William Bolander

Helping his father repair engines and fix old cars as a child growing up in Flint, Mich., drove William Bolander to success. Joining the General Motors team as an adult, he helped improve passenger safety and automotive performance, most notably through his limp-home technology and a traction control system. In 1995, Bolander was named the first $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize recipient for excellence in creativity, invention and innovation.

As a developer of logical and mathematical models for computers responsible for fuel injection, ignition timing, and transmission operations, Bolander has been instrumental in keeping the American automotive industry on the cutting edge. He manipulated computerized engine and transmission controls to develop a low-cost traction control system for Saturn cars. He also later incorporated his college thesis design for limp-home technology into the Cadillac Northstar. This design reduced the number of cylinders running at any one time to minimize engine damage when coolant is lost.

Bolander’s innovations also include several diagnostic and engine control sensor systems, and a coast-sync-coast downshift control method for clutch-to-clutch transmission shifting. In regard to the downshift control method, he said, “The idea that we had, really now seems simple, but a lot of times that’s the case … that solutions to problems can be simple ideas.”

Bolander was born in Rollo, Mo., in 1960. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and electrical engineering from GM Management and Engineering Institute in 1983, which is Kettering University today. Through a GM fellowship at Purdue University, he acquired a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1984. Bolander began his career at General Motors in 1983, as a member of the Advanced Engineering Staff. As of 2003, he was the manager of product and process development for GM Powertrain’s Electronics, Integration and Software Group—a top position at the company. The author of 16 patents, Bolander has received an unprecedented four “Boss” Kettering Awards—GM’s most prestigious honor.

Bolander said, “While I have been able to contribute significantly to many different things, it’s only in the big picture. It’s insignificant really … it’s a team effort. Certainly, I could not have done any of these things on my own but that’s a lot of the fun of it— is to work together and solve problems and invent solutions.”