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Change the world


In a major boost for automotive industry research, innovation and development, Nelson Mandela University this week launched a new AIDC-EC Chair in Automotive Engineering.

The Automotive Industry Development Centre – Eastern Cape (AIDC-EC) has endowed the new research chair in the Faculty of Engineering, the Built Environment and Technology for an initial three-year period.

Backed with a financial investment of R14-million, this strengthens the University’s position as a centre of excellence in the automotive industry.

Newly appointed AIDC-EC Chair of Automotive Engineering Mr Martin Sanne brings 33 years of engineering and management experience to his new role.

“The automotive [industry] is a cornerstone of the Eastern Cape economy and Nelson Mandela University is perfectly positioned for this,” said Sanne on Monday 12 June at the launch on the University’s North Campus. “I’m really impressed with the laboratories that you already have here, let’s bring it all together to make it more solution-driven.”

He highlighted various automotive engineering research and innovation platforms that the University could – and would – be focussing on. These included 4IR, digital transformation, Advanced Manufacturing and the three areas of innovation: product, process and organisational.

Until 2020, Sanne was cluster Executive Manager and Executive Director at the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for the manufacturing cluster focusing on material science, manufacturing and the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

The qualified electrical engineer holds an MSc in Digital Systems, and has extensive experience in end-to-end, integrated engineering, quality services and management consulting, specialising in digital transformation.

Citing Tesla founder Elon Musk, Sanne outlined how “software-defined” vehicles were starting to change the face of the motor industry: “Your car will appreciate in value as you add new features to it. It’s a paradigm shift, so let’s structure our research that way.”

AIDC-EC CEO Thabo Shenxane thanked AIDC-EC chairman Phumzile Zitumane for supporting the vision to create the Chair.

“We had a dream last year on the future of training, manufacturing and engineering – and that led us to the university,” said Shenxane. “This is work that we are committed to, not only for the AIDC-EC but for the province, and Martin’s appointment is a clear indication of where we want to go.”

In addition to the AIDC-EC Automotive Chair, the new agreement makes funding provision for postgraduate bursaries and provides support for undergraduate capstone projects in the School of Engineering.

Mandela University Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Internationalisation Dr Thandi Mgwebi welcomed the new partnership, highlighting the importance of research chairs connecting with industry.

“Industry partnerships are critical as they promote a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving, and create an atmosphere of collaboration,” said Dr Mgwebi.

The Automotive Chair will connect higher education and the automotive manufacturing industry in South Africa, and the Eastern Cape in particular. Key focus areas include:

  • Engineering
  • Manufacturing
  • e-mobility learning.

The Advanced Mechatronic Technology Centre (AMTC) in the School of Engineering will host the Chair. As Sanne is based in Gauteng, he will travel between the two provinces.

The Chair will lead research, innovation, and technology in automotive, manufacturing and multi-disciplinary projects across the sector, particularly in the areas of advanced automotive and manufacturing production processes.

It also will manage research projects and engage industry on new product development processes, aspects of commercialisation and knowledge generation.

This work will also facilitate continuous engagement with external higher education institutions and industrial stakeholders including international student and staff exchange programmes and knowledge transfer in automotive engineering.


Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation & Internationalisation Dr Thandi Mgwebi, left, AIDC-EC Chair of Automotive Engineering Martin Sanne, middle, and Executive Dean: Faculty of Engineering, the Built Environment and Technology Prof Marshall Sheldon, right, at the launch on Monday, 12 June 2023, at Nelson Mandela University


Contact information
Ms Charlene Dale
Executive Secretary
Tel: +27 41 504 1111