At the SAE 2011 World Congress in Detroit last week, it was again apparent that engineers are the problem solvers who will apply technology to deal with the challenges facing the auto industry.
As the industry stares at another round of safety mandates and awaits the federal government's proposal for fuel economy standards for the 2017-25 model years, engineers face many of the same issues they have for decades. Adding higher fuel prices makes the fuel economy challenge somewhat more of a market challenge than just a regulatory challenge.
Anyone visiting the SAE meeting would have seen the continuing evolution of automotive engineering, from the topics discussed in the technical sessions to the exhibitors on the show floor. Pushed to the side are the widget makers, testing laboratories and the large contingent of industrial development agencies that once overshadowed companies offering technical solutions.
There were other positive signs. For example, SAE's trade fair, set up outside the exhibition hall, hosted 42 companies -- including automakers and suppliers from all over the world -- looking for automotive talent. The help-wanted signs were for positions ranging from engineers of various disciplines to sales personnel and production managers.
It was more proof that the industry is in comeback mode.
At the beginning of the week, finalists and winners had gathered for the presentation of the Automotive News PACE Awards, which honor technical innovation. The entries offered more tangible evidence that innovation is alive and well -- and that suppliers working in collaboration with automakers make a difference.
Last week showed that this is still a can-do industry.