Concept version of the Cadillac ELR electric vehicle. (General Motors )
When people talk about competition in the auto industry, it’s often couched in terms of the Detroit automakers versus the big Asian import brands – in other words, General Motors and Ford versus Toyota and Honda.
In a Tuesday address to the SAE Convergence Conference in Detroit, GM North America President Mark Reuss talked about a different competition faced by the auto industry – the ability to recruit top engineers from high-tech, fast growth “glamour” industries.
“We need to convince them that the automotive field is the most dynamic, exciting industry on earth. Because it is.” Reuss said. “Otherwise, they will look at other options, and that’s a list that is growing every year… They’ll go to Google, or Apple, or Space X, or elsewhere. “
Reuss picked an interesting list of competitors.
Google may be best known for its Internet search engine and its ability to match adds to web content, but it also is dabbling in the auto patch. Google, based in Mountain View, has the largest test of so-called autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles on the road. Google’s top executives say they see a day when computer operated cars loaded with high tech sensors will drive people from place to place, something they believe improve traffic and safety.
Hawthorne-based rocket maker SpaceX recently became the first private contractor to supply the International Space Station and has a $1.6-billion contract to carry out 12 such cargo missions. It’s founder and chief executive is Elon Musk, himself no stranger to the auto business. He is co-founder and chief executive of Tesla Motors, the Palo Alto electric car company.
While Apple isn’t into cars – at least not that we know of – it is yet another California company on the cutting edge of technology.
Together, those companies and others like them, offer tough competition for the auto business.
“We have to recruit these kids vigorously, and sell our industry like our livelihood depends on it. Because it does,” Reuss said.
Reuss also talked about the need to improve math and science training in the U.S. education system, especially at the primary and secondary education levels.
“For a country that has always placed such a high value on education, the U.S. is lagging frightfully behind, according to recent numbers,’ he said.
Reuss noted that in one measure of 30 developed countries, the U.S. ranked 21st in student science literacy. It ranked 25th in math literacy.
“Clearly, we need to be better,” Reuss said. “This country simply can’t afford to fall any further behind the rest of the industrialized world in educating its young citizens. The global economic marketplace is far too competitive for that.”
Reuss closed his speech to the engineering group by talking about GM’s engineering. He took the occasion to announce that GM will build its Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid coup at the automaker’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly facility, the same factory where it makes the Chevrolet Volt. Look for the car at the very end of next year or early in 2014.