Southern Automotive Conference 2018 Preview

SAC 2018 is expected to break attendance records with 1,800 attendees and 300 exhibitors

The Southern Automotive Conference (SAC) Oct. 3-5 at Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta is aiming at becoming an unforgettable experience. The event will provide networking opportunities, world-class speakers and breakout sessions designed to fuel careers and drive business forward. (The event planning division of PMT Publishing, publisher of this magazine, is planning and managing SAC 2018 for the Georgia Automotive Manufacturers Association.)

Organizers expect more than 1, 800 attendees, 300 exhibitors and a dozen-plus foreign manufacturer pavilions, which would make the event the largest SAC conference to date. The 2017 record-setting conference in Birmingham, Alabama, attracted 1, 200 registered attendees and more than 180 exhibitors.

- Sponsor -

The event’s goals call for building on the success of previous Southern Automotive Conferences by adding new features and continuing to improve the experience for attendees.

The SAC is presented each year by the automotive manufacturing associations of Alabama (AAMA), Mississippi (MAMA), Tennessee (TAMA) and GAMA. The Kentucky Automotive Industry Association (KAIA), South Carolina Automotive Council (SCAC), and Southern Automotive Women’s Forum (SAWF) are affiliate members of SAC. The premier sponsor for SAC 2018 is KIA Motors Manufacturing Georgia.

“The conference is an 11-year tradition now, and the four of us in the Southern Automotive Manufacturers Alliance feel it’s an obligation to improve every year. Continuously improving is in our DNA. We are passionate about putting together something special. We want people to say, ‘If I didn’t come here, I never would have seen this.’” – Rick Walker, president, CEO and founder of the Georgia Automotive Manufacturers Association

“The conference is an 11-year tradition now, and the four of us in the Southern Automotive Manufacturers Alliance (SAMA) feel it’s an obligation to improve every year, ” says Rick Walker, a patent attorney and president, CEO and founder of GAMA. “Continuously improving is in our DNA. We are passionate about putting together something special. We want people to say, ‘If I didn’t come here, I never would have seen this.’”

The South is the fastest-growing region in North America for automobile manufacturing and has the third largest gross domestic product in the world, says Walker, a Detroit native who moved to Georgia in 1993. “We make more cars in the South than in any other part of the country. With that backdrop, we will showcase what we have going on in our industry. We are innovating a lot.”

Connecting is key to continued forward momentum, Walker says.

“The conference will connect attendees with what they come to see — technology, innovation and industry leaders. We’ll provide ways to renew contacts, and to create and cultivate relationships with some of the biggest players in the automotive field today.”

The event has developed an international reputation for attracting top industry executives and thought leaders from around the world.

“The SAC offers anyone in the automotive industry the opportunity to network with the South’s OEMs, tier suppliers and service providers, ” says Sheila Wardy, director of Integrated Media and Events at PMT Publishing Inc., which is working with GAMA to plan and market the conference. “It’s the watering hole where everyone comes to drink during that brief time. Marketing your company at the SAC is the best value there is, because we’re gathering everyone you want to see in one place.”

To promote connections, organizers built in more exhibit hall breaks to provide more time for one-on-one contact with exhibitors and sponsors. Carpet is being added to aisles and an improved layout will increase traffic flow to exhibit booths. The addition of carpet might seem like a small thing, but it’s important, Walker says.

“Exhibitors asked for it, ” he notes. “They step out into the aisles to mingle with people passing by. Carpet provides comfort and noise reduction and ensures that communication is kept top priority. The exhibitors and our sponsors are our lifeblood. We really want this to work for them.”

Again this year, sponsors, exhibitors, OEM purchasing agents and VIP guests are invited to an exclusive reception that offers a sneak peek — the night before the conference starts — at exhibitors, layout and new features. The event will offer hors-d’oeuvres, music, C-suite networking and OEM speed networking.

Innovation Zone

The Innovation Zone, which is sponsored by Siemens Industry Inc., will be in the four main exhibit halls. The zone will provide a look at some of the most exciting innovations in the automotive industry, including robotics, augmented reality, 3D printing and GPS tracking.

Attendees can participate in hands-on activities, and watch live demonstrations and moving displays in the Innovation Zone Spotlight Theatre.

To reserve an exhibitors spot in this exciting area, go to, click on the “Exhibitors” tab and “Innovation Zone.”

Innovation Test Track

The Innovation Test Track pitch competition will feature four companies with a new technology, innovative product or service that is valuable to the automotive industry. The competition will be Oct. 5 (Entries were due July 31, and selected companies will be notified the week of Sept 2).

The first-place prize is $2, 500, a two-page center advertisement in Southern Automotive Alliance magazine, and follow-up pitch opportunities with each judge.

The runner-up will receive a full-page advertisement in Southern Automotive Alliance magazine and a pitch opportunity with one judge.

Workforce Development Zone

The new Workforce Development Zone (WDZ), which is sponsored by Data Interchange, will be in the main exhibit hall. Organizers say the zone will address one of the automotive manufacturing industry’s most pressing issues and offers the chance to connect one-on-one with strategists.

“Workforce development has been top-of-mind for all of the OEMs and major Tier 1s, and we are responsive to that, ” Walker says. “Exhibitors from participating states, who specialize in workforce development, will share their best practices and partner with attendees to strategize for the future.

“This is not a Georgia show, this is the Southern Automotive Conference. If someone comes from Germany or France and they are looking for solutions to workforce development, or looking to build a new factory, I want them to know we can provide a solution.”

As of press time, exhibitor space was available in the WDZ, but limited. To secure a spot, go to and click on the “Exhibitors” tab and “Workforce Development Zone.”

The Stars of Southern Manufacturing Awards

In another nod to the importance of excellent employees at every level of an automotive company – from the managerial level to the factory floor – the conference will, on Oct. 4, feature The Stars of Southern Manufacturing Awards Luncheon. Awards will be presented to several employees who possess skills and personalities that keep automotive companies running.

The schedule that day also includes a networking breakfast, breakout sessions, keynote speakers, exhibit hall breaks, an OEM panel and the Coca-Cola Roxy Gala. The gala will be held from 5-8 p.m. at The Battery Atlanta, one of the city’s newest entertainment nightlife hot spots, which is anchored by SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves. All conference attendees are invited.

Walker says his goal for SAC 2018 is to connect people to the best of everything going on in automotive. “We hope people leave here energized with new strategies and ideas, ” he says.

Speakers and Panelists

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal will deliver a keynote address the last day of the conference. Other speakers and panelists include:

• Raj Batra, president, digital factory division, Siemens (The Digital Factory).
• Stuart Countess, chief administrative officer, KIA/KMG (OEM Panel).
• Linda Hasenfratz, CEO, Linamar (Tier 1 Perspective).
• Ryan Miller, programs manager and associate director of external operations, Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence (Workforce Development).
• Dr. Hagen Radowski, president and CEO, MHP Americas – a Porsche Company (Topic to be announced).
• Gary Silberg, national sector lead partner for the automotive industry/global lead partner for  Delphi Corp. and Ford Motor Co., KPMG (State of the Industry).
• Jonathan Smoke, chief economist, Cox Automotive (The Outlook for a Shifting US Auto Market).
• Mike Stonecipher, senior project manager, Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (Innovation Test Track).
• John Waraniak, vice president, vehicle technology, SEMA (The Race to Autonomy).

For more information about the conference, to register, or to be an exhibitor, please go to Early-bird registration and discounts end Sept. 1.

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