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Research Group Feels Impact of Automotive Change

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

It’s not just automakers and suppliers that are being shaken by a new automotive era.

The Center for Automotive Research (CAR; Ann Arbor, MI) also is feeling the impact of self-driving and electric cars as well as ride-sharing services. CAR is a non-profit research entity. Over the years, it has conducted sales forecasts and written studies about various industry topics.

Under a new CEO, Carla Bailo, the organization has revamped its operations and focus. For example, CAR has an affiliates program.

“Companies give us X amount of dollars in a charitable donation,” Bailo said. “They participate in our affiliate events. They have us on speed dial. If they have a particular question, we’ll be happy to answer it for them or we’ll speak at their own company-sponsored events.”

Until recently, “We used to just have the traditional OEMs and traditional suppliers,” she said. “Now we’re starting to get many more companies interested in data, mobility services, cybersecurity, even some companies that are non-traditional, like those who own cellphone towers. Everybody is wondering how they will have a role in this new world of mobility.”

The changes are also affecting how CAR conducts research.

For example, there’s CAR’s manufacturing, engineering, and technologies group. “That group has been heavily focused on lightweighting and tooling,” Bailo said. It still deals with lightweighting, the science of finding ways to cut vehicle weight.

However, the group is doing more studies about joining different materials that are related to lightweighting because vehicles are becoming “multi-material” to reduce weight. Joining dissimilar materials is more complicated. Also being studied are 3D printing and smart manufacturing.

CAR is working with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI; Knoxville, TX) and Oak Ridge National Laboratories (Oak Ridge, TN). IACMI is part of the Manufacturing USA network of manufacturing hubs where companies collaborate with universities and non-profit organizations to develop advanced manufacturing technology. IACMI also shares space with Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT; Detroit), also part of Manufacturing USA.

Carla Bailo, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research

IACMI seeks to spur the development of lighter composite materials. It works with LIFT, which deals with lightweighting technologies.

CAR also is expanding its powertrain group “into more of the electrification space,” Bailo said. “I’m trying to move this group into the hot topics, the relevant topics of the future.”

Another CAR group focuses on industry, labor, and economics. “That group now is almost 100% focused on what’s happening on a global basis with tariff and trade policy,” she said.

“We’re even now doing work with Japan and other nations to help understand their impact,” Bailo continued. “We’ve been very US-focused. The people who are our friends and affiliates are not US-based only.”

Bailo was named the group’s chief almost a year ago. Her background included serving as senior vice president of R&D for Nissan North America as well as spending 10 years at General Motors Co. in different posts. She moved into academia at Oho State University in 2015, where she was assistant vice president for mobility research and business development.

“Our whole aim is to [maintain] the economic sustainability of the automobile companies,” she said.

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