What to expect at MIT’s future of driving event this week

BEGINNING AND END: The Buick Verano was a nice looking vehicle when it was introduced to the New England Motor Press Association in February of 2012. The Automotive News has reported that 2017 will be the model’s final year, a victim of the market’s push away from sedans and toward more crossovers.
BEGINNING AND END: The Buick Verano was a nice looking vehicle when it was introduced to the New England Motor Press Association in February of 2012. The Automotive News has reported that 2017 will be the model’s final year, a victim of the market’s push away from sedans and toward more crossovers. –Bill Griffith

“I’m with you … but where are we?’’

That’s been one of my lame jokes for years.

Today, it describes our status as drivers and automotive consumers as we face the industry’s future. We’re swimming together in a river of high-tech advances with more coming weekly.

Manufacturers are improving fuel economy in a variety of ways. Traditional internal combustion engines are being tweaked with direct injection, turbo- and super-charging, stop-start systems. They are also developing new generations of transmissions ranging from CVTs to 10-speed units.

Diesels, despite the VW software scandal, will continue to be viable. So will hybrids, plug-ins, and electric vehicles. Then there are the hydrogen-powered, fuel-cell units that still fly under the radar on the East Coast but are making inroads in California.

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But those are things we already know.

What else is coming?

In recent weeks, Toyota announced it had made a major breakthrough in magnesium battery technology that holds promise for lighter, safer, less expensive batteries with longer life.

Another company, H2 Energy Renaissance, says it’s developed a hydrogen generator that safely and cleanly produces 97 percent pure hydrogen.

However, there are more questions than answers for most of us.

That brings us to the 6th Annual Automotive Technology conference at MIT this Thursday (May 26), an event jointly hosted by the university and the New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA). Tickets are available at http://conference.nempa.org/.

“We are thrilled to present this annual conference with this year’s event’s theme of ‘Technology intersecting Design,’’’ says Craig Fitzgerald, NEMPA’s president.

“As we think ahead to what transportation and mobility will look like in the next decade and beyond, our minds can only wonder at the possibilities. Tapping the minds of our distinguished panelists will give us at least a sketch.’’

Those panelists include:

Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, an enterprise created to bridge the gap between fundamental scientific research and product development. Its goal is to enhance automotive safety and ultimately create a car that is incapable of causing a crash. Pratt will be returning to MIT where he earned a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science. He has a special interest in robotics and human-machine collaboration.

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Mary Gustanski, vice president of engineering and program management for Delphi Automotive Systems. She brings insight into development and technology for a leading supplier for auto manufacturers.

Timothy Anness, head of advance design, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), North America. He is responsible for advance design packaging, both interior and exterior, for all Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge brand vehicles.

Prof. John J. Leonard of MIT’s mechanical engineering department, an expert in robotics and automation.

Michelle Finamore, one of the curators of the Museum of Fine Arts’ current exhibition of #techstyle, brings a knowledge of 3-D printing and design items that react to noise and the environment.

Among the questions that will be addressed:

1. What will the self-driving vehicles of the future look like?

2. What materials will they be made of?

3. Will there always be buttons on the dashboard?

4. What designs will appeal to Boomers? Millennials? Generation Z?

5. Does technology determine design or is it the reverse?

6. What is the role of design in solving the industry’s challenges?

The program, at the MIT Media Lab at 75 Amherst St., Cambridge, starts with registration at 11:30 a.m., followed by luncheon speaker Eric Wingfield of Ford, who will be speaking about “smart mobility,’’ the company’s plan to rise to the next level in connectivity and mobility. Wingfield will speak about how that applies to autonomous vehicles of all sorts, the customer experience, and how data and analytics play into the planning.

The panel discussion runs from 1:30-4 p.m.

In the evening, NEMPA holds its annual awards banquet, including for its official Winter Vehicle of New England winner.

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Envision the Verano’s Demise

Buick got great news back in February when the Verano was singled out as the top-ranked compact vehicle in the J.D. Power 2016 vehicle dependability study.

The study surveys owner-reported problems concerning three-year-old vehicles within the past 12 months.

Trouble is, passenger cars seem to be passé—at least when it comes to sales and profits.

Last week, Automotive News reported that the Verano likely will be phased out after the 2017 model year, a victim of the coming Envision compact SUV.

Etc.

Adesa Boston, the Framingham automotive auction house, holds its 16th annual classic car and motorcycle show today from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at its facility on Western Avenue in Framingham. The show benefits diabetes research … If you’re in the Wilmington-Burlington area this morning, there’s a classic car cruise leaving the Wilmington Sonic restaurant and cruising to the Burlington American Legion … Next Sunday, Nashua’s Gate City Corvettes hold their 36th show, a big spring fling at the Anheuser-Busch plant on Daniel Webster in Merrimack NH, with more than 150 trophies in 49 classes … Congratulations to the folks at Sullivan Tire, celebrating the opening of their 82nd location at 263 Beacon St. in Somerville.

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