At a private meeting this week, I was privileged to hear what I think is a balanced view of the domestic auto industry’s current situation and an astute outlook for the foreseeable future.
The speaker was Dr. David E. Cole, engineering professor emeritus from the University of Michigan and chairman of Ann Arbor’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR). Industry, academia, government and media have long recognized Cole for his intimate knowledge of the auto industry and his balanced views of it.
This is not surprising, since before earning three degrees in mechanical engineering, he grew up in the industry as son of the legendary Edward N. Cole, president of General Motors and lead developer of both the small block Chevy V-8 engine of 1955 and the radical rear-engined Corvair of 1960.
First, let’s dispense with the false rumor going around the internet this summer alleging that representatives of President Obama’s automotive team had met with Cole and proposed repealing the “laws of physics” which interfered with environmentalist goals for cars. He’s never met with any of the Obama team, he reported, and the rumor is a distorted version of a meeting Cole had several years ago with a couple of Congressmen who questioned the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
On the whole, like GM’s Bob Lutz, Cole feels White House automotive emissaries are, for the first time, “beginning to understand the auto industry.” “They’re not at the grad school level yet,” he commented, “it’s more like third or fourth grade, but they’re learning.”