Cobo Controversy in Action

Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

The Detroit papers and late-night newscasts have been chock full of stories in recent weeks about the battle over Cobo Hall, a venue in great need of repair and expansion but also the subject of a tug-of-war between the Detroit City Council and governments from outlaying areas.

And the controversy fails to escape notice of those in attendance here at the SAE World Congress.

During a panel on future battery technology at the FEV Powertrain Innovation Forum Tuesday, a malfunction sends an eardrum-splitting screech through the sound system before briefly cutting out the audio entirely during a presentation by Michael Crane, managing director of North American hybrid-electric-vehicle programs for Continental Corp.

“I saw last night on the news where they’re arguing about Cobo Hall and who should pay for the (renovations),” Crane says of the debate over whether to take the venue away from financially ailing Detroit and put it under control of a regional authority.

“Clearly, not the auto industry,” he says. “But they should quit arguing and get these things fixed.”

What’s in a Name?

"Some suggest that instead of General Motors, the company now should be called 'Government Motors,'” deadpans one panelist at SAE.

Take Your Best Shot, Nancy

Nancy Gioia, director-hybrid vehicle programs for Ford, clearly was enjoying her role as a moderator, rather than a presenter, at a session on future battery technology in the FEV Powertrain Innovation Forum on Tuesday.

When panelists hedged a bit on pinpointing how soon lithium-ion would replace nickel-metal-hydride batteries in all electrified vehicles worldwide, citing “a couple” of auto makers’ publicly resisting the move, Gioia was quick to jump in.

“So (the question is) how fast will Toyota and Honda migrate?” she says with a mischievous grin. “Oh, should I have said that? That’s the power of moderation.”

Later, hitting up the panel with a tough question about warranties on batteries for dedicated EVs, she says, “I love this. These are the questions I usually have to answer.”

She did answer the question for a reporter later, however, saying Ford would make the switch in its hybrids when Li-ion suppliers can deliver better performance for the same or lower cost as NiMH batteries.

“Our customers don’t care what technology we use,” she says. “They are concerned about performance and cost.”