DETROIT – If U.S. car companies want to have competitive products in the future, they need to do a better job of enticing young engineers into automotive careers today, General Motors North America President Mark Reuss tells the SAE Convergence conference.

The conference deals with the merging of electronics and mechanics in vehicles and is deeply involved with engineering, scholarship and training programs, but Reuss tells the audience at Cobo Center here that the auto industry and U.S. as a whole are falling short.

Out of 30 developed countries, the U.S. ranked 21st in student science literacy and 25th in math literacy. What’s more, 68% of U.S. 8th-graders tested below proficient levels in math and reading.

“For a country that has always placed such a high value on education, the U.S. is lagging frightfully behind. Clearly, we need to be better,” Reuss says.

The GM executive says primary and secondary education must be improved. More students need to be encouraged to pursue classes in science, technology, engineering and math, and auto makers must find ways to entice engineering graduates into the industry.

Luring new engineers into automotive should not be that difficult, Reuss argues. A starting salary for an engineering graduate is about $55,000, more than beginning salaries in architecture, law, business, computers and education.

“We need to convince (students) that the automotive field is the most dynamic, exciting industry on Earth, because it is,” he says. “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. The young people entering our colleges today are the advanced-battery engineers, designers and light-metals experts of tomorrow.”

Adds Reuss: “We, OEMs, suppliers, engineering firms, we all have to recruit these kids vigorously and sell our industry like our livelihood depends on it. Because it does.”

dwinter@wardsauto.com