Some nostalgia may be at work here, but Volkswagen AG's decision to produce its Concept One vehicle in Mexico is sure to capture the imagination of those who remember when small was beautiful and they had big ideas. The Concept One is the new VW Beetle, one of the most egalitarian automobiles ever sold in the United States. For some people, the car was of an age. For others, it was a vehicle for all time.
VW is investing $500 million in Mexico to manufacture its Cabrio and Concept One models for export. As reported in this issue, production of the new Beetle is scheduled to begin in 1997 with an initial run of 100,000 vehicles. Company officials say subcontracts valued at $240 million will be offered during the next several months to Mexican suppliers.
If the new bug is like its previous incarnation, it won't shriek speed, power or status. It's a concept many people will think is a good idea.
States should cash in on intellectual capital
The Ohio university consortium involved in research of rapid prototyping applications for plastics and other materials illustrates how a number of states from Alabama to Virginia leverage intellectual capital to shape their future with plastics.
Six Ohio schools are involved in the prototyping project, which has an industrial advisory board that includes representatives from United Technologies Corp. and General Motors Corp.
The state has committed $2 million in public funds to the program.
The primary focus of the project is to develop injection molds for short-run tooling to reduce costs and lead time, according to a spokesman at the headquarters school, the University of Dayton.
Another consortium, the Northeast Alternative Vehicle Consortium in Boston, is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Members include Tufts University and the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources, plus several Bay State, Rhode Island and Connecticut companies. The purpose is to find a way to reduce the cost of manufacturing for a composite monocoque body for electric vehicles.
The expertise university employees and students have to contribute to industry is significant. While there is a long history of such collaboration, such ventures increasingly are critical to the success of both schools and companies.
The competition for enrollment and dollars by colleges is particularly sharp today, largely the result of a changing census. Coincident with that change has been in-house spending reductions for research and development by U.S. companies.
That makes universities with good science and technical programs bargain-price candidates for R&D programs.
It also underscores why a state's funding of higher education is critical to efforts to drive the growth of industries such as plastics.