE’s 125,000 members in over 100 countries serving both the automotive and commercial vehicle and aerospace industries, what do you see as one of SAE’s biggest mandates for the automotive electronics industry?

Dr. Brown: One of the biggest mandates is to harmonize standards and specifications to help in the introduction of new technology on the vehicle. New technology that is sustainable, reliable and cost effective.

For example, as markets around the world move more to electrified power trains, this idea of being able to charge your battery on board the vehicle… This calls for a standardized charge coupling device and we’re already seeing a bit of a proliferation in terms of the design.

And, what SAE has done, at least in working with the U.S. government, is established a standards that provides a uniformity in terms of charging plug-in hybrids, for example.

But, we need to do the same thing around the globe, so as to reduce any complexities, which will reduce the cost of these technologies.

I think that’s where SAE working with partner organizations around the globe, whether it’s the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA – Verband der Automobilindustrie)  in Europe, IEEE around the globe, SAE China, SAE India, SAE Japan … This is where we can add value to the industry by assuring that standards and protocols are harmonized, so as to reduce cost and to minimize the time of entry for reliable technology.


VentureOutsource.com: Would these mandates apply for the aerospace industry, as well?

Dr. Brown: Absolutely. In fact, in the case of aerospace, SAE provides more than 90 percent of the standards in the aerospace industry, and not just here in North America, but around the globe.

VentureOutsource.com: Does SAE police these standards, as well?  Or, is it left up to the suppliers and companies to manage their own organizations?

Dr. Brown: Really, it’s up to the governments because they have the enforcement powers to make sure aircraft manufacturers and others are compliant and they are using the latest standards.

And SAE’s role is to support the industry, and government, to assure the latest and best standards are being utilized.


VentureOutsource.com: What do you see as one of the biggest global automotive electronics or electrical design challenges?

Dr. Brown: Integration of diverse components that come from multiple sources. As OEMs and even major suppliers source their components in different parts of the world, the challenge is how do you assure these components and subsystems, once they’re integrated, will perform to expectations and perform reliably over time?

I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for all of us as the vehicle becomes more electronic.

VentureOutsource.com: Would this differ for, say, a region like China?

Dr. Brown: No, the issues are the same. I think we are going to be faced with these same challenges, regardless of where or how systems get designed.


VentureOutsource.com: What is one of the biggest aerospace electronics or electrical design challenges you see engineers facing today?

Dr. Brown: I think it’s the same issue, the issue of integration and reliability of parts and systems. On behalf of the aerospace industry, I think they are further along than automotive or commercial vehicles because they have had to provide reliable systems for years.

And, quite honestly, other sectors can learn from the experience in the aerospace sector.


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VentureOutsource.com: What advice do you give to today’s engineers just getting started in the automotive or the aerospace electronics industries?

Dr. Brown: They need to be prepared for lifelong learning. The technology and systems learned in college today, and being applied today, are going to change.

Today’s engineers need to be prepared to change and adapt along with technology changing.

They also need to be prepared with language skills.

They also need to have a second language, so they can move around the world because their work, their employment, most likely, is going to travel because there will be different markets they will be servicing throughout their careers.


VentureOutsource.com: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Dr. Brown: As for your readers, as for professionals, we should not be afraid of these challenges. Not that I’m suggesting they are, but this is a whole new world.

We are reinventing transportation.

This is a very exciting time for us in the profession. And, so we should embrace the challenge and look forward to successfully introducing new technology that is going to improve the quality of life for all of us.




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