There is no better place than Automotive News’s annual PACE awards to track emerging innovation from the automotive supply base or just appreciate the level of engineering in today’s passenger vehicles, manufacturing plants and engineering houses. This award program has highlighted supplier innovation and vehicle manufacturer-supplier development partnerships for 25 years. With the industry being transformed by autonomous and electrification product technologies as well as ride hailing and ride sharing services
The automotive trade newspaper announced the 35 finalists, from 31 suppliers, for the 2019 competition on October 15, 2019 (http://www.autonews.com/article/20181012/OEM10/181019807/35-finalists-to-vie-for-2019-automotive-news-pace-awards). The PACE awards shine a spotlight on the automotive supply base. I always enjoy listing to the stories of necessity that leads to the inspiration and perspiration and finally commercialization for the industry’s best engineers. And I always have great empathy for the 26 judges that are tasked with deciding, after their dedication of hours of plant visits, executive presentations, and, I am sure heated debates, the final award winners.
While the popular press is having an interesting debate on whether Detroit or Silicon Valley will have the greatest influence over the mobility revolution, the 2019 PACE awards are dominated by the suppliers with the deepest R&D capabilities and longest histories of commercializing innovation. Reviewing the finalists, it is interesting that the vast majority, 26 of the 31 come from what would be considered “traditional suppliers.” And only 6 of the firms are located outside 100 miles of industry’s Detroit epicenter. Perhaps this is the result of selection bias as the process to submit applications, meet with judges, produce promotional materials and the like is not small in budget of executive time and funds, two resources always in short supply in smaller firms or start-ups.
The list of finalists clearly shows where the industry is headed: autonomous – or, at least, highly driver assisted vehicles. While it is difficult to label some technologies with just a single term, 6 of the 35 finalists are squarely in the autonomous vehicle technology area – including an automated driving satellite computer platform from Aptiv to solid-state lidar sensors from Magna Electronics and high definition advanced drivers maps by Ushr. It is interesting that there is greater recognition to innovation that continues to push the efficiency of the internal combustion engine versus commercializing electrified drivetrains. Again, this could be an issue of timing – as the product needs to be on the road. Certainly, there is AxleTech’s integrated electric commercial truck powertrain and Gentherm’s thermoelectric battery thermal management system that are up for recognition, but these are outnumbered by conventional powertrain innovations. These include fuel improvement from Spicer heavy-duty AdvanTEK axles to Tula Technology’s Dynamic Skip Fire Technology that manages cylinder deactivation so vehicles can cruise on a few cylinders while accelerate under full power and GKN Driveline’s modular lightweight propshaft. Every component is targeted for innovation, particularly light-weighting, which is evident from the number of materials up for recognition from suppliers including Valeo Thermal, ArcelorMittal, Material Sciences and Cooper Standard.
The awards will be presented on April 8, 2019 in Detroit’s Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. It is the auto industry’s Emmy, Oscar and Tony awards ceremonies all rolled into one. There are twice as many more suppliers and innovations that will be rolled out than mentioned above and, as such, a great way in one place at one time see a snapshot of the road ahead.