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Clemson’s CU-ICAR Program Shapes the Future of the Automotive Industry

September 2, 2014

What began as just an idea in 2003 has grown into a 250-acre advanced technology research campus, which operates as a unique nexus of academia, the automotive industry and government. Strategically located along Interstate 85 in one of the fastest growing automotive regions in North America, Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) is home to the nation’s first PhD program in Automotive Engineering as well as cutting edge research to solve some of the most challenging problems of the automotive industry.

Led by Fred Cartwright, a veteran of the automotive industry with 32+ years of experience, CU-ICAR continues to garner national and international attention for its innovative model of applied research and industry partnerships that effectively produces a workforce that satisfies industry needs. In fact, on a recent visit to the CU-ICAR campus, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker called the CU-ICAR concept “exactly what we need to replicate nationwide to promote economic growth,” according to a Clemson University media release.

One such CU-ICAR initiative gaining worldwide attention is the vehicle prototype program known as Deep Orange. The program provides students with experience in financial and market analysis, vehicle design, development, prototyping and production planning and gives them an opportunity to work with numerous automotive industry partners to develop next-generation vehicle concepts. Sponsors of the program have included BMW, Toyota, Mazda and General Motors. The skills and experience students gain during the hands-on Deep Orange program are one of the many reasons CU-ICAR is developing not just graduates, but leaders in automotive engineering.

The model seems to be working as 93% of graduates are employed in the automotive industry, 22% of which are in South Carolina. CU-ICAR graduates have gone on to work at places such as Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Toyota, Honda, Audi, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Daimler, BMW, Michelin, Tesla, Goodyear, Navistar, Caterpillar, Mitsubishi, Bosch, Cummins, John Deere and Magna.

Of course, essential to the success of this model is CU-ICAR’s impressive roster of industry partners, including  Michelin, BMW, Sage Automotive, Koyo JTEKT, Ford, Toyota, Staubli, Bridgestone, Mazda, Bosch, GM, Timken, Chrysler and many more. Together, CU-ICAR and partners benefit from engaging the knowledge of the industry with the new talent of automotive engineering, evidenced by both the ideas and the graduates coming out of the Deep Orange program, as just one example.

This industry-driven model has led to successful partnerships with companies from around the world, many of whom are realizing new opportunities and efficiencies in their CU-ICAR partnerships and Upstate South Carolina-based facilities.

In the past two years, Michelin and BMW have announced major expansions in their manufacturing output from Upstate South Carolina facilities. Since Michelin’s 2012 announcement of a $750 million earthmover tire facility in an Anderson, S.C., factory, South Carolina is now the nation’s leading producer of tires for the third straight year. BMW also made a 2014 announcement of a $1 billion investment to boost its production out of Spartanburg, S.C. by 50 percent. Both companies cite a response to global demand, workforce and preparation for a competitive position in long-term future of the automotive industry as determining factors in their decision to expand in South Carolina – and it’s no coincidence that both companies were founding partners of CU-ICAR.  

But Michelin and BMW are not the only ones significantly benefiting from operating in South Carolina. The state is home to more than 250 automotive-related companies and suppliers, employing more than 45,000 South Carolinians. Adding to this is the growing roster of industry partners-from start-ups to more mature companies-that are locating on or near the CU-ICAR campus to take advantage of its research capabilities and expertise.

The takeaway: the best-in-class collaborations between CU-ICAR and its partners puts the program at the forefront of the race to shape the future of transportation. As the economics of innovation and technology take on paramount importance for movers and shakers of the automotive industry, CU-ICAR’s pioneering model may very well be what propels a few ahead of the pack.

TOPICS: Automotive, Colleges & Universities