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There’s a saying in Detroit that you can tell the health of the auto industry by the size of the shrimp at the Auto Show Charity Preview event in January…   Applying that test to the shrimp at the reception at the annual OESA Outlook conference, things are good for the Automotive Supplier Industry.

More important, in a repeating and always popular session on economic outlook, Nariman Behravesh and Michael Robinet of IHS, and John Hoffecker of AlixPartners presented a comforting assessment of economic trends driving the industry, at least for the next few years and in North America and
Northern/Western Europe.  Challenges in the balance of the Euro Zone, particularly Greece, were noted as well as the issues China is facing with over-capacity in their domestic auto industry.  Coincidentally, this last comment was also discussed in this week’s Time magazine, noting that China has yet to be able to  manufacture a passenger car suitable for export to any but extremely price-sensitive markets.  Time also noted China’s challenge in moving from “workshop” to innovator, a pre-requisite to being a significant player in the global industry.

The topic of Innovation, and it’s kissing cousin Talent, was also the most commonly discussed issue across all presenters.  Starting with Jaqui Dedo’s welcoming state of the industry through a series of insightful commentaries from the perspective of individual companies and industry analysts, Talent trumped supply chain, cost, and other operational issues as a key driver of world class performance.  Not that this is a news flash, we all acknowledge that great products and great business depend on good people, but interesting to see a broad array of presenters focus on it.

OESA and Deloitte introduced their contribution to the talent search with the finals of a competition for college students to produce short videos on why the auto industry is “cool” as a way to sell career consideration to the upcoming generation. Attendees had the chance to vote for one of three finalists (  Not sure whether by design or coincidence, all three finalists featured university teams competing in the Formula SAE race car series… it was great to see the passion of these kids (full disclosure - son of friends is on the Formula SAE team at Rose-Hulman), and we can look forward to their contributions to the industry over time.

Speaking of contributions, I’ll close adding my voice to the other key theme of the conference.. offering congratulations and thanks to retiring OESA President and CEO Neil DeKoker. I had the chance to meet with Neil at MBS in Traverse City years ago when he was just putting OESA together. Since then, under Neil’s leadership and with the support of strong staff and industry volunteers,  it’s grown to a vital organization serving the automotive industry.  Thanks Neil, for your service and closing out your tenure with a terrific conference.

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