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

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:

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.


LISTEN: Glenn Stevens Jr. and Lisa Lunsford on the CEO Coalition for Change


Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto, and Lisa Lunsford, co-founder and CEO of Global Strategic Supply Solutions (GS3), joined Automotive News’ Steve Schmith on the Daily Drive Podcast to discuss the launch of the CEO Coalition for Change.

Lunsford, along with Stevens and the team at MICHauto, the Center for Automotive Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (CADIA), and CEOs from ten automotive suppliers developed the CEO Coalition for Change to address the need to further move the needle on diversity, equity, and inclusion with the automotive industry.

CADIA’s mission has been to double the number of diverse leaders in the automotive industry by 2030, while MICHauto’s primary mission has been to promote, grow, and retain talent within the industry. By combining their core objectives, CADIA and MICHauto were able to develop the Coalition to further move the needle on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.

While the term D&I (diversity and inclusion) has been around for some time, the addition of equity remains relatively new.

“Equity means intentional equality, and you can not have equality without being intentional,” said Lunsford. “Equity looks at the ecosystem, where we are as a whole, analyzes that situation, and says we have to be intentional at distributing our resources.”

The CEO Coalition for Change has been working on four key areas: talent, innovation performance, reputation and responsibility, and financial performance. One of the largest focuses of the Coalition’s DE&I initiative involves building and sustaining economically sustainable community. Fair treatment and equity within the workplace translates to improvements in employee attitudes and work efforts. A study by Deloitte found that companies with diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultures are eight times more likely to have better business outcomes, and three times more likely to retain employees, particularly millennials.

“What we do for diversity is really a win for all,” said Lunsford. “When people are acknowledged and they know that by giving their best they will be rewarded properly…then everybody gives their best and that goes to employee retention and developing the talent pipeline.”

CEO Spotlight: Rami Fakhoury of Fakhoury Global Immigration

Rami Fakhoury is the founder and managing director of Fakhoury Global Immigration. MICHauto had the chance to speak with Fakhoury and hear more about his achievements and motivations.

What is your number one priority as CEO?
My number one priority is to guide the development and growth of Fakhoury Global Immigration in two main ways. First, we provide our attorneys and staff with the resources they need to be productive and engaged in their work. Secondly, we strive to give every client top-quality service so that they meet their talent mobility goals.

What is an accomplishment you are most proud of personally or professionally?
Professionally, I am most proud of having grown Fakhoury Global Immigration from a small concern into one of the leading independently owned business-based immigration firms in the U.S. Even more than my professional accomplishments, I am proud to have Carmen as my wife and life partner as well as being father to our three beautiful children. They have enriched my life in ways that I cannot begin to describe.

What would you do with your 15 minutes of fame?
I would use my fifteen minutes of fame to show people the critical and vital role that immigrants have in building our national economy. Too often, immigrants are accused of taking jobs away from U.S. citizens. The truth is that immigrants start more businesses than U.S. citizens and contribute billions of dollars every year both in tax revenue and in hiring U.S. workers. Immigrants are also at the forefront of innovation, helping America to retain its competitive edge. This is a message that needs to be heard more often.

What advice do you have for the next generation?
We live in a time of tremendous change thanks to the increasing integration of artificial intelligence into the workplace. Jobs are being transformed at a rapid pace and that pace is only going to accelerate in the foreseeable future. Therefore, I advise all young people to embrace change as a guiding ethic. If you commit to lifelong learning and to being flexible, you will be in a better position to succeed in the long term.

What would you tell young professionals about our automotive industry to keep them in Michigan?
Many young professionals want to go into IT and/or move to the coasts. What they do not realize is that they can have a fulfilling professional career in the automotive industry. Not only is the industry the backbone of Michigan’s economy, but it also increasingly integrates advanced technologies into its product lines (think, for example, of such autonomous features as self-parking). This means young people do not have to go to Silicon Valley to have a career in IT. Moreover, the cost of living is much lower in the Midwest, meaning that automotive professionals enjoy a high quality of life and do not have to deal with the inflated costs of living or epic commutes their colleagues on the coasts endure.

What are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?
I would say empathy is one of the most important attributes of successful leadership. The COVID-19 pandemic hit everyone hard from our legal assistants all the way up to our partners. This underscored–for me, anyway–how important it is for leaders to understand where their clients and their employees are coming from. Unlike profits or losses, morale is not quantifiable–but it is essential if businesses are going to weather the storms.

In Case You Missed It: Investor Town Hall with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell

On Monday, Jan. 25, U.S. Rep Debbie Dingell joined MICHauto’s Glenn Stevens Jr. for a candid conversation on what to expect with the incoming Biden administration during a MICHauto Investor Town Hall.  A strong advocate for the automotive industry, Dingell shared her background, hometown pride, and dedication to making sure that Michigan is the home for mobility.  Promoting government policies that foster growth in new technology is one key area of focus for her and for Michigan.

Going into the new year with the pandemic still before us, Dingell addressed automotive executives’ top concerns and stated that the transfer of power in Washington has ushered in a new day for this country and this industry. Out of the gate, a national COVID-19 strategy is being implemented to address communication, distribution of the vaccine, equipment needed for the administration of the vaccine, and educating people on its benefits.

In conjunction with the national COVID-19 strategy, the new administration will focus on another COVID-19 relief bill followed by an infrastructure bill. The infrastructure bill will be large in scope with a focus on fixing roads and bridges, addressing the broadband issue, and developing EV infrastructure. Other topics that were addressed during the discussion included the USMCA trade agreement and needed changes to immigration policy.

The conversation wrapped up with talk of our talent pipeline. Dingell emphasized that skilled trades need to be valued and that existing programs in support of skilled trades need to be better utilized and expanded upon. MAT² is one such program that was brought up by executives asking for continued government support in getting those types of programs funded and into the schools.

Stay up to date on the latest MIChauto events.

The Auto Show is Ours to Evolve

This article was authored by MICHauto Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr. and published as an op-ed for dBusiness Magazine. 

The traditional auto show is quickly disappearing. In fact, it may already be gone. Tradition is based on the idea of something being “long-standing.” But very few things stand forever, and they change with time.

We are wrestling with that here in Detroit. We want our North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) tradition to endure, even though we recognize that today we are experiencing an inflection point impacting the auto industry. Everything is changing — the vehicle, how we live, the consumer interface, and even our priorities. This is a convergence of mobility, digital and artificial intelligence proliferation, and a changing planet. We either find a path to the upward trajectory curve or fall victim to the downward spiral. Things cannot stay the same, even though we may wish they could.

As one of the founders of Intel, Andy Grove, once said, “The person who is the star of a previous era is often the last one to adapt to change, the last one to yield to logic of a strategic inflection point and tends to fall harder than most.”

Sound familiar? How many times has Detroit, its products, or industry fallen harder than most? General Motors does not want to be the star of a previous era; they want to own a significant part of the future. For them, leading the way means zero crashes, zero emissions, zero congestion, and an all-electric future.

The experts say that an auto show must now be experiential, but for attendees, seeing the cars up close has always been an experience, ever since the first auto show in Paris in 1898, followed by the Detroit Auto Show in 1899. While cars and trucks have changed over the last century and a quarter, they still have four wheels and are primarily propelled by an internal combustion engine. As for the act of viewing, testing, and buying a car, that remains much the same, but the “experience” has changed and must continue to transform.

We thought June of 2020 was going to be “it!” The new Detroit show, the new experience. But, due to a global health crisis, it was not to be. All of us in the region should be motivated to be a part of the solution to chart the future for this invaluable event. We must help determine, create, and build a new experience.

The NAIAS team knows that we must capitalize on Detroit’s position as the most unique cluster of auto-mobility technology, engineering, testing, and advanced manufacturing in the world. Period. There is nothing else like it. The sheer amount and concentration of innovators, companies, decision-makers, and industry stakeholders here does not exist anywhere else. Having and holding an auto show is something we have owned and need to, as the industry’s epicenter.

Nobody in Michigan’s center of the auto industry wants to stand still. While the evolution will never stop, we are not yielding the perception and brand of our industry, of Detroit, and of Michigan. For the sake of our present and future workforce, economy, diversity, equity, inclusion, and new Americans, this industry and the solutions it brings to the world matter. Our show matters. And looking to the future, working together, it’s easy to like our chances of keeping it successful in new ways.

*Originally published in dBusiness Magazine.