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Auto-Industry Retiree Sees Healthy Job Outlook for Students

Joined by Colin W. Williamson, Pennsylvania College of Technology's dean of transportation (right), retired General Motors executive (and serious car collector) pulls up a seat for a candid Q%26A.Drawing upon decades of experience in the automobile industry and an ongoing “Cars are fun!” enthusiasm for classic vehicles, a former General Motors executive told Pennsylvania College of Technology students Friday that they are entering a solid career at a time of unprecedented opportunity.

“Whether it’s the body, engine or transmission, technology is going to come at you hard, fast and furious,” Darwin E. Clark told a mix of automotive and collision repair majors and faculty in a College Avenue Labs classroom. “There will be such an explosion of technology, accelerated at a pace that will put a serious strain on the system unless you have the skill set to keep up.”

Clark retired in 2004 after a 45-year career that started in the Buick Division’s drafting department and ended with corporate responsibility for GM’s network of dealerships and for dealer/industry relations. In between, he held virtually every position in sales and service including development of the nation’s first toll-free consumer helpline and a Zurich-based marketing assignment that served every non-U.S. country but Canada and Mexico and has obviously kept his finger on the pulse of the industry he embraced as a teenage tinkerer.

The federal government’s mandate to increase fuel economy to 55 miles per gallon in the next two decades will only add to the exciting challenges ahead, he said.

A vehicular V.I.P. knowledgeably works the crowd in College Avenue Labs.“There’s not a stone that won’t be overturned five or six times to make this doable,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of making smaller cars. We’re going to get there by technology, by equipment … and by education, education, education, education.

“Look at the foundation you’re getting at this college. It’s a foundation you can build on for the rest of your life. It will open up doors for you that a lot of people can only dream about.

“You’re going into a field that will probably have a lot more impact on our lives than many others,” he said. “You are doing something concrete.”

Clark, who has served as board president for the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey since his retirement, traveled to campus with museum executive director Michael Barrett and free admission passes for any student or faculty member interested in a tour.

The college’s School of Transportation Technology has partnered with the facility on the exacting refurbishment of three vehicles to date, a relationship that helped give rise to a new automotive restoration technology major that begins this fall.

The owner of several high-end Corvettes with a “terminal” passion for working on cars, Clark treated his audience to photos of the vehicles in his collection.

He also obliged aplain-talk forumwith students and faculty, weighing in on a variety of topics from the government’s financial assistance to his former employer (“I think it saved the auto industry”), the fuels of the future (“Hydrogen cars are likely to be the vehicles of the next decade, but the infrastructure is not there yet”) and the prognosis for automobiles whetheras avocation or an avocation.

“For my generation, everything was centered around the car. I learned how to fix cars, how things worked,” he said. “Today, it’s iPods and iPhones and iPads, but, sooner or later, it’s going to come back to the cars. And when it does, you’ll have the background to succeed. It doesn’t matter if you’re working at a dealership or for a manufacturer, having that knowledge is critical.”

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