It started out more than 30 years ago as a humble event, a response to stricter government mandates related to automotive safety, fuel and emissions standards. Now the biennual Convergence conference and exhibition is talking about reinventing the automobile.

“With the exponential growth of the world’s population and vehicle ownership rates, advanced electronics – along with advanced propulsion, materials, and telematics – gain ever-increasing importance in the reinvention of the automobile,” says Larry Burns, vice president-General Motors research and development and strategic planning.

“These technology streams are critical to address the energy, emissions, safety and congestion challenges currently associated with today’s vehicles, while making automobiles more affordable, fun and exciting to today’s consumer,” adds Burns, who is serving as Convergence 2006 general chairman.

Burns will give the conference’s opening keynote address Monday, Oct. 16. Convergence 2006 will be held at the Cobo Conference Center in downtown Detroit, October 16-18. Organizers are expecting about 8,000 attendees.

Debate over key issues has been a part of the symposium since it started. In the early 1970s, the only electronic components on cars and trucks were alternators and voltage regulators. Yet the industry foresaw the coming electronics revolution and hoped to harness the technology to find solutions to many of the problems it faced.

It is a situation not unlike today, where electronics technologists, engineers and automotive executives are striving to develop vehicles that are both more appealing to consumers but have a less negative impact on the environment.

More than 90 presentations are scheduled to address advances in alternative powertrains, controls, safety systems and other subjects. Some feature especially intriguing, almost offbeat titles, such as “The Need” (safety systems) “Reinvent User Experience (Infotainment)” and “Roadblocks (safety).”

Among the special events will be a blue-ribbon panel on supplier and OEM cooperation in embedded electronic software controls and a lunchtime moderated panel of top electrical engineers from the world’s major auto makers discussing global E/E standards and the commoditization of operating systems and control units.

The embedded-software panel will be moderated by Gerhard Schmidt, vice president-research and advanced engineering, Ford Motor Co., and will feature Continental AG CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann; Wolfgang Runge, executive officer steering gears division-ZF Friedrichshafen AG; David Wohleen, vice chairman-Delphi Corp.; and Hans-Georg Frischkorn, executive director-global electrical systems, controls and software, GM.

The lunchtime panel will be moderated by Paul Hansen, of the Hansen Report on Automotive Electronics, and include six panelists, including Toshimi Abo, deputy general manager- electronics engineering division, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.; William Mattingly, vice president-electrical/electronics engineering, DaimlerChrysler Corp.; and Toyohei Nakajima, senior chief engineer, Honda R&D Co. Ltd.

The typically well-attended panel discussions (which can attract 400-500 attendees) often yield great insights into future events.

A panel discussion at Convergence 2002 is believed to have been the first public discussion to dispel the myth of an imminent conversion to 42-volt vehicle electronic systems. Panelists warned that despite the hype, the conversion likely would not occur until the end of the decade.

That prediction proved remarkably accurate. In fact, two years later, DaimlerChrysler AG announced it was giving up entirely on 42-volt systems.

Convergence 2004 tackled sensitive topics such as reliability problems with sophisticated vehicle electronics, another issue that recently has raised its ugly head and trashed the quality and buyer- satisfaction ratings of many premium brands.

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 funding to assist teachers and educators in providing learning opportunities for students in mathematics, science and engineering. SAE International is providing the technical program and development of the conference.

Details and registration information are available at sae.org/convergence.

dwinter@wardsauto.com