Jack Schmidt is on a mission: He wants nothing less than a "United Nations of the technical community" working with industry and governments to harmonize automotive regulations and specifications.

Mr. Schmidt spent 39 years at General Motors Corp., retiring in 1993 as director of powertrain systems in GM's Powertrain Group. He also served as president of the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1992.

This year he's completing a two-year term as president of the Paris-based Federation Internationale des Societes d'Ingenieurs des Techniques de I'Automobile, which goes by the acronym FISITA and translates into English as the International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies.

FISITA doesn't make standards, but with 28 member societies around the world--including the SAE--that have a combined membership of 130,000, it's a catalyst for getting action on automotive technical issues.

Mr. Schmidt is convinced that common standards are needed to increase competitiveness among the world's automakers, keep costs down and vehicle prices within range for buyers around the world while simultaneously addressing critical issues such as the environment, safety, congestion and recycling.

The tall, thin, Ohio-born 63-year-old engineer is getting more support almost daily (see feature, p.41). The focus for the effort he's championing is a FISITA-SPONsored World Congress being planned for fall 1998 in Paris, as part of the organization's 50th anniversary.

A veteran of the U.S. regulatory wars that began with safety and emissions mandates in the 1960s and included corporate average fuel economy standards in the '70s, Mr. Schmidt emphasizes that times have changed as vehicle tastes and issues such as congestion have coalesced on a worldwide basis.

"The big difference is that most of the action in the '60s was government-driven," he says. "This time it's different--it's industry-driven.

"If you're going to globalize, you need common standards. The developing countries want 1996 technology. It's a big job to bring them up. We've got pollution now. What happens when the new countries" move into the automotive mainstream? he asks.

Although there's ample meat to gnaw on, he'd like to see commonization take place before new technology, such as intelligent vehicle systems, start moving into vehicles.

Not that action has been lacking. Mr. Schmidt cites numerous recent examples of progress' The U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR) is developing common electrical connector standards, for example, and some national barriers are collapsing. Cars that meet U.S. emissions standards no longer need to be re-certified in many nations. And numerous standards and procedures promulgated by the International Standards Organization (ISO) are being adopted by automakers.

There also was significant movement at several international conferences conducted late last year. At the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, where 100 top U.S. and European executives convened in Seville, a policy statement urged the U.S. and European Community "to develop common and open standards wherever possible." That was followed a few weeks later in Madrid where U.S. and EC government leaders agreed to work together "to strengthen regulatory cooperation" and "address technical and non-tariff barriers to trade."

When environmentalists met at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero during 1992 to zero in on automotive-related issues, the technical groups such a FISITA were not represented. Mr. Schmidt says that won't happen again.

"We need boundryless (rules) so engineers can handle the job around the world."

What can individual engineers do? "They've got to stop being reactive and start being proactive," says Mr. Schmidt, an engineer who clearly practices what he preaches.