MICHauto Voices Support for New Hands-Free Driving Legislation

MICHauto this week applauded the recent re-introduction of bipartisan hands-free driving legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives as part of an ongoing effort over the past two years to enact updated statute for Michigan’s roadways. MICHauto previously testified in support of similar legislation during the 2019-2020 legislative session.

Cell phones cause approximately 70,000 crashes each year on U.S. roads. Notably, the vast majority of people injured or killed in such an accident are not the driver, but other occupants of that vehicle, occupants of another vehicle, or pedestrians. If adopted, Michigan would join 22 other states who have enacted similar legislation to make our roads safer.

“Technology is changing rapidly, and with that change comes challenge and opportunity. Our laws must evolve with that change to enable the technology and most importantly save lives,” said Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director for MICHauto. “MICHauto is proud to partner with industry leaders in urging the Michigan legislature to adopt expanded legislation that keeps phones out of people’s hands while driving and makes our roads safer.”

House Bills 4277 (Manoogian), 4278 (Mueller), and 4279 (Bellino) have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, and MICHauto is actively engaged in conversations with lawmakers. Companies who wish to engage in this issue can contact Jason Puscas at jpuscas@michauto.org.

Town Hall Recap: Stellantis Voices in Action

On Feb. 24, Stellantis held a second Voices in Action town hall.  Shane Karr, head of external affairs for NAFTA of Stellantis moderated the conversation with Hilary Cain, vice president of technology, innovation and mobility policy at Alliance Automotive Innovation, and Glenn Stevens Jr., vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives at the Detroit Regional Chamber and executive director of MICHauto. The three discussed key policy issues and barriers to the implementation of autonomous vehicles.

While autonomous vehicles have many potential benefits, there is some confusion at the federal, state, and local levels on how to regulate them. One reason this has been such a challenge, Cain said, is that there is not a comprehensive regulatory framework in place at the federal level yet. Vehicle standards were written years ago with the basic assumption of a human driver using a steering wheel and brake pedals, for example.  These standards are fundamentally incompatible with a vehicle that does not require a human driver. It can take years to update vehicle standards, so the focus now is on getting a workable interim framework that allows this technology to move forward while standards are updated.

Looking at regulation from a state perspective, Stevens Jr. highlighted that the industry is at an inflection point where companies and policies need to evolve, or risk being left behind. In Michigan, there is a clear focus on developing new technologies and implementing testing centers to enable those technologies. This can be seen from the high level of engagement from Governor Schneider to Governor Whitmer, as both have continued to press our state forward. This is a non-partisan issue, and the state is focused on doing what is required to remain a global leader in automotive and mobility.

Aside from federal and state regulation, there is another key element to successfully deploying autonomous vehicles: consumer acceptance. Cain and Stevens Jr. agree that with any new technology there is going to be some skepticism and fear. The best way to overcome that is by enabling consumers to have exposure to these new technologies in a safe environment, to become familiar with them and how they function, and to experience new use case scenarios.  Interestingly, Cain believes that the COVID-19 pandemic helped in exposing a number of new use cases that were not within the consciousness of the consumers even a year ago.

Stevens Jr. points to three key things that need to happen for consumers to accept such an advanced technology:

  • Consumers must understand why the technology is important and how it improves safety, congestion, and emissions.
  • Technology must be made available for people to experience it directly and become comfortable with it.
  • Conversation around use cases to improve understanding of how this technology is used in positive ways to advance public health and safety.

One question that remains top of mind for companies and consumers alike is, who is responsible? The liability topic is a big one and involves the barriers to implementation of autonomous vehicles. Just like it is difficult to regulate a vehicle without a human driver, it is difficult to point the blame when an accident takes place involving a vehicle that drives itself. While legal experts would like to have some clarity around this point, it may not be addressed before autonomous vehicles hit the road due to our robust justice system and ability to assess on a case-by-case basis.

Data Highlight: COVID-19 and Michigan Automotive

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the Detroit Regional Chamber released its annual State of the Region Report at the State of the Region virtual data presentation. The report highlights assets and rankings for the region, the economic impact of COVID-19, and the region’s key industries, including automotive and mobility, through 2020. The automotive and mobility spotlight within the report provides an overview of the industry through key metrics, case studies, and an updated industry footprint. The footprint reveals that despite COVID-19, Michigan remains a top state for the automotive industry with 24 OEMs with a presence here, 96 of the top 100 North American suppliers located in the state, 16 universities with nationally ranked undergraduate engineering programs, and over 2,200 engineering, R&D, testing, and validation facilities. The automotive industry contributes $225 billion to Michigan’s economy annually and is responsible for providing 712,000 jobs in Michigan, which signifies the magnitude of the industry in the state and its impact.

To view the full list, visit the MICHauto Asset Map at https://michauto.org/map.

This automotive and mobility footprint in the 2021 State of the Region creates an accurate picture of the industry’s reach in the state and reinforces Michigan’s title as “the” automotive state.

The resiliency of the automotive industry through the COVID-19 pandemic is also shown through its sales and production numbers, which show a large decline during the shutdown, but an upward trend back to pre-COVID levels by the end of the year. The Case Study: Manufacturing Mobilizes the Arsenal of Health addresses this shutdown and depicts how the industry pivoted during this time when they were not producing vehicles to instead use their workforce and production facilities to produce critical personal protection equipment for health care workers. AAM, Ford, GM, Lear Corporation, Nexteer, and Magna are just a few companies that are highlighted in the case study; however, it was an effort by the industry as a whole. This effort represents the industry’s dedication to the community and its ability to innovate quickly and pivot to supply demands as needed.

View the full 2021 State of the Region Report.


Magna International to open facility, invest $70.1M in St. Clair

A division of Magna International plans to open a facility in the city of St. Clair to build battery enclosures for the 2022 GMC Hummer electric pickup, which will be produced at General Motors’ Factory Zero in Detroit and Hamtramck, according to the office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The $70.1 million investment is expected to create 304 jobs, and was approved Tuesday for a $1.5 million Michigan Business Development Program grant, which is based on job creation targets, according to a briefing memo.

Magna, the largest auto supplier in North America and the No. 3 supplier globally, is planning to build a 345,000-square-foot facility at 1811 Range Road that can be expanded to 1 million square feet.

The Port Huron Times Herald said construction began at the site in December and production could begin next year. Magna is a Canadian company with its main U.S. office in Troy.

Whitmer cheered the news in a press release:

“This announcement reaffirms Michigan is transforming along with the automotive industry to ensure the next generation of mobility and electrification is designed, developed, tested, and built right here in our state.”

The wages for the new positions are to range from $17 per hour up to $48, with an average of $27, according to the memo.

The grant that was approved will “offset cost related to training, recruiting and construction that are higher in Michigan compared to competing locations,” the memo said, noting that Michigan, with 35 facilities, is the state with Magna’s largest U.S. footprint.

In addition to that support, “the City of St. Clair anticipates approval of a real property tax abatement in support of the project. The (Michigan Economic Development Corp.) also authorized a State Education Tax abatement to be used in conjunction with the locally approved abatement. St. Clair County Community College is also offering support of the project through the Michigan New Jobs Training Program,” the memo said.

View the original article.  

CEO Spotlight: Joerg Weisgerber of HELLA

Joerg Weisgerber is the chief executive officer of HELLA Electronics North and South America. MICHauto had the chance to speak with Weisgerber and hear more about his leadership style and risk management techniques.

What would you tell young professionals about our automotive industry to keep them in Michigan?

Working in the automotive industry means you get to push the boundaries of today’s technologies for tomorrow. Whether it is writing code for a self-driving car or designing a new headlamp that adapts to live road conditions, we are creating new experiences that millions of people will use. Detroit is known as the heart of the auto industry, but this industry is not just one city or even one state. We are part of a global industry providing access to many cultures, languages, and unique travel opportunities for work.

When is it okay to encourage risk among your team? 

The foundation of automotive is innovation. Within automotive we are continuously pushing the limits and creating new and exciting products. My role as a manager is to balance the risks for creative solutions with delivering on what we promised the customer. To do this, you must set up an atmosphere where it is okay to take risks and fail. Without teams taking risks, you would not have a car that can drive mostly by itself. Encouraging our employees to take risks, allows them to be inspired, passionate, and work at the highest level.

What are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?

Leadership is about getting your employees to want to follow you versus just follow your orders because you have the bigger office. First and foremost, you must be true to who you are. Additionally, I have found that acting quickly, open communication, and giving employees room to do their jobs has been the most successful in my career. Having this mindset has allowed for an environment to be lived at HELLA that is always achieving. But things do not always go right; and having the open dialogue and relationships within the team allows us to tackle issues quickly, decisively, and most importantly economically.

Where is your favorite vacation spot and why?

When I was younger it was the city of Barcelona in Spain. The great culture and history come together to build in a vibrance to the city that is rarely seen. You can experience the old-world spirit and as well as the modern metropolitan flair at the same time. Today, Greece has taken over as my favorite place to visit when I am able to. Mostly, I enjoy my time on the smaller islands that are a bit less popular tourist locations. (Kos is my favorite at this time). You can find the grounding feeling of bare rocky land, and the sea access from wherever you go combined with steady wind to freshen up the warm air. The tastes from this region are authentically fresh, with olive-based cuisine combined with local light but fruitful white wines.

Millennials and Gen Z Key to Solving the Talent Challenge

Building a strong workforce is critical for any business, but especially for the next generation of automobility as a high-tech, global, and growing industry. Our talent pipeline in the industry and across the state has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing numbers of baby boomer retirements, and the rapid rise and continuing development of new advancing technologies. So how we do we promote, retain, and grow our talent pool?

SME and Tool-U recently published a report: Solving the Talent Challenge: Millennials and Gen Z in the Workforce from a Manufacturer’s Perspective. We are at a pivotal point with five distinct generations in the workforce, all of whom are influenced by the economic and social milestones they have experienced. Further, over 50.7% of U.S. Residents are under the age of 40 as of July 2019. It is important to recognize this within your recruiting and retention strategy as companies compete for talent.

Just as technology is evolving, so must our methods for recruiting and retaining talent when it comes to the Millennial and Gen Z generations. The Millennial generation has historically gotten a bad rap for desiring work-life balance, meaningful work, and rapid advancement opportunities. But this generation is now in charge with 62% of Millennials having direct reports, 79% of which favor job seekers who are eager to learn, boding well for the Gen Z crowd that is intent on self-improvement.

Perhaps most interesting about these two generations is that technology has become second nature to them.  Millennials have adopted new technologies and social media as they emerge, while Gen Z has been raised with them. As Gen Z emerges in the workforce, they are looking for security and job stability as many lost opportunities for valuable internships and experience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So just how does our industry attract the attention of these young emerging workers?  These are some of the strategies that have been most effective, according to the report by SME and Tool-U:

  1. Have a clear and meaningful company mission that relates to the importance of the role you are filling.
  2. Offer continuous opportunities for learning, growth, and personal development.
  3. Utilize new technology, online learning, and face-to-face communication.
  4. Share consistent feedback and engagement.
  5. Promote your company using channels like YouTube, where 85% of Gen Z goes for information.

For a more detailed and comprehensive look into the psyches of these emerging generations and how to attract their attention, you can read the full white paper here: https://www.toolingu.com/

CEO Spotlight: Wilm Uhlenbecker of Brose North America, Inc.

Wilm Uhlenbecker is the president of Brose North America, Inc. MICHauto had the opportunity to talk with Uhlenbecker about his perspective on leadership and how he motivates his team when faced with even the most unpredictable obstacles.

When is it okay to encourage risk among your team?

Brose is currently undergoing a corporate culture change, which increasingly promotes entrepreneurship at all levels of the organization and encourages a failure culture. Our industry’s business model is evolving and is requiring us to be faster in everything we do. It’s also hungry for innovation. Speed and innovation require risk taking. The one thing I ask from our people is that they think a few steps ahead. What happens if we take the risk and what happens if we do not? I trust them to take that educated risk.

How do you keep your team motivated in the face of conflicts or obstacles?

I have had to reflect on this topic more than ever over the past year as we faced unprecedented challenges. My leadership philosophy remains the same – transparency with a forward-thinking outlook. I acknowledge challenges openly while also providing a clear vision and path to tackle them and turn them into opportunities. I am also very much part of the team on the ground and strive to lead by example. I cannot get buried into too many details and I trust my team to manage their business, but from time to time, I will dig deeper into bigger challenges if needed. I do want to understand and feel the challenges our people experience to give better guidance. In the time of COVID-19, when we’ve all felt some levels of disconnection from one another and the workplace, I’ve placed additional emphasis on how much I communicate: more is better. If you do not communicate clearly, broadly, and often, employees do not remain engaged and motivated.

What are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?

As part of the culture change we began at Brose in late 2018, we came up with a list of leadership principles to enable our employees to be successful leaders in their respective sphere of influence. All our managers are now assessed against these principles to ensure, measure, and manage the change. At Brose, a successful leader is encouraged and enabled to promote teamwork and transparency, always looks for more efficient and faster ways to reach goals, challenges and empowers their team, and keeps the big picture in mind while also leading by example and remaining down to earth.

What is your favorite car and why?

I am very fond of the BMW 507, a classic BMW roadster from the 1950s, which to me is the perfect combination of high performance, state-of-the-art technologies – especially for the time period – and beautiful design. It’s very rare and prohibitively expensive unfortunately. By extension, I also love the BMW Z8, which is a more recent take on the 507. It came out in the early 2000s and is also distinctively unique and retro in design, especially for a BMW. They only made 5000 of them so it’s also a collector item.

Magna’s New CEO Discusses the Future of Mobility

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the Detroit Economic Club (DEC) hosted Magna International Inc.’s new Chief Executive Officer, Seetarama (Swamy) Kotagiri, to discuss electrification, autonomous driving, and how the auto industry operated during the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 169,000 employees and operations across 28 countries, Magna is one of the world’s largest mobility technology suppliers and one of the largest companies based in Canada. DEC President and Chief Executive Officer, Steve Grigorian welcomed Kotagiri and then began the conversation by discussing Magna’s approach to electrification

The Future is Electric

Kotagiri outlined why electrification is vital to Magna from a business and societal perspective. “The societal goal of making the planet a better and more livable place is driving electrification,” said Kotagiri. “It is not a matter of if, but when for our industry. The move towards electrification is accelerating.”

Magna’s strategic electrification has matched the industry’s acceleration. Over the past twelve months Magna has partnered with LG to manufacture e-motors, inverters, and onboard chargers. Furthermore, Magna’s e4 technology demonstration car represents their strong commitment to being a leader in decreasing CO2 emissions through electrification.

The Future is Autonomous

In addition to sharing his vision on the near-term electric-vehicle transition, Kotagiri also discussed the place that autonomous driving technology has in the industry’s long-term future. Prior to becoming CEO of Magna, Kotagiri was the company’s chief technology officer (CTO). Consequently, he has committed to further strengthening Magna’s innovation culture by forming partnerships in areas including autonomy, electrification, electronics, and connectivity. Kotagiri was quick to point out that while full-autonomy is still some way off for every vehicle, there are many opportunities for iterative gains that make driving safer and more enjoyable.

A Culture of Safety

Kotagiri concluded his remarks to the DEC by reflecting on how Magna has focused on employer safety and health over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The automotive industry has been at the forefront of returning-to-work safely, and Magna has been a leader in those efforts. Swamy emphasized that employee safety and health are part of their commitment to fostering a people-centric culture. The last twelve months have been incredibly tumultuous for the auto industry, suppliers, and Magna. However, there is a clear pathway forward for recovery and long-term transformation.