Ticket to Ride

Birgit Behrendt, Ford’s executive purchasing director-global programs and The Americas, says when she agreed to speak at this year's MBS, she had no idea she would fly from her office in Cologne on a one-way ticket.

Behrendt learned last week she was promoted to her new job, which includes assuming the duties of a retiring Paul Stokes.

"(Stokes) was a coach and a colleague, and he surely will be missed," she says of the longtime purchasing executive.

Zipped Lips

Conference attendees are curious whether General Motors Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre plans to mention the auto maker's expected initial public offering during his address here tomorrow. The MBS, they say, would be the perfect venue.

GM reportedly will file for an IPO when it reveals second-quarter earnings this month. The timing would allow the U.S. government to begin unwinding its controversial 60.8% stake in the auto maker before mid-term elections in November.

However, sources tell Ward's Whitacre will not talk about GM going public. And he may not have a choice, since Securities and Exchange Commission rules call for a "quiet period" of up to three months ahead of any IPO.

Details of GM's IPO arguably have been the worst-kept secret in Detroit.

Pass on the Brown Acid

In an effort to be gracious, James O'Donnell, president of BMW of North America, compliments CAR for its 45 years of work in the automotive industry and annual conference in Traverse City.

He then elicits a few groans by describing the Management Briefing Seminars as a "sort of automobile Woodstock in that it succeeds in bringing people together from disparate backgrounds and far-flung locations, albeit for a much more serious purpose."

To those old enough to remember Woodstock, the imagery of CAR's conservative attendees smoking pot and cavorting naked in the mud in front of Dave Cole wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt is a bit too much.

Doling Out Dollars Per Kilowatt

“The biggest problem we see,” in terms of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, “is the variability of public policy,” says Robert Bienenfeld, senior manager of environment and energy strategy at American Honda.

Bienenfeld lists a history of green powertrain technologies determined by a sort of common consent over the years: 1985 methanol, 1990 electric, 1998 hybrid, 2003 fuel cells, 2008 ethanol and 2009 plug-in hybrid.

The problem for Honda is the U.S. federal government is choosing technologies, and not results, with its incentives, he says. “Once a technology reaches commercialization, we need standards and a level playing field – performance-based incentives.

“Today we have incentives of dollars per kilowatt hours. That does not incentivize a reduction of CO2 or energy security. It only incentivizes kilowatt hours.”

Getting Fuel to Battle Field Major Burden

Grace Bochenek, with the U.S. Army TARDEC, which studies future vehicle technologies for the military, says getting fuel to soldiers in the field represents "a major burden on the battlefield."

Supplying fuel also requires a tremendous logistics effort, she says, putting many American lives at stake. Just a 1% gain in fuel economy would save dollars, energy and, most importantly, lives.

Turn-About Fair Play?

BorgWarner CEO Tim Manganello, speaking of a panel he shared with Ford, BMW and Hyundai execs, remarks he was with his No. 2, 4 and 6 customers.

“Dave (Cole) assured me they wouldn’t ask for a price reduction, but he didn’t say I couldn’t ask for a price increase.”