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Reporter’s Notebook: No Business Is Good Business

Ward’s writers pass along the buzz at this week’s SAE 2009 World Congress in Detroit.

Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

Keep Eyes On the Road, Finger Flashing to Yourself

Engineers giving technical presentations about vehicle safety rank low on entertainment value, but a Honda executive does his best to keep the crowd smiling during a “Green Safety” panel session.

Tomiji Sugimoto, executive chief engineer of Honda R&D, covers the bases with brief mentions of the auto maker’s innovative ACE body structure and its role in making compact cars safer and more crash-compatible with larger vehicles.

But he also spices up his presentation with stellar photography of road ragers flashing finger signs at fellow drivers, followed by a philosophical discussion about personal responsibility, carelessness and a “me first” attitude that takes the fun out of driving.

The best photo shows a tabby cat behind the wheel, taking its eyes off the road, much like the reckless driving cat Toonces, of “Saturday Night Live” fame.

It’s important for drivers to be in the right frame of mind, Sugimoto says. “I think a good example was the decision to hold the World Congress in April, instead of February. We have all been in a better state of mind as a result. I know it was raining this week, but it could have been snow.”

No Business Is Good Business

With the economy still in the dumpster, Chrysler seemingly on the verge of bankruptcy and General Motors slashing production as if there’s no tomorrow, it’s a good time not to be a supplier, notes NxtGen Emissions Control’s top executive.

The startup firm is nearing the production launch of a syngas-based emissions system aimed for retrofit applications in the commercial-vehicle fleet market, but it also is working hard to land OEM business with auto makers in the light-duty sector.

That effort so far has eluded NxtGen. But that may not be all bad at the moment, CEO Jeremy W. Holt says.

Despite the global automotive slump, “people haven’t lost interest in the technology,” Holt tells Ward’s. “(But) I would say it’s probably a good time to be a startup without volumes. We haven’t had any loss of volume.”

Hands Off My Battery

As the auto industry moves toward more and more electrified vehicles, manufacturers are considering a variety of battery charging options, including schemes in which drivers would pull into service stations for quick swaps, exchanging drained batteries for fully charged ones.

But that’s a game plan that doesn’t sit well with Gery Kissel, engineering specialist-chargers and cord sets for General Motors.

“There are a couple of issues,” he says. “First, you have to be able to get the battery in and out of cars quickly. And then, whose battery is it? Whose liability is it when it doesn’t work?”

Kissel says he’s leery when he has to swap out the liquid-propane-gas tank in his barbecue grill. “I don’t even like to have someone else change my car’s oil. And I’m going to let them swap out my battery?”

Enquiring Minds Want to Know

Despite the fact the global automotive industry is in disarray, Honda Motor’s CEO Takeo Fukui, remains extremely disciplined in a scrum with reporters following a World Congress banquet Thursday night, declining to answer any questions that don’t strictly pertain to SAE.

As scribes attempt to modify their questions to satisfy his edict, Fukui’s two imposing bodyguards/public relations officials are quick to rebuff nearly all inquiries with a curt, “We’re going to defer that question.”

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