Electric car forum at ICAR could be jobs spark

Organizers hope visitor's see Greenville's potential

By Rudolph Bell, Staff Writer

Greenville becomes ground zero for electric vehicle research for five days starting Sunday when the leading professional society for electrical engineers kicks off its first international conference on electric vehicles at the TD Convention Center.

The conference -- sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers -- will bring together leading corporate and academic researchers from around the world.

Local organizers say they hope it boosts Greenville's reputation as a center for automotive technology and forges new relationships that lead to job creation down the road.

In one event that's not on the program, they have arranged a private meeting with industry figures to lay out plans for an electric vehicle test track at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center.

Among the major corporations expected to be represented at the conference are BMW, Siemens, Bosch, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Verizon, ABB, John Deere, Duke Energy, IBM and General Electric.

"We have spent a lot of time in the past year and a half building business relationships with companies that we hope after they see Greenville would like to come back and invest in the Upstate," said Lee Stogner, a local engineer and marketing consultant.

Stogner helped organize the conference as chairman of IEEE's electric vehicle initiative, with help from Joachim Taiber, a professor at Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research who is also the conference chair.

Stogner said he is expecting about 600 attendees representing 70 companies and 70 universities from 40 countries, including such faraway places as Israel, South Africa, Argentina, Iran and Croatia.

Much of the conference will be taken up with the presentation of technical papers, but the agenda also includes speeches by leading industry figures such as Andrew Brown, executive director and chief technologist for Delphi, the global automotive supplier; Jay Iyengar, head of electrified propulsion systems for Chrysler; and Dennis R. Beal, vice president of global vehicles for FedEx Express.

Representing the federal government -- and its huge grant-giving capabilities -- will be Pat Davis, director of vehicle technologies at the U.S. Energy Department, and Walter Kulyk, director of the office of mobility innovation at the Federal Transit Administration.

Two national laboratories are also scheduled to be represented at the conference, as is the German Aerospace Center.

An exhibit hall will include the ActiveE, BMW's all-electric car, and displays by Flextronics, Eaton Corp. and FEV.

The conference will marry two engineering disciplines, automotive engineering and electrical engineering, with remarks from the presidents of the leading professional societies in both fields, IEEE and SAE International. Together, they have more than 500,000 members worldwide.

Attendees are invited to tour ICAR, where Suzanne Dickerson, director of business development, will describe the research capabilities, including a new testing lab expected to open in the fall.

Dickerson said the lab will be used to test parts that go in the interiors of vehicles, such as instrument panels, and will be located in the new Center for Emerging Technologies, where Clemson also plans a battery lab.

The conference also will bring together competitors.

For example, speakers include Dale Hill, co-founder of Proterra, the Greenville-based maker of battery-powered transit buses, as well as Michael Austin, a vice president with BYD, a Chinese company backed by Warren Buffet that also makes battery-powered transit buses.

Marc Gottschalk, Proterra's chief business development officer and general counsel, said Austin isn't welcome to join other conference attendees for a tour of Proterra's factory along Interstate 85.

"It's not like we have a bad relationship with BYD. We have a good relationship with them," Gottschalk said. "But there's no reason to be opening your doors all the way to a competitor."

Julian Weber, head of e-mobility innovation at BMW, is scheduled to speak, as is Michael Taljonik, manager at MBTech, a German technology company partly owned by Daimler, which makes Mercedes-Benz, BMW's arch rival in the luxury car market.

Conference attendees also will have a chance to ride in electric and hybrid-electric cars made by BMW, Nissan and Chevrolet at SCTAC, formerly Donaldson Center, on an inactive runway where Taiber and Jody Bryson, SCTAC president, hope to develop a test track for electric vehicles.

Bryson said he and Taiber plan to meet privately with potential investors and users of the planned track at SCTAC on Friday following the conference.

Then in April, Bryson said he and Taiber will travel to Washington to meet with officials from the departments of energy and transportation.

Corporations have already donated $600,000 to study the plan, dubbed Project Green, though the Energy Department rejected an application for up to $50 million in grant funding.

"What we're proving is that Greenville can be a location for a large international conference," Taiber said. "IEE and SAE do many conferences every year. Now we are on their radar."

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