Technology usually is the star at the Convergence Transportation Electronics Conference, but the confab is taking a bit of a different slant for 2008. This time the event focuses on the consumer.

It is an unusual but not altogether surprising development. Problems with the reliability and user-friendliness of overly complex automotive electronic systems have torpedoed the customer satisfaction ratings of numerous automotive brands in recent years, so a bit of computer-geek soul searching about what the customer really wants seems in order.

In keeping with this consumer focus, Chrysler LLC Vice Chairman and President Jim Press will round out the program, delivering the final keynote address Oct. 22 after attendees have had three days of deep dives on everything from how far advanced safety can go to sustainability and the environment.

Press seems a natural choice to deliver the conference's final address because he plays a major role in refocusing Chrysler on the needs of its customers, enhancing the product portfolio and rebuilding relationships with dealers.

At Chrysler, Press is responsible for North American sales, international sales, global marketing, product strategy and service and parts.

Prior to joining Chrysler in September 2007, Press had a highly successful career at Toyota Motor Corp., rising to president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America and a senior managing director of the parent company.

Press is not the only consumer-focused speaker at the 3-day conference, which takes place Oct. 20-22 at Detroit's Cobo Center.

Mel Karmazin, CEO of satellite radio company Sirius XM Radio, will deliver the opening address on Oct. 20.

Sirius XM Radio, the company newly formed from the merger of Sirius and XM satellite radio companies, has contracts with every major auto maker and has more than 18.5 million subscribers, including commercial-free music, sports, news, talk, traffic and weather.

Previously, Karmazin was president and COO of Viacom Inc., one of the world's largest entertainment and media companies whose properties include CBS Television, MTV Networks, BET, Showtime Networks, Infinity, Viacom Outdoor, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Television, Paramount Parks, UPN Blockbuster and Simon & Schuster.

Gene Kranz, the famous former NASA director of mission operations, follows Karmazin as a keynoter the next day of the program. Kranz was the flight director for many Apollo missions, including the Apollo 11 lunar landing, and he led the “Tiger Team” for the successful return of the Apollo 13 crew.

No Convergence conference would be complete without a keynote by a heavy hitter from the automotive electronics community.

Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann, member of the executive board, Continental AG and president, Continental Automotive Systems, fills the bill on the conference's third day, Oct. 22.

Neumann joined Continental in 2004 as president of its automotive division and member of the executive board. In addition, he was appointed corporate technology officer, where he is responsible for leading-edge technological innovations all across the company.

Prior to that, Neumann worked at Volkswagen AG, first as head of electronics research, then group research, group-wide electronics strategy. From 2002 to 2004 he worked as the head of the electrics and electronics unit.

Convergence is owned and operated by the Convergence Transportation Electronics Assn. Proceeds from the event fund the Convergence Education Foundation, which is dedicated to developing programs and providing funds to assist teachers and educators in providing learning opportunities for students in mathematics, science and engineering.

The every-other-year event was started more than three decades ago, in response to stricter government mandates related to automotive safety, fuel-economy and emissions standards. The conference and exhibition now have turned into a major event that makes news and influences public policy.

SAE International provides the technical program and is developing the conference.

Details and registration information are available at

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