Magna creates tech council to explore ‘future innovation projects’

on May4

Tony Fadell: “Magna’s deep vehicle systems knowledge and electronics capabilities, combined with its global engineering and manufacturing expertise, are remarkable.” Photo credit: Joe Wilssens

UPDATED: 5/3/17 3:31 pm ET – adds Fadell comments

Magna International has created a technology advisory council to help the Canadian auto parts manufacturer identify additional business opportunities.

The company said in a statement the council of six will “contribute to future innovation projects” and “provide direction to Magna’s technology road map.”

The council is led by Magna’s chief technology officer Swamy Kotagiri.

“The pace of innovation in the automotive industry is like nothing we have ever seen before, creating even more challenges and opportunities,” Kotagiri said in the same statement.

Magna has been busy investing in technology. It’s one of several backers of Peloton Technology, a company developing vehicle-to-vehicle technology that would improve the fuel efficiency of commercial trucks. In March, the company pledged $5 million to the Vector Institute, an artificial intelligence research centre in Ontario. Also in March, the supplier unveiled a fuel cell range-extended electric vehicle (FCREEV) concept. It’s a debadged Mercedes Viano minivan packing a smaller-than-average fuel-cell to recharge its battery on the move.

Council members have experience in and will provide strategic planning for the areas of advanced driver assistance systems, environmental and automotive safety, overall industry trends, and next-generation technologies.

The council also includes Tony Fadell, widely recognized as the inventor of Apple’s iPod. He’s also the founder of Nest, the company behind sensor-driven, Wi-Fi-enabled, learning programmable thermostats.

“Magna’s deep vehicle systems knowledge and electronics capabilities, combined with its global engineering and manufacturing expertise, are remarkable,” Fadell said in the same statement. “They are in a great position to help drive change in the auto industry and I am excited to be working with such an innovative company.”

Fadell told Bloomberg News his new focus on cars is consistent with his background. “It’s the second most expensive asset that a family purchases,” he told the news agency. “The number of platforms, the software systems, all the things — it’s the number-one most complicated consumer electronics product you can buy.”

The rise of driverless vehicle features and car systems connected to the internet has sparked disputes between automakers and tech giants over who will own the data.

“They need to figure out a way that they can work together,” Fadell told Bloomberg. “It’s a naive argument that I must have all the data.”

As a Magna adviser, Fadell said he will work across “all forms of mobility,” noting to the news agency that cars will soon travel on water and through the air, not just on roads.

The other four members of the council include:

• Mei-Wei Cheng, the non-executive Chairman of Pactera. He is the former CEO and president for the Chinese subsidiaries of AT&T, Siemens, Ford Motor Co. and General Electric.

• Ian Hunter, professor of mechanical engineering who runs the bio-instrumentation lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

• John Maddox, the CEO of the American Center for Mobility in Michigan. He started his career as a research engineer at Ford. He was also associate administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a compliance officer at Volkswagen North America.

• Paul Mascarenas, a 32-year Ford veteran who retired in 2014. He currently is a member of the board of directors at ON Semiconductor and U.S. Steel Corp. 

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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