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2023 MichAuto by the Bay: Michigan Outdoor Technology and Innovation Forum Round-Up

August 3, 2023

Over 40 government, industry, and academic stakeholders gathered in Traverse City on July 31 to discuss Michigan’s leadership in the outdoor mobility industry. This growing sector in the state has an incredible depth of specializations, including off-road and marine vehicle electrification, multimodal charging, and much more.

Josh Hundt, Chief Project Officer and Executive Vice President of Strategic Accounts at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), set the stage for Monday’s discussion by emphasizing outdoor recreation’s potential to be a differentiator for the state.

He shared that because of the support and advocacy of the attendees, the MEDC added the outdoor recreation industry as a targeted business industry. He concluded that, “At the MEDC we’re looking at it as a ‘Team Michigan’ approach, and that is exemplified here. It’s not only about how we use the boats and trails; it’s how we design the future of the industry here in Michigan.”

Innovation and Regional Tech Hub Bid in Northern Michigan

In April, Gov. Whitmer announced the launch of the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge grant, which offers companies the opportunity to apply for assistance that will support the decarbonization and electrification of both marinas and watercraft across the state.

Warren Call, President and Chief Executive Officer of Traverse Connect, revealed the first round of grant recipients will be announced this summer to help bolster Michigan as one of the first places with an e-boat charging corridor in North America. He shared that companies from around the world are already reaching out to seek opportunities for manufacturing, R&D, and technology development because of Michigan’s natural environment and its legacy of R&D and manufacturing leadership.

Call also announced that the Fresh Water Research and Innovation Center will be receiving a $15 million investment from the new state budget.

Further, the Northen Michigan Discover Blue Consortium is submitting a Tech Hub application for the Economic Development Administration Strategic Development Grant. The Tech Hub will focus on underwater drones, marine electrified vehicles, marine sensing and sonar, and autonomous ships.

Canada’s Outdoor Innovation Commitment

On Canada’s commitment to outdoor innovation, Consul General Colin Bird shared the country is the mobility industry’s partner for electrification – from mines to mobility to recycling and charging. Canadian companies are setting up shop in Michigan because of its many assets that allow them to capitalize on their diverse collective strengths.

The Outdoor Tech View from Polaris

Kevin Dwyer, Senior Project Engineer of Global Electrification at Polaris, discussed the company’s recently announced pilot project that will create a first-of-its-kind electric off-road vehicle charging network in the Upper Peninsula. The project is made possible by funding through the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification’s new program, the Mobility Public-Private Partnership and Programming (MP4) Grant. Polaris will also equip its first Polaris Adventures Outfitter with a rental fleet of its all-new RANGER XP Kinetic.

Shophouse Park Progress Report

Founder of Shophouse Park, Dave Ollila, hopes to use a $3 million Michigan Strategic Fund grant for a startup incubator project in Marquette that will help develop technologies for the electrification of recreational vehicles such as all-terrain vehicles, RVs, etc., as well as the building of infrastructure for smart and electrified trails throughout the Upper Peninsula. He said, “we must recognize that we are at the dawn of a new opportunity as it relates to outdoor recreation.”

Michigan’s Outdoor Innovation Opportunity

Brad Garmon, Director of the Michigan Outdoor Recreation Industry Office at the MEDC, elaborated on the MP4 Grant, which will be given not only to Polaris but to Electric Outdoors and Snowbotix too. Electric Outdoors will use $325,000 to design, build, and deploy the campsite of the future.

EO-Canopy, a solar-powered, off-grid battery storage destination platform, will enable EV charging at rural campsites and other destinations for the Michigan-based company. Snowbotix, a sole manufacturer of all-electric, all-terrain, and all-season multi-utility robots in the United States will receive $200,000 to electrify and automate labor-intensive and dangerous outdoor maintenance including but not limited to non-road and off-road snow removal, snow grooming, cleaning, power washing, and vegetation control.