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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Dec. 2, 200912:00 PM EST

Rotarians get glimpse of automotive industry's future

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

What does the future hold for transportation and how will that future affect the environment?

The members of the Rotary Club of Jacksonville got a glimpse of that subject at its meeting Monday. Mike Rayne, vice president for Diesel for Delphi’s Product and Service Division was the keynote speaker and shared some of his predictions. The company has more than 100,000 employees worldwide including 14,000 scientists and engineers and is “focused on higher technologies for automobiles, trucks and agricultural equipment,” said Rayne.

He has more than 35 years experience in the automotive industry and has held executive positions in North America and Europe. Rayne said his experience tells him the global automotive industry is about to enter a period of change that will be more far-reaching than at any time in history.

“We have to accept that we have a global economic crisis,” he added. “We’re all trying to work on the same puzzle.”

Rayne predicted that as was the case in the economic downturns in the 1980s and 1990s, not all segments of the market will be adversely affected. Some in fact, will prosper.

“Some companies will see opportunities for growth,” he said. Timing is important and so is the willingness to take risks. Rayne cited what Boeing did in 1952 that cemented the company’s position as a world leader in commercial aviation.

“They bet the farm on the 707 which led to the 747. They took half of the company’s money and bet it on something that was unproven.”

He also said some of the current trends in the automotive industry include consolidation and companies acquiring and merging with competitors.

Globalization will also become an even greater factor in the 21st century.

“Two Chinese companies are the biggest truck manufacturers in the world,” said Rayne. “You haven’t heard of them because they sell everything they produce in their own country, but that’s about to change because they’ll soon enter the American and European markets.”

Research and development will also play a key role in the future of the automotive industry. Rayne said America will maintain its edge in that department.

“Technology and electronic components now account for about 60 percent of the average automobile and Americans are leading the way. There are more than 30 computers in a 2009 Escalade. That vehicle has more power from an electronics standpoint than the lunar module that took men to the moon. Americans may not build the vehicles of the future but Americans will certainly be designing them,” said Rayne.

Another area he predicted will see great improvement in the near future is safety systems for cars and trucks. Under development are means to monitor a driver’s performance and intervene in the case of “drowsy driving” or driving while distracted.

“These are driving behaviors that are correctible with technology,” said Rayne.

Also on the drawing boards are advanced cruise control systems that would maintain a safe distance between vehicles in the same lane and other systems that would be able to detect pedestrians walking into the flow of traffic.

In terms of global warming, Rayne said the automotive industry has accepted the fact that vehicles contribute 15-20 percent to the increase in carbon dioxide levels. What he called “harmonizing” exhaust emission standards on a worldwide basis will be part of the answer to controlling pollution.

“Pollution that’s created in China very quickly arrives in New York,” he said.

Rayne is an advocate of replacing engines that run on gasoline with those that use diesel fuel, but said until the price of gasoline gets considerably higher, Americans will continue to drive whatever they want.

“Americans have not yet been driven to drive smaller, more efficient cars. I don’t see fuel choice changing for passenger vehicles, but light trucks are another issue,” he said.

Rayne said based on what he knows about the global automotive industry and America’s place in it, “I’m pretty optimistic about the opportunities for the United States as long as we face the challenges.”

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