Automotive manufacturers and suppliers stand to benefit from a new collaborative relationship with universities that can help improve competitiveness in this relatively new industry in the Southeast.

UAB is among seven universities joining the Automotive Research Alliance (ARA) to help industry leaders resolve challenges arising in education, technology and manufacturing.

“One of the reasons this alliance has been put together is to get the right focus on which suppliers need to change the processes that they use,” said Thomas E. Jackson, Ph.D., director of research engineering in the School of Engineering.

“The automotive industry is a very competitive one,” said Jackson, who is leading UAB’s involvement in the alliance. “The profit margins are very narrow for many of the suppliers; therefore, investments in research are made cautiously.

“The real question for them is: What is the return on investment?”

The ARA is a collaboration of the National Transportation Research Center Inc. (NTRCI), the Tennessee Valley Authority, Oak Ridge National Laboratory plus University of Alabama, Auburn University, Clemson University, University of Kentucky, Mississippi State University and the University of Tennessee.

Jackson, who expects this relationship to bring automotive-related research to the university community, said UAB already is well positioned to contribute to research and development in the areas of casting and composites.

“We have relatively unique facilities for doing the casting research,” Jackson said of the UAB Casting Engineering Laboratory, which focuses on research and development in lost-foam casting production and other areas of iron, aluminum and steel casting. “We historically have done a lot of casting research for automotive clients.”

"In areas of public transportations, work at UAB largely has been concentrated in?composites,” Jackson said. “With the cost of fuel going up, weight will be a big issue, and composites are a good way to reduce weight while reducing cost simultaneously.”