TRAVERSE CITY, MI – U.S. auto makers may be reeling under intense pressure from foreign competitors, but that hasn’t slowed their collaborative technology efforts under the banner of the United States Council for Automotive Research, or USCAR.

The opposite actually may be true, but USCAR has kept a relatively low profile in recent years.

Formalized in 1992 and with activities dating to 1988, USCAR is an exclusive club: Its only members are General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Daimler Chrysler AG. Research and development vice presidents at each company are its de facto board of directors.

Since its formation, 13 consortiums or partnerships have been created covering a wide range of technologies, including composites, batteries, recycling, occupant safety and manufacturing. They work together and with government agencies and laboratories, universities and others.

USCAR Executive Director Don Walkowicz tells Ward’s here at the Management Briefing Seminars that a new consortium focusing on aerodynamics is being formed to examine technology aimed at improving fuel economy and cutting noise by reducing wind drag.

Under the Clinton Admin., the USCAR-sponsored Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles got widespread publicity.

That effort now has been superseded by two other initiatives, says Walkowicz: FreedomCAR (for cooperative automotive research) and the FreedomCAR & Fuel Partnership. The latter includes Shell Oil’s hydrogen unit, Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, British Petroleum and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Its mission reads like FDR’s Four Freedoms:

  • Freedom from foreign petroleum dependence.
  • Freedom from pollutant and carbon monoxide emissions.
  • Freedom for Americans to drive where they want, when they want and in the vehicle of their choice.
  • Freedom to obtain fuel affordably and conveniently.

“We’re working with DOE in FreedomCAR to get ready for the hydrogen economy,” Walkowicz says. “This includes advanced combustion technology, the hydrogen infrastructure and advanced batteries. Even fuel cells will need batteries.”

The work also includes examining things such as the hydrogen fuel storage infrastructure, codes and standards, he adds.

In 2004, USCAR teamed with the U.S. Department of Commerce in an alliance for technology and engineering in automotive manufacturing. Walkowicz doesn’t think the U.S. auto makers have lost their manufacturing punch, “but we’re trying to help make them more competitive,” he says.

Walkowicz became USCAR’s first executive director in 1994 on loan from GM, where he was director-business technical leveraging. He returned to GM in 1999, retired in 2000 and rejoined USCAR earlier this year.