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Michigan is Auto, and MICHauto Aims to Keep it That Way

From: MLive

By David Muller

September 30, 2015

DETROIT, MI – Michigan is home to a quarter of all U.S. automotive assembly plants.

The state has the highest concentration of engineering and architecture talent in the country.

Last year, the number of vehicles produced in Michigan hit 2.34 million units, easily eclipsing the next state’s total output of about 800,000 cars and trucks.

More than 70 percent of North America’s automotive R&D is originated in the state, and 60 percent of all the largest auto suppliers are based here.

In short, Michigan is auto.

But such simplicity belies the complex industry and changing times, especially when competition is creeping in from every angle, and attracting and retaining young talent to the state remains a challenge.

Enter MICHauto, the state’s automotive accelerator, which on Wednesday is hosting its annual summit in Detroit to make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of challenges facing the state’s all-important industry.

“The number one objective at all times is to protect and maintain the customers you have,” said Glenn Stevens, vice president of MICHauto and strategic development for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

That means the state’s 13 assembly plants, its nearly 500 R&D centers and dozens of suppliers and tool & die companies have to want to stay in Michigan.

Part of keeping them here is making sure the state has a solid talent pipeline, and support from worker training programs. Stevens pointed to programs in connected vehicles and advanced diagnostics at several of the state’s universities and community colleges as supporting this effort.

Then there is the matter of attracting new talent to the state.

Stevens said potential newcomers can be sold on Michigan in part by its abundance of natural resources, but also by cultural centers such as Detroit, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.

Meanwhile, up and coming students seem to be grasping that the automotive industry can have be seen as technologically cutting-edge, which is a trait often tied with places such as of Silicon Valley in California or Austin, Texas.

MICHauto did a study last year that surveyed students, as well as those who influence them, and the results found that young people do view a career in vehicle design and production as high-tech.

But other perceived traits of the up-and-coming generation of 20—somethings and teens also need to be taken into consideration, Stevens said. Those younger folks seem to want to have a social impact.

“They want to make sure we’re solving world issues and not contributing to them,” Stevens said.

Add to all of this the fact that mobility, in general, continues to evolve. Companies such as Uber are filling niches even in cities with otherwise poor transportation systems. Autonomous driving may not be the norm, but its widespread use is seen as being only about a decade or so so away.

While the internal combustion engine is not going to go away any time soon, Michigan needs to embrace this changing landscape and the new technology it brings to the automotive industry.

On this front the state has some pretty big projects underway. Stevens noted the Smart Corridor in southeast Michigan, where General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the University of Michigan are working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to deploy vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technology-enabled corridors on more than 120 miles of road.

The stretch of highway being equipped on Interstates 96 and 696 from US-23 in Brighton to Interstate 94 in St. Clair Shores is one of the largest such projects in the world.

For autonomous vehicle technology, Steven pointed to MCity, the 32-acre connected and automated vehicle test site opened by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Moving efforts forward is MICHautos’ Michigan Mobility Initiative, which bands together statewide organizations including the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Business Leaders for Michigan, MDOT and the University Research Corridor. They meet regularly to discuss a strategy to make Michigan a global leader in next-generation mobility, Stevens said.

Add to all this the disruptive factors now hitting the automotive industry, both positively and negatively: Issues such as cyber security and 3-D printing.

All this should be addressed at the MICHauto summit Wednesday, which can also be followed live on Periscope at the @DetroitChamber account.

Sen. Gary Peters is one of the day’s earlier speakers (via video), and Gov. Rick Snyder will close out the days’ events. The full schedule can be seen here: