The trend to smaller cars may not be happening, but the shift to smaller suppliers is advancing

The SAE Convergence conference has been an indicator of trends in the auto industry for more than three decades. This year, people in Detroit are commenting on the number of small companies that are starting to play a role in automotive design and manufacturing.

Convergence got its start back when cars and electronics began to converge. Nowadays, it’s a place to see what’s changing in the world of automotive electronics. There are a handful of companies from the circuit board industry on the show floor, touting design services and flexible circuitry.

That’s not a real surprise, given the need for high reliability boards in products that may stay on the road for a decade or two. More surprising are comments from a range of vendors.

They’re commenting that smaller companies are starting to get some traction in this industry. Most people feel that’s because the auto industry is trying to keep up with expectation driven by consumer markets, where the two-year cycle for a car is a long product lifetime.

It’s  a sharp contrast to the past when automakers focused more on reducing the number of suppliers they use. These smaller companies are more likely to contract with fabricators and EMS companies that don’t have enormous volumes.

In many areas within automotive, the ability to provide very low prices can be offset by providing quick turnaround and high quality. The auto industry isn’t known for rapid changes, but it’s also a market where opportunities are well worth pursuing.

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