Panel examines social, economic, technological and political issues of cars

Three upcoming panels will look at social, economic, technological and political issues related to “automobility”, as well as the production, use and culture surrounding the car.

Hosted by York’s Canadian Centre for German & European Studies (CCGES) and organized by centre affiliates Professor Roger Keil (right), director of the City Institute at York University (CITY), and Professor Emeritus Bernard Wolf of York’s Schulich School of Business, the first panel – “Technological Futures: Automobility and Beyond” will take place Monday, Nov. 29, from 5 to 7pm on the 7th floor of the York Research Tower, Keele campus.

Keil and Wolf suggest that European and North American societies of the 20th century were transformed and marked by the automobile more than by any other commodity. The car is the chief commodity of industrial society, at the centre of transportation in cities, at the core of household mobility and financial decision-making, the most iconic symbol of modern life and a lightning rod for environmental critique.

Left: Bernard Wolf

They say that due to accelerated shifts in the global manufacturing landscape and an unprecedented credit crisis, demands on ever higher velocity and connectivity, changing family structures and career patterns on more flexible and casualized labour markets, saturation with auto images and climate change, the car’s perceived role has changed.

Peter McIsaac, director of CCGES, says, “We’re extremely excited by the “Automobility” series as we believe that CCGES is well positioned to look at this important theme from a variety of angles. Through the expertise of scholars from the centre, York and the broader community, I expect that we’ll be able to approach these topics in unusual and productive ways.”

This series of panels will attempt to shed light on the most important shifts that are shaping both the auto industry and society’s relationship to it and its products – the continued impact of rapid technological changes, the evolution of auto production and the governance issues related to these changes.

The first panel, “Technological Futures: Automobility and Beyond”, moderated by Wolf, will feature Christian Feilmeier (right), vice-president, finance & administration for BMW Canada; Steven Logan, a PhD candidate in the York & Ryerson Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture; Robert Latham, director of York’s Centre for International & Security Studies; and Christopher Hume (BA ’73), architecture critic and urban issues columnist for the Toronto Star.

While technological change is a constant in the development and production of automobiles themselves, the revolutions and convulsions that surround the car are not restricted solely to the machine itself, but now extend to the way cities are built and people are moved. BMW, like other companies, is searching for ways to tie their vehicles into intelligent networks of traffic guidance, which are intended to reduce inefficiencies in the system, save energy and lower the number of accidents.

Left: Christopher Hume

As citizens around the world witness shifts in car culture and weigh interventions, such as toll roads in municipal areas as a way of reducing congestion, angry drivers see any attempt to lure them out of their cars as an assault on their entitlement as “free citizens”. In the recent Toronto mayoral election, the slogan “stop the war on the car” had remarkable traction. This panel will consider the impacts which technological change is having on the auto industry and its products, and how it’s used.

Feilmeier is responsible for all finance, controlling, purchasing and human resources activities for the BMW and MINI brands in Canada. Prior to his arrival in Canada, Feilmeier was head of investor relations in Munich from 2000 to 2006.

Hume won a National Newspaper Award in 2009, Canada’s highest award in print journalism, for his columns about architecture and urban affairs. He was named Toronto’s best newspaper columnist by NOW Magazine in 2005 and Eye Weekly in 2006.

Right: Robert Latham

Latham, a political science professor, managed programs and conducted research in international affairs at the Social Science Research Council in New York, where he directed the program on Information Technology & International Cooperation.

Logan’s research interests include automobile culture, suburban history and critical theories of nature and technology. His doctoral dissertation compares Canadian and Czech post-war suburbs, particularly in relation to utopia, mobility and nature. From 2003 to 2007, he was editor of Carbusters magazine, one of the only publications dedicated to critiquing car culture.

Wolf, associate director of the International MBA program at the Schulich School of Business, has acted as a consultant and advisor to a number of multinational firms and the Canadian government.

This event is open to all, and light refreshments will be served. Attendees are asked to register in advance at

The second panel, “The Changing Political Economy of the Global Automobile Industry”, will take place Monday, Jan. 24, from 5 to 7pm on the 7th floor of the York Research Tower, Keele campus. It will be moderated by Wolf with panellists Greg Chin, York political science professor and author of China’s Automotive Modernization: The Party-State and Multinational Corporations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Dennis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc.; Scott E. Paradise, vice-president of marketing & new business development for Magna International; and Jim Stanford, an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers union

For more information, visit the CCGES website or call ext. 40003.