Carla Bailo is on a mission to transform the automotive industry




Michigan based Center for Automotive Research (CAR) is a 16-year-old independent automotive non-profit think tank focused on the sustainability of the automotive industry.  They have made it their mission to conduct independent research and analysis to educate, inform and advise stakeholders, policymakers, and the general public on critical issues facing the mobility and automotive industry along with the industry’s impact on the U.S. economy and society. The concern that remains is about the number of technologies that automotive companies are required to be involved with and the ability to fund these properly. Carla Bailo, the President and CEO of CAR elucidates the core purpose is to provide a toolkit of data that allows automotive companies to make decisions in their future product plans. They hope to drive enough benefit to the automotive sector by providing factual data for the government and industry. Also, with CAR, Carla wishes to help municipalities with their economic engines funded by automotive companies.

“Be technically competent, promise and deliver, and have a passion for the industry you are working.”

Under her leadership, CAR continues to be a leading source of objective and unbiased research, analysis, and information concerning the North American automotive industry. Previously, Carla acted as the 2016-2018 vice president of automotive for SAE International, a global association of more than 138,000 engineers and related tech experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries. Apart from this, she was most recently the assistant vice president for mobility research and business development at The Ohio State University. Carla also has 25 years of experience at Nissan North America Inc. where she performed as senior vice president of research and development and spent 10 years at General Motors. 

Following passion

Carla shares how growing up in Detroit has influenced the trajectory of her career and what has helped guide her throughout her journey. Carla says, “I am an engineer through and through – mechanical engineer both bachelors and masters. As I was born and raised in Detroit, automotive and cars are in my blood. My father and grandfather both worked in some way in the industry. My love and passion for cars and technology led me to a 35-year journey working in the automotive industry. Post-retirement from Nissan, I went to academia leading mobility research as I wanted to continue to be on the cutting edge of technology and work with students. Students weren’t seeing automotive as a great career and I wanted to change this (and still work a lot in this pursuit). Coming to CAR was the best blend of academics and industry so it was a great post-post retirement job.” 

Carla Bailo, President & CEO, CAR

Carla adds joining this business has also allowed her to continue to study and research all aspects of mobility including societal issues. She says, “I did not start this company, but rather am working to transform and keep pace with all aspects of mobility today. Automotive has morphed into a new era including micro-mobility, multi-modality, mobility as a service, smart cities, mobility equity and beyond. CAR can analyze to allow companies to stay relevant in terms of technology and provide a tool kit to navigate the road ahead.” 

Being a female in the automotive industry in the late 70s, Carla Bailo was often challenged. She prevailed over it by being highly competent in the tech world and demonstrating her capacities. She says, “It became apparent that I needed to choose my battles in this era – without this choice, it would have become very easy to become bitter or disengaged. My passion for cars and my desire to work in this industry kept me engaged.”

How to win?

According to Carla, there are three things to keep in mind on the road to success: “Technical competency and deliver results; learn from your mentors and sponsors, and always seek to learn more and improve yourself.”  Carla followed that with an example to stress on the importance of growing continuously. In fact, she says, moving to Japan with Nissan and leaving her core area of competence – from engineering to product planning and profit has been one of her greatest accomplishments. “It stretched me beyond my wildest dreams both personally and professionally,” shares Carla. “I also now see those five years as a change moment for me in my career.”

As a leader, Carla measures her success in the success of people she hired or mentored. She loves challenges and solving problems and therefore, always carries a “never give up” spirit. She says, “My father’s words always resonate- Carla, ‘can’t’ never did anything.” As a role model, she admires Mary Barra, who is a paladin for all women in automotive with her clear stance and unwavering commitment to the company, females in STEM, and the community. “Beyond this, RBG, Angela Merkel and so many more who lead the path for all young ladies to follow by being strong, dedicated, determined, and very very smart,” adds Carla.

In talks with Aspioneer, Carla describes what a typical day in her life looks like, “I take time each morning to have my coffee and put my thoughts together before I ever walk out the door. Often, I’ll catch up on mail that arrived the previous evening as I like to shut down by 10 at the latest. I have 4 children and 3 grandchildren so this keeps me quite occupied and I love every minute of this side of my life,” shares Carla. She unwinds with jogging, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku. She also likes to constantly engage herself with new ways of thinking by being an avid reader. “I have so many favorites!  ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as it was about somebody taking a moment to do the right thing when culture spoke differently. ‘A Christmas Carol’ as it reminds us there is much more to life than position and money. Loved the book on RBG….” says Carla. If given an opportunity she expressed her desire to have dinner with Thomas Jefferson to learn about “everything from his political life to his innovations in farming,” shares Carla. 

For the women aiming to be leaders and winners, Carla has a simple piece of advice, “Be technically competent, promise and deliver, and have a passion for the industry you are working.”

She hopes that her legacy is about how great a mom and grandma she has been. Besides this “I hope I broke through some of the glass ceiling in the industry and created roadmaps for those that follow and that their career goals can be more easily obtained,” says Carla.

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