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2023 Reflections: It’s Actually Just ‘SAE’

Posted: December 21, 2023

2023 was a big year for SAE International.

We hosted our first-ever entirely electric Formula SAE, SAE's Sustainable Mobility Solutions announced that SAE is standardizing the North American Charging Standard connector, and we even met with members of the presidential cabinet—earning a name drop in a White House press statement outlining the United States’ progress toward a fully electric future.

Among these high-profile partnerships and new endeavors, we’ve had more eyes on us than ever, earning callouts from industry titans—including former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. In a tweet from earlier this year, Gates tagged SAE as he considered advancing autonomous technologies and acknowledged SAE’s Levels of Driving Automation as “the best way to understand where we are today” in a blog on the subject.

The only problem: in the shout out, he refers to SAE as the “Society of American Engineers”—and that’s not our name.

Bill Gates is hardly the first to make this kind of error, but we understand the confusion. In truth, SAE has gone through a few naming iterations before we landed on the anacronym that we use today.

In the early 1900s as the automobile industry took off, motor vehicle manufacturers found a need for standardization of technical process and parts. Industry leaders came together to form the Society of Automobile Engineers in 1905—or “SAE” for short—with Andrew Riker at the helm as the organization’s president and Henry Ford as vice president.

As membership grew, aeronautical engineers became involved with SAE, and it grew apparent that the term “automobile”—generally used to refer to road vehicles—didn’t quite capture all the mobility professionals involved with SAE.

In 1917, Inventor Elmer Sperry suggested that SAE change the A to “automotive” to include any type of self-propelled vehicle. Embracing the name Society of Automotive Engineers showed the organization’s drive to improve not only the production of motorcars, but the entire mobility industry.

As industry developed and our vernacular changed, the term “automotive” began to feel similar to what “automobile” described in the 1910s; it wasn’t all-encompassing, and it felt like we were missing key sectors of the mobility industry. At the same time, our membership was spreading further across the world, and we wanted a name that reflected the global nature of our organization. In 2006 we decided to capture this inclusive spirit by becoming simply SAE International.

Today as we reflect on 2023 and all the years that came before it, we’re grateful for the support and work on behalf of SAE that has happened at all levels across the mobility industry. We truly would not be here if it weren’t for you.

But if we could ask you for one more thing, please help us spread the word: it’s actually just ‘SAE.’