When you think of Winnipeg, you don't automatically think of the automotive industry.
But in the world of collegiate SAE International, the University of Manitoba engineering students are world-class.
(SAE used to stand for the Society of Automotive Engineers, but now it encompasses all manner of vehicles, including aerospace.)
The U of M has the second-largest chapter in the world, and this year 130 to 150 engineering students are building vehicles to compete in four SAE collegiate design series -- regular-class Aero design, Baja SAE (off-road vehicles), Formula SAE (race cars) and Formula SAE Electric (electric vehicles).
Ed Hohenberg, the collegiate chapter faculty adviser, said the U of M chapter has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years
"We are now poised, the way things are looking, to take over (from the University of Michigan) as largest student section in the world," he said.
It's a fact not lost on many players in the industry. In fact, the U of M's SAE chapter boasts a list of private-sector sponsors that would be the envy of any commercial enterprise. Including the U of M Endowment Fund, its local sponsors include Boeing, Price Industries, Buhler Industries, MTS, MacDon, Magellan Aerospace and Parker Vansco.
The students' intense engagement in the program is not lost on the larger world. For the second time in three years, the Ford Motor Co. sent a senior engineering executive to Winnipeg to talk to them.
Gilbert (Gil) Portalatin, Ford's chief engineer for electrified powertrain programs and integration, said, "It's great to come here and see so many students so excited about electrification."
He's been part of Ford's Sustainable Mobility Technologies since 2005, and as Ford supports the collegiate SAE competition, coming to Winnipeg to talk to the students makes sense.
"This is the second-largest chapter," he noted. "There is a lot of interest in automotive and in electrification, which is exactly what we need. These are engineers. We want to help them continue their interest. This is our future."
Ford is the second-largest manufacturer of electrified vehicles in the world next to Toyota and the market is growing. Portalatin said the company is committed to electrification, with five different models on the market.
As for the U of M students' involvement, Hohenberg is too modest to say it himself, but according to a recent article in the SAE's Momentum magazine, he has been instrumental in its growth since helping form the chapter as a student in 1986.
"The students get involved in real-world, hands-on engineering, and that becomes recognized by the people hiring the students," he said.
The U of M's SAE group has never won any competition, but it's come close several times, including taking second place in the world in the 2012 Aero division and third-place finishes more than once. For the last three years, the Aero team has won the highly coveted NASA Systems Engineering Award as part of their competition.