Automotive technology examined

Aug 31, 2007

Two national experts in the field of automotive technology shared their insights with Kettering students and provided an outline for the future.

Experts in the field of automotive technology believe the automotive industry is in the midst of a paradigm shift, and the future demands a reduction in dependence on foreign oil, reduced emissions and increased efficiency.

David McLellan, retired director of Engineering for the GM Corvette, and Joseph F. Ziomek, vice president of Automotive for the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers' (IEEE, Vehicular Technology Center and chairman of the Convergence Education Foundation, spoke to Kettering students on the topic of "Automotive Technology: Where are we? Where are we going?"

The discussion provided critical assessment of current technology used in automotive applications and examined the future of automotive development, including the incorporation of fuel cell and hybrid vehicles.

McLellan and Ziomek discussed a variety of subjects regarding the future of the automotive industry and placed specific emphasis on the importance of having the mechanical and electrical engineering industries and professionals working together to make the hybrid automotive future a success.

The primary point in their presentation is that the automotive industry is in the midst of a paradigm shift, where it is impossible to fully know the outcome, including the precise roles of flex fuels, fuel cells, hybrid electric vehicles, batteries, electronic controls and other resources in shaping the future. However, three outcomes are certain: dependence on foreign oil will be reduced, emissions will be reduced and efficiency will increase.

Additionally, they talked of the need to optimize the performance of hybrid vehicles using digital technology. Although there has been extensive speculation about the potential of fuel cells and hybrid vehicles in recent years, one economical and perhaps efficient way to increase gas mileage in the short run is to simply reduce the weight of current vehicles, since weight plays a critical role in how much gas a vehicle uses.

This, according to the two, would help consumers better manage the high cost of gas at the pump. Most importantly, future vehicle designs will require careful examination of such technical issues as the following:

  • safety and suspension,
  • structure, material, sciences,
  • metals, composites,
  • propulsion systems,
  • hybrid, plug-in concepts,
  • hydrogen and fuel cells, and
  • the use of micro processors and overall sensor management of mechanical systems.

Dr. James Gover, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, hosted the speakers. According to Gover, "the comments of both Joe and Dave make it clear that the automotive sector is going to be a very exciting and challenging place to work and electrical engineering is going to play a major role in determining who wins and who loses the competition for the marketplace. New electric drive train vehicles like the Volt PHEV will demonstrate that U.S. manufacturers are the technical leaders of the highly competitive automotive industry.

For McLellan, the automotive future is complex. "The future of the automobile is far more technically challenging and exciting than the past. However, it is highly interdisciplinary and involves electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, chemistry and physics," he explained.

Ziomek said that the key to the future of the plug-in hybrid "is advancements in LiIon or other battery technology. If this technology can be advanced to make practical a plug-in hybrid that can be driven 40 miles on a single charge, the automobile will have transitioned from a mechanical system to an electro-mechanical system," he said.

More than 40 students, faculty and staff attended this discussion in the Cribathon, Room 2-225 of the AB.

Located in Flint, Michigan, Kettering University (formerly General Motors Institute) is one of the country's premier co-op institutions and provides 2,200 students with career-based education in engineering, applied sciences, mathematics, and business management. Founded in 1919, the University also offers graduate programs in engineering and manufacturing management. Kettering University is ranked among the nation's finest specialty schools by U.S. News and World Report. For further information, visit

Written by Gary J. Erwin