There are many different factors, thoughts and approaches happening in the current evolution of the automotive industry. During this dynamic time, Ancor Automotive has become a proud investor of MICHauto, the state’s only automotive and mobility cluster association that promotes, retains, and grows Michigan’s signature industry. To help us get an inside view of what’s going on in the industry, we sat down with Glenn Stevens Jr., Executive Director of MICHauto and Vice President of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber.
ANCOR: The auto industry is going through a significant evolution – what does this mean for Michigan?
Glenn: The industry is definitely going through a transformation and a transition, one that I think is probably not like anything we’ve ever seen. If you think about it, an industry that’s been doing the same thing for 120 years, all built around the internal combustion engine, is now transitioning to an electrified and very digitalized form of transportation. That means there’s a tremendous amount happening. And there is no greater concentration of automotive OEMs, suppliers, research and development and testing happening in the world compared to Michigan. That’s a fact. Are there other centers of excellence around the globe? Yes, but not like the concentration we have here in Michigan. We’re operating from a great base of history and a great base of R&D, engineering, and advanced manufacturing.
The way to keep Michigan at the forefront is to make sure that as the vehicles, infrastructure, and all the things around and in the vehicle change, we maintain our leadership in engineering, research, and design. Today, the two primary things are electrification and digitalization, so we need to focus on the high-tech talent to work on these, while making sure our factories become factories 4.0. From this advanced manufacturing standpoint, there are other things that are critical to focus on. For example, policy. We have to make sure we have the right policy, state and federal, in place as it pertains to the industry. The industry is working hard on all this because we don’t take the position that we’ve earned over 100-plus years lightly.
ANCOR: With so much going on in the industry right now, automation, digitalization, connectivity, what excites you the most and why?
Glenn: I think from a technology standpoint, it’s fascinating. What we’re seeing with the change in the propulsion system, it’s not just electrification, because there’s a lot of activity in fuel-cell development too. I think the opportunities these technology shifts provide are tremendously interesting – it really gives me cause for optimism. In this industry, when we look to acquire talent or deploy technologies, we’re trying to solve global problems, unlike back in the day when the industry was viewed as contributing to global problems. Today if you look at climate – safety, sustainability, road congestion issues, the industry is trying to solve these problems. That’s really exciting!
ANCOR: Automakers are going full speed ahead in EV development, but consumers don’t seem to be quite sold on the idea. Where do you think that disconnect is?
Glenn: I think there’s a couple ways to look at it. First, the average cost of an electric vehicle is $66,000 – that’s not accessible to the average consumer. So, I think it’s hard for somebody to say, “Yeah, I can see myself in that vehicle.” In addition to cost, there are a lot of other factors. For example, we’re used to seeing a gas station on every other corner. But we’re being told that with EVs, we’ll have a charger, 80% of which will be in the home. So, there will most likely be a home charger and then an infrastructure of chargers around us. It’s a pretty complex supply chain for bringing these things to mass market and for people to understand.
There’s also a bit of a disconnect when it comes to consumer adoption, infrastructure and what the OEMs announce, but that’s always the case. OEMs announce plans because that’s the nature of the competitive forces that they’re up against. But over time it will start to come together. For example, when the supply chain evolves, battery costs come down, vehicle pricing comes down, infrastructure is in place, etc. Consumers will start to understand that it’s not that complicated and realize they don’t need to worry about going 400 miles because that’s not their normal driving routine.
In the end, it’s a very complex issue. There is a disconnect, but we’re kind of in the wild, wild west phase of a lot of this right now – a lot of things are going to shake out.
ANCOR: Workforce, current and future, is a big topic. What do we need to do, or what is the state or MICHauto doing, to attract people to our industry?
Glenn: The number one thing we’re focused on right now is the human capital supply chain for the industry, making sure Michigan citizens of all ages know there’s opportunity in an industry that’s growing, changing, evolving, and solving global issues. In our focus, we’re taking a holistic look. We’re involved in one way or another on things like immigration reform, because we need more new Americans to work in our industry, country and state. Then there’s reskilling and upskilling of current employees as jobs change with digitization and such. We’re also focused on getting people, including younger people, interested in the industry.
Then there’s other, bigger issues like affordable housing and childcare – we’re actively involved in those issues too. Typically, we wouldn’t be involved in these, but they are such a big part of the talent equation that we must make sure we have a voice and the right policies being put in place to address them and ensure Michigan is a welcoming place. We want Michigan to be, and be known as, a place with strong communities where you can make a living in an industry that’s growing and exciting.
ANCOR: It’s a lot to accomplish – how do you see the industry succeeding?
Glenn: It’s going to take all of us to accomplish what we need to do as an industry. I’m talking companies of all sizes, schools, community colleges and universities, politicians – all the stakeholders. One of the things we are proud of at MICHauto is we don’t have typical members. We have investors from a variety of different stakeholder groups. This is intentional because we want all the voices to be part of the single voice that represents the industry and where it’s going.