Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Supply and Demand for Automotive Talent

Here is a quick Literature review for a project I'm working on that will survey the landscape for doctoral students in America studying advanced automotive technologies. This is to test a hypothesis that exacerbated demand by consumer behavior, energy, environment and other macro-forces will NOT be met by the pace of researchers coming out of schools qualified to work on systems engineering to design tomorrow's digital vehicles. Geography will play a major role, including nationalism. In the war between Detroit and imports, Japan is pursuing an in-house strategy while the Big 3 follow an out-sourcing strategy. If the automobile industry moves towards a built to order direct model, such as Dell assembling computers after they are sold, the R&D strategies for the world's largest business may become the most influential key success factors.

Automotive Education at the Doctoral Level


A Survey of Automotive Education at the Doctoral Level in American Universities

John E. Acheson

Community College of Southern Nevada

A Survey of Automotive Education at the Doctoral Level in American Universities

Automotive research is the world’s largest Research and Development (R&D) effort. In Natural Capitalism, Hawken and Lovins (1999) emphasized that automotive transportation is the world’s largest industry. In a Washington D.C. speech at a National Press Club Luncheon, Jim Press (2006), the highest ranking non-Japanese executive to ever earn a seat on Toyota’s Board of Directors, added

It’s the largest manufacturing industry in the nation…responsible for one out of every 10 American jobs and generates nearly 4% of the nation’s GDP. The U.S. auto industry spends more than $15 billion ($22.7 million per day) on Research & Development, more than any other manufacturing industry. We buy more metals, plastics, rubber and textiles than any other business including more computer chips than even the computer industry!

American doctoral students researching automotive technologies are studied in this paper. It is hypothesized that the supply of this primary R&D input, human resources, will be strained in coming decades. As macro-forces including consumer behaviors, governmental policies, energy economics and environmental issues exacerbate demand for automotive R&D, the author investigates if the number of graduates will keep up. The following literature review reveals geography as a key variable in the location, direction and careers of RnD doctoral graduates.

Where does the manpower come from? It’s widely known that college graduates supply the majority of human resources for R&D efforts. According to Landis & Svestka (1983), engineers are an important national resource in which the supply and demand of manpower ensures economic growth: demand is driven by economics, supply is simply linked to an appropriate number of graduates.

In an article that researched American higher education, Folger (1972) studied the relationship between the supply of college graduates and manpower. He concluded that shortages and surpluses occur frequently in America and found weak links between the number of graduates and job openings. In other words, supply rarely responds to demand. Folger’s work supports the hypothesis that there could be a growing shortage of automotive engineering graduates because demand is increasing while supply grows slowly.

One of the gaps in supply and demand is geography. Cassola (2007) believes that graduates choose to stay in the same states as their schools even though the advanced manufacturing degrees he studied were “hot commodities.” M.E. (2007) described geographical ties at Clemson: the proximity of industry and academia is an important part of Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research’s vision to be “the premier automotive and motorsports research and educational facility in the world”. It’s no surprise that the center is located 45 minutes away from campus, centered in one of America’s leading automotive industry research clusters. Michelin’s donation of tire machinery is a concrete example of the importance of geography (M.E., 2007). In a study testing the hypothesis of American workplace attitudes at a Ford’s River Rouge Plant, Southworth & Stepan-Norris (2003) found that “geographic separation shaped class-based identity.”

In the auto industry, national identity appears to be an instrumental R&D variable. The national origin of the R&D armies in the trade war between Detroit and Japan could play a very significant role in business survival. According to author Hughes (2006), automaker supply chains are highly nationalistic. The majority of American automakers rely on thousands of supply chains linked to R&D centers based in the United States. In other words, R&D efforts are often outsourced to suppliers.

Acheson’s (2006) research shows that leading Japanese automakers maintain advanced R&D facilities in their home countries. Unlike American rivals, Toyota performs R&D in-house usually in Japan. To help build the electronic brain that controls electricity for the one million Toyota hybrids on the road like the iconic Prius, Toyota invested $1 billion a secret factory tucked into the hills North of Nagoya. Takeshi Yaegashi known as the “father of the hybrid” stayed with a single automaker from college grad to industry changing technology. His work cleaning up smog devices started decades before his ground-breaking hybrid R&D (Fairley, 2004). 30 year careers at the same company, may give Japanese automakers a competitive advantage in advanced automotive technologies. At Honda, Sato (2006) made clear that all Honda employees were hired for life: forbidden to work for any other automaker, even after retirement.

The literature review reveals that geography could be one of the most important variables in studying the supply and demand of human resources for the world’s largest R&D effort. These findings suggest that the study could evolve into a model that predicts a gap in the supply of doctoral graduates vs. demand for automotive R&D manpower.


Acheson, J. (2006). The Hybrid Phenomenon. Copyrighted masters thesis, San Francisco State University, San Francisco.

Cassola, J. (2007). More than spinning their wheels. Techniques: Connecting education and careers. 66, 16-18.

Southworth, C. & Stepan-Norris, J. (2003), The geography of class in an industrial American city: Connections between workplace and neighborhood politics. Social Problems, 50, 319-348.

Folger, J.K. (1972). The job market for college graduates. The Journal of Higher Education, 43, 203-222.

Hawken, P. & Lovins A. & Lovins, L.H. (1999), Natural Capitalism (Boston, New York, London: Little Brown and Company), 22.

Hughes, K.H. (2006), Are the wheels coming off the American auto industry? Chronicle of Higher Education. 52.

Landis, F. & Svestka, J.A. (1983). The demand for engineers –- projections through 1987. Management Science Quarterly, 29, 455-464.

M.E. (2007). Parking garage at Clemson’s University’s automotive research center. University Business. 10, 20.

Press, J. (2006). Toyota North American Press Room: Speeches, July 18, 2006, retrieved from, accessed August 15, 2006.

Sato, M. (2006). The Honda Myth, New York: Vertical, Inc.

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