MICHauto Mobility Tech Stars: Finding Your Place in the Industry

MICHauto’s Mobility Tech Stars joined Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto, at the North American International Auto Show to discuss their experiences in creating the cutting-edge technology and vehicles of the new mobility era in Michigan.

These three speakers were among seven of the brightest and best in the mobility space featured in the September 2022 Detroiter magazine cover story. Explore the issue here.

Stevens opened the conversation by acknowledging that each panelist is passionate about what they do but inquired what drew them to their respective companies.

Athira Vilson, OBD power electronics engineer at BorgWarner, is especially motivated by her company’s focus on reducing global warming by moving into electrification. She said, “working for a company that has the same ideology as me is what makes me so excited about working on new technology there.”

Margarita Mann, senior engineering manager of HYDROTEC Hydrogen Fuel Cell Business at General Motors, was able to work directly with customers through the Project Driveway program to understand their experience needs when she first began at GM. She now incorporates this into the products she designs, engineers, and creates. She said, “having that understanding of what’s important to a customer and adding that it’s zero-emission, General Motors has enabled me to do that in my career. ‘Zero, zero, zero’ is our mantra and our mission and bleeds into everything that we do.”

Vince Galante, global head of user experience design at Stellantis, was inspired by his teacher-turned-colleague, Ralph Gilles, who exposed him to the spectrum of personalities and talents that exist within automotive careers. “Between seeing the people, seeing the cars they were producing, and then seeing how it all comes together, I was surprised at what a collaborative and passionate culture was there.” No matter what position he held, Galante could tell that he would be able to have a noticeable impact at the company.

Having all come to Michigan to pursue a career in the automotive and mobility industry, Stevens asked what it is about the state and/or the industry that either excites them or needs improvement.

Vilson would like to see companies in Michigan put more effort into recruiting diverse talent, which will attract more people to explore automotive and mobility careers in Michigan.

Mann, a California native, made a quip about the state’s penchant for inclement weather, which is a small price to pay for the opportunities that working at GM has created for her. She said, “I’ve learned to innovate. I’ve become an inventor in these processes and these technologies, things I never knew I could be. I work on a lot of really exciting projects that will change the world for the better.”

Galante is impressed with how much growth and change the city of Detroit has experienced since he attended the College for Creative Studies in the early 2000s. In the automotive industry in particular, “there’s a lot of opportunity because there’s so much that we don’t know about how the technology affects the vehicle.” Stellantis is maximizing this potential by creating partnerships with schools to “provide an opportunity for talent that doesn’t yet know they have a place in the industry.”

Commentary: The auto show of old is dead — and that’s OK

Crain’s Detroit Business
Dustin Walsh
Sept. 15, 2022

The auto show is dead.

We all know this year’s Detroit North American International Auto Show is different. That was the plan all along, before the global COVID-19 pandemic upended public events. The Detroit Automobile Dealers Association announced in 2018 the show would transition from the glitz and glamor of a traditional show to a more “festival” approach, an attempt to take some steam out of the booming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that had been rubbing on its bumper for years.

Now 1,326 days since the last auto show in Detroit — or 290 days longer than John F. Kennedy served as the 35th president — the new reimagined show is back and it’s … different.

Gone are the sparkly dress-clad models and hourly new vehicle unveilings. Gone are the early morning pints of Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier in the ZF Friedrichshafen booth and the Bavarian woman making fresh pretzels at the Audi display and the kitchy freebies offered by the Detroit Three.

Instead, Huntington Place, nee Cobo Center, feels more like the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. But no campers or pontoon boats, just cars. Cars that don’t even fill all the empty space of the more than 700,000-square-feet convention center. Sure, there’s a towering rubber ducky in the front lawn and a smorgasbord of flying vehicles and new technologies.

At the show in 2019, there were 4,568 journalists from 60 countries in attendance to cover 44 vehicle reveals. This year, the expectations are less with organizers expecting only 1,000 to 2,000 journalists to cover just eight to 10 reveals, my colleague Kurt Nagl reported.

But what’s in an auto show?

For journalists, it’s access. A colleague at Automotive News complained to me on the opening day of the show (Wednesday) about the lack of quality executives to interview.

“We used to be able to fill our notebooks with six months of stories,” he grumbled as we peered from one end of the Huntington to the other, an impossible act in previous years as the shows massive floor-to-ceiling displays blanketed the building.

Yet I wouldn’t dare call the show a failure. Sure, the displays are less impressive — Subaru’s main attraction is a pen to play with puppies — but it’s the business of selling cars that the show propagates. That’s still happening. The upper bowels of the convention center are still home to important business meetings, and ideas are still being shared.

“Is there a good vibe and a ton of connecting and activity today? Yes,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of industry advocacy group MichAuto. “It’s a rebuild of sorts. Lots of people are figuring out how to navigate the business changes and trends driving the industry and their companies. It’s the same for the show.”

And while journalists grumble and groan about fewer reporting opportunities, the show’s ultimate audience is the public. Ticket holders will still enter Huntington Place starting on Sept. 17 and be able to get up close and personal with cars. They will be able to open the frunk on the new F-150 Lightning electric truck and toggle the shifter paddles on the 670-horsepower mid-engine Corvette Z06. Hell, they can even test drive several new vehicles from Jeep, Ram and Ford at the indoor tracks in the center.

And hosting the show during warmer months of the year, instead of frigid January, is expected to have greater spillover impact for the city itself.

“This is going to be special,” Mayor Mike Duggan told reporters during a media event at the show earlier this week. “All the downtown restaurants I have talked to are very excited. We’re going to see the economic benefit spin off a lot differently than when you drove (here) in the cold, parked here in the structure, came in and drove back home.”

The only metric of success that ultimately matters for the Detroit show is public attendance. It has averaged about 800,000 visitors annually for decades. If the public cares, gets inside the show and eventually makes a big car purchase … isn’t that triumph? Isn’t that really the point of it all?

So, sure, journalists can make fun of the tacky rubber dinosaurs near the Ford F-150 Raptor or the silly display of the Flintmobile (from the Flintstones cartoon) but we’re no longer the relevant market for automakers. They have social media and off-site events to wow the public. And that’s okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Detroit North American International Auto Show being lot less global and a lot more regional. Car shoppers will still delight.

Long live the auto show.

View the original article.


Our Detroit Auto Show

Michigan Mobility Talent Consortium: Talent Pipeline Must Include Positive Influences, Enticements, Equitability

Government leaders, chief human resource officers, and other industry leaders gathered with nearly 60 educators at the Detroit Regional Chamber on Sept. 14 to discuss opportunities to close the talent development gaps in Michigan.

Leading this Michigan Mobility Talent Consortium (MMTC) Education meeting was:

  • Charlie Ackerman, Senior Vice President, Human Relations, Bosch North America
  • Kerry Ebersole Singh, Chief Talent and Engagement Officer, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)
  • Michelle Acciavatti, Managing Director, Midwest Region Leader, WTW

Listening to Educators is Critical

Opening the discussion, Ackerman stressed to the educators the importance of bridging the early stages of a student’s life, like being a positive influence who provides valuable education, to produce quality talent and citizens who can “live, work, and thrive in the great state of Michigan.”

“An interesting piece of data is that by 2027-2030, the educational system in Michigan may not be able to produce the amount of talent that the state needs,” he said. “The way to overcome this is through every educator in this room… the educators represented here reach over 10,000 students annually in Michigan.”

Ackerman continued, saying that the talent challenge solution is a shared priority between industry, education, and government. In addition, he said creating community, collaboration, connectivity, and celebrations will “build bridges to solve the issue and create opportunities.”

“MMTC is coming to [the educators] to tell you we need you,” he said. “We need to understand your challenges, pain points, and how we can work with you to understand. We want you to visit us and see what the job is so that you can tell your students about the engineering, coding, and other opportunities in automotive.”

He closed his portion of the discussion by adding that the government is “the enabler to solve these problems” and suggested the solution is to increase the volume and quality of the talent pipeline by 50% in Michigan.

How Michigan Can Win Quality Talent

Singh began her portion of the conversation with a sobering statistic from MEDC, saying that by 2028, the death rate will outpace the birthrate in Michigan, and urged the group to “entice people to the quality of life in Michigan.”

“Twenty percent of the jobs in Michigan are connected to the mobility industry,” she said. “We need a close partnership in Michigan as the industry transforms through new technologies.”

After noting businesses want to know how to invest in the K-12 education system, Singh identified several barriers that Michigan needs to address to win talent, including:

  • General workforce shortages
  • Recruitment, retention, and upskilling of talent
  • A shortage of high-skill workers in advanced manufacturing and health care
  • A lagging labor force participation
  • Population growth decline

“We want to make sure support is flexible to industry so that we can support more students entering the industry in Michigan,” she said. “MEDC has launched the Talent Action Team to address the challenges in this area.”

It Is Never Too Early to Start Teaching Equity

To close the segment, Telva McGruder, chief diversity officer of General Motors (GM), chimed in during the audience Q&A segment to share the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion progress. She also echoed Ackerman’s belief that equitable work needs to begin “at very young ages.”

“[GM has] justice and inclusion funding to impact not only STEM but reading and literacy at young ages to build confidence and also so they can engage those really tricky science books,” she said. “…it’s about seeing what people do. We want students to have exposure to what people do so that they can see what opportunities exist.”

The State Unveils Future Mobility Plan to Ensure Michigan Remains Global Leader in Future Mobility

MI Future Mobility Plan coordinates efforts across multiple state departments and agencies to address challenges and support growth in the mobility and electrification industry.  

LANSING, Mich. – Today, the state of Michigan announced a new statewide strategy to ensure Michigan remains the global leader in the future of mobility. The MI Future Mobility Plan maps out a comprehensive strategy that addresses future mobility challenges by growing the mobility workforce, providing more accessible transportation infrastructure, and developing innovative mobility policies.

Developed by the governor’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME) and its Council on Future Mobility and Electrification (CFME), both of which were formed in 2020 to coordinate a statewide mobility strategy, the plan is an actionable next step to address the opportunities and challenges that Michigan faces in remaining a leader in the mobility and electrification revolution.

“Michigan has a long heritage of success in automotive manufacturing and innovation,” said Trevor Pawl, OFME’s Chief Mobility Officer. “As the mobility industry continues to grow and evolve, we are laser-focused on leveraging our state’s talented workforce, ecosystem and available business resources to make Michigan a place where multi-modal mobility solutions are born, and companies can find long-term success and support.”

In developing the collaborative mobility plan, OFME and CFME worked closely with experts in the Michigan Departments of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO); Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; Natural Resources; Treasury; Insurance and Financial Services; Michigan State Police; Michigan Economic Development Corporation; and Michigan Public Service Commission.

Broken down into three key pillars, the MI Future Mobility Plan lays out specific goals that will help create a stronger state economy through safer, more equitable, and environmentally sound transportation for all Michiganders:

Pillar 1: Transition and Grow our Mobility Industry and Workforce 

  • Goal: Become a top three state for employment growth in mobility and automotive-focused industries, creating 20,000 new jobs by the year 2026.
  • Goal: Add 7,000 workers with mobility credentials by 2030, while increasing diversity of the sector’s workforce.
  • Goal: Ensure Michigan maintains a resilient automotive and parts manufacturing sector that supports at least 170,000 jobs through 2030.

Pillar 2: Provide Safer, Greener, and More Accessible Transportation Infrastructure

  • Goal: By 2030, deploy 100,000 electric vehicle chargers to support 2 million electric vehicles and improve access to H2 infrastructure.
  • Goal: Maintain at least 80% of electric vehicle charging off-peak to minimize impacts to the grid.
  • Goal: Reduce congestion and traffic crash rates statewide by 2026.
  • Goal: Provide residents with consistent access to mobility-as-a-service options across Michigan’s 77 transit agencies by 2025.

Pillar 3: Lead the World in Mobility and Electrification Policy and Innovation

  • Goal: Maintain #1 state ranking for mobility and electrification research and development spending.
  • Goal: Become a top 10 state for growth in venture capital funding by 2026.
  • Goal: Become a top 10 state for federal investments related to mobility and vehicle electrification.
  • Goal: Lead the nation in electric and automated vehicle friendliness through responsive policies.

Michigan’s performance within these pillars will determine whether the state can build an inclusive economy that secures its position as a global mobility powerhouse, supports increased household income, and creates more high-wage, high-skill jobs.

“This strategy is a great step forward for our state and its efforts to remain the global leader in mobility,” said Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives at the Detroit Regional Chamber. “The honest assessment of the industry’s strengths and areas of opportunity paired with direct action items will bolster the state’s competitiveness through the industry’s ongoing evolution.”

“The transformation towards mobility and electrification creates exciting new opportunities for Michigan’s workforce and economy,” said LEO Director and CFME Chair Susan Corbin. “The State is working hard to prepare Michiganders with the skills and talent needed to fill high-demand careers of the future in the mobility sector and beyond.”

While global economies continue to transform, big mobility challenges remain as Michigan faces competition for new mobility jobs and research and development and risk capital investments, transitions in its workforce from traditional internal combustion engine skillsets to emerging autonomous vehicles and electric vehicle skillsets, transitions in its infrastructure and grid from serving internal combustion engine vehicles to also serving electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and next generation transit at scale and ensures that state regulatory environments and resources keep pace with the global market.

To learn more about the MI Future Mobility Plan Economy plan, visit here.


MICHauto at the 2022 SPESA Advancements in Manufacturing Technologies Conference: The Motor City Is Where Industry and Innovation Collide

The Sewn Product Equipment and Suppliers of the Americas (SPESA) professional group held their annual Advancements in Manufacturing Technologies Conference in Detroit on Sept. 13 to discuss new ideas, solutions, and technology available for the sewn products industry.

Detroit has been on an ongoing fashion and garment manufacturing influx for the past five years, thanks to its existing infrastructure to support growth and overall support for Made in America initiatives. The city and region are bringing heavy competition to other major markets like New York City and Los Angeles.

Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and vice president of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives​​ at the Detroit Regional Chamber, and Drew Coleman, senior director of MICHauto, joined two SPESA panels to give perspectives from the automotive and mobility standpoints since the industries share similar needs and issues.

The conference panels kicked off at One Woodward’s Beacon with a discussion on the city’s role in reshoring, nearshoring, and improving domestic and global supply chains. Coleman joined this discussion with Deb Ferraro, vice president of global product development and technical design at Carhartt, and Matthew Wallace, chief executive officer of DXM Inc.

Starting the conversation, Coleman was asked how industry reinvesting seems to work continuously in Detroit compared to other locations in the country. While admitting it’s still a challenging issue, he credited the region’s prime location for immense international trade and its high-quality talent “who just gets things done.”

“With us, we have Detroit and Windsor as one of the busiest international trade sectors in the world,” Coleman said. “When you have that, along with design, builders, and manufacturing all in one place creates synergy…merging [a logistical] strategy with location advantages and talent together creates ‘creative opportunities’ here in this region.”

Later in the conversation, when asked about the struggles with supply chain shifts and how the automotive and mobility industry will continue to evolve in infrastructure, Coleman leaned in on utilizing the entire ecosystem.

“When you’re looking at chips, it’s not just policy, it’s also building and investing,” he said. “It’s the whole ecosystem of the supply chain. It’s going back to risk analysis [and] analyzing the entire system. But this is a long-term strategic approach. There has to be positioning with policy, with [talent], and with industry to show value proposition to all parties.”

In closing, when asked about the Ford Central Station’s collaborative ecosystem, Coleman expressed the criticalness of partnerships, saying it’s about “bringing all the right people to the table and showing what they can do.” One party or partner shouldn’t entirely be the “sole solution to the problem.”

Later in the afternoon, Stevens joined the conference’s culmination panel at the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC) in Midtown Detroit with the following stakeholders who have been responsible for Detroit’s continued growth across fashion, automotive, and innovation:

  • Jen Guarino, Chief Executive Officer, ISAIC
  • Brenna Lane, Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Denim
  • Colleen Hau, Vice President of Product and Programs, Newlab
  • Allen Largin, Creative and Innovation Director, Rock Ventures

Stevens served as an additional insight into how the fashion manufacturing industry has immense innovation opportunities in Michigan, like how the automotive and mobility industry has had since the invention of the modern vehicle.

When asked if the apparel industry could piggyback off the automotive and mobility industry’s success, Stevens compared the possibility to the successful pivots of Arsenal of Democracy in the 1940s and the inrush needs of ventilators just a few years ago.

“I think the proof of the past and present gives you optimism for the future,” Stevens said. “The mobilization of ingenuity, innovation, engineering, and grit [is] not something we just talk about, it’s something we’ve shown that we can do. And I think you can apply that to a lot of different industries and products as we move forward.”

In closing, when asked about some of his favorite parts of this year’s Auto Show, Stevens shared a mutual excitement for the vehicles’ interior designs, particularly the newest Ford Raptor being a “work of art.”

“I am fascinated with what’s going on with the interiors of the vehicles,” he said. “To see how they use patterns in the laminates [and] what they’re doing in the textiles in the leather, I think that’s some of the neatest things to be looking at.”

NEW: Read the September 2022 Detroiter Magazine Featuring Mobility Tech Stars

Hot off the press: the newest edition of the Detroiter! The recent edition discusses how high-tech talent holds the key to Michigan’s automotive future. Discover why Detroit Regional Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Sandy K. Baruah believes political polarization is risking our global mobility placement and learn more about the growing need for non-traditional talent strategies.

Read the September issue.

Outdoor Mobility Industry Gathers to Discuss Growth Opportunities in Michigan

Over 40 government, industry, and academic stakeholders convened for a roundtable hosted by MICHauto at the Detroit Regional Chamber on Sept. 12 to discuss Michigan’s leadership in the outdoor mobility industry, which has an incredible depth of specializations, including outdoor recreational and marine vehicle electrification, multimodal charging, and much more.

Michigan Must Focus its Attention on Innovation in Outdoor Recreation

Brad Garmon, director of the Michigan Outdoor Industry Office, led with a summary of the last Outdoor Mobility Roundtable that MICHauto hosted in Traverse City on Aug. 1, which concentrated on how Michigan is redefining and reorienting the outdoor recreation industry. From this conversation he concluded that moving forward, Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry will no longer be focused on just travel tourism and parks and recreation. Garmon explained, “now outdoor recreation is technology, outdoor recreation is innovation, and outdoor recreation is making the future happen.”

As an opportunity state, Michigan has the chance to leverage this blending of outdoor recreation, mobility, and talent to bolster the industry by investing in research and development. Polaris, an American automotive manufacturer of motorcycles, snowmobiles, and all-terrain vehicles, has already made large investments to electrify their products and keep up with the quickly changing industry.

“Michigan is poised to lose this or take this now,” said Garmon, “it is ours to win or lose.”

For the state to be successful, it needs to swiftly act by creating funds and programs that target outdoor recreation as innovation, which other states have already done.

“Conversations that were sparked in Traverse City prompted immediate follow up with grant opportunities and projects. All it took was a little focused attention on this industry and what their needs are as they innovate,” he said.

It will be important to bring projects to life and into the demo phase where people can actually interact with new technology.

Strategic Opportunities for Michigan Lie in the Outdoor Recreation Industry

Chris MacInnes, president of Crystal Mountain, emphasized the role of outdoor recreation in the mobility space and the unique and strategic advantages that it presents in Michigan. As the “maker state,” Michigan is bolstered not only by its reputation for manufacturing sophisticated and technologically advanced products in the mobility space, but also by its environmental diversity, its talent pool, and its four-season outdoor industry.

With the second-most diverse crop base in the U.S., Michigan boasts strong urban and rural assets that help the state foster resilience. In addition to the mosaic of cultures and diverse skillsets that contribute to a strong talent pool, the state has a robust four-season outdoor recreation industry that brings in $9.5 billion to the economy annually and supports 108,000 jobs.

The outdoor recreation industry also helps to make the state’s beautiful outdoor assets more inclusive. MacInnes described how Crystal Mountain’s partnership with the Detroit Outdoor Coalition has connected communities across the state to outdoor recreational opportunities that may not be available to them otherwise. While children from Detroit head up north to experience winter sports, their counterparts from northern Michigan head downstate for an introduction to the recreational and cultural assets of Detroit and Southeast Michigan.

“The last strategic advantage that we have is being surrounded by 20% of the world’s fresh water,” said MacInnes. She noted that as climate change makes other regions of the U.S. less inhabitable, there will be a migration to northern regions, which will lead to economic growth in those areas. Michigan is in a geographic sweet spot, and we need to leverage that.

Michigan’s natural resources, outdoor recreation assets, location, diversity, and advanced mobility and manufacturing capabilities give it the opportunity to reshape the image of Michigan. We must position Michigan as a cool place to work, live, play, learn, and call home in order to attract the kind of talent that will propel the state to thrive.

“Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry can help sell this message not only by contributing to quality of life, but also by designing and building outdoor recreation products in Michigan that brand it as a global leader for innovation, manufacturing, and healthy and inclusive lifestyles,” said MacInnes.

Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Enhances Strategic Plan to Include Outdoor Mobility

Jen Nelson, chief operating and customer experience officer at MEDC, confirmed that outdoor recreation will be a critical part of Michigan’s future growth by saying, “we in Michigan are uniquely positioned to lead not just in the manufacturing of cars, but also converging mobility with the outdoors in new ways to grow our businesses and strengthen our communities.”

In the refresh of its strategic plan in 2022, MEDC has focused on fitting mobility into each of six focus areas:

  1. Attracting, retaining, and growing business
  2. Growing talent
  3. Supporting vibrant, growing communities
  4. High-tech innovation
  5. Supporting small business
  6. Marketing the state

Within this strategic plan are focus industries that include automotive manufacturing, engineering, design, tourism, and outdoor recreation companies that operate on both the state and regional levels because, “mobility is more than cars.”

Nelson noted that while MEDC has traditionally taken a one-size-fits-all approach to delivering resources, its new strategic plan will focus on working more closely with local and regional economic development organizations to meet specific priority goals.

She said, “we want to make sure that we are regionally relevant in how we’re delivering our tools and resources throughout the state. The mobility solutions in the UP are going to be different that the mobility solutions in Detroit, and that’s okay.”

To achieve this, they have combined their business development and community development teams to take a more holistic approach to providing support and solutions.

MEDC is committed to a “Team Michigan approach,” meaning it is working more collaboratively than ever to solve problems and create opportunities. Nelson reiterated Garmon’s sentiment that the time for talking is over and “we need to start acting so we can win.”

Additional Considerations That Can Lead to Tomorrow’s Big Wins 

Glenn Stevens Jr., MICHauto’s executive director and vice president of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives at the Chamber opened the floor for discussion by first asking Angela Ladetto of the Detroit Regional Partnership (DRP) about the Build Back Better grant they recently received. Ladetto explained that while DRP is the grant manager and leading the mission to find sites available for companies to immediately occupy, they have partnered with TechTown to accelerate the growth of mobility startups, University of Michigan Economic Growth Institute to help companies develop exit or pivot strategies, Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification to increase equitable access to the state’s testing and proving sites, and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments to provide the startups with the talent they need.

She said, “the pieces are meant to work and click together so that each of the projects should be making recommendations as that company moves along the business cycle so they can fully take advantage of all the projects in the works.”

Garmon chimed in to note that the University of Michigan Economic Growth Institute is also doing work in the UP to measure the impact of outdoor recreation from a tourism standpoint on nearby counties. He wondered how we can prevent redundancies in projects by collaborating with ongoing projects such as this to include an outdoor mobility perspective.

Ladetto emphasized that, “a critical piece of this grant work is making sure that all the pieces are equally accessible, and we are inclusive and accessible in our intent to ensure that this is completely opened up diversity-wise. That’s a piece that has been missing across the state.”

She clarified that she meant not only racial diversity, but geographical as well, noting that location changes your mobility needs. It is essential to bring jobs into the community where people live and not making them take an arduous commute.

Joel Thiel of Innovate Marquette and added that the outdoor recreation industry is experiencing near-unregulated growth and “the wheel of innovation is happening all the time.” On the other hand, the automotive and mobility industry is far more regulated, and can’t develop as quickly. Naturally, the fast-paced innovation of one will bleed into the other and create a mutualistic relationship.

Detroit-Based Minority Startup, Supplier Join Forces to Make EV Chargers Accessible to All

Crain’s Detroit Business
Kurt Nagl
Sept. 14, 2022

Electric vehicle charging startup Plug Zen LLC has signed a deal with Detroit Manufacturing Systems LLC to make EV charging stations with a focus on underserved communities.

The Detroit-based, minority-owned companies are joining forces to bring the multi-vehicle charging units to market by next year, said Kwabena “Q” Johnson, founder and president of Plug Zen.

Johnson said the deal, set to be announced Wednesday at the North American International Auto Show, marks an important step toward sustainability for the startup, founded in 2020.

“That’s a huge step for us, he said. “A lot of people wonder how it’s made, who’s making it, and that solves a big piece of the puzzle. They have 20 years’ experience in the space.”

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Johnson said the company will make at least 2,000 units in the first year. Detroit Manufacturing Systems will do final assembly of the charging stations at its plant on the west side of the city.

Plug Zen is among dozens of startups vying for a piece of the EV charging pie. Johnson said his startup aims to differentiate itself with a modular design and with a focus on minority communities, as the fast-moving transition to EVs has sparked concerns about equity and affordability.

“Our focus is diversity, equity and inclusion,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure underserved communities have a voice in the conversation about climate change. Our technology will level the playing field.”

Plug Zen’s charging hubs cost around $2,000 per unit to install, but additional plug outlets can be stacked on for $300 to $400 each, which is the value proposition, Johnson said. Target customers are property owners from single-family housing to dealerships and municipalities.

The startup also plans to introduce at the auto show a new in-vehicle charging concept that allows vehicles to plug into standard three-pronged outlets for electricity.

Johnson said the startup has raised $350,000 and is aiming to double that in the next few months. With two full-time and three part-time employees, Johnson said he expects revenue to start coming in early next year. He hopes to be profitable within the next two years.

“Our goal is to put these in underserved communities,” Johnson said.

View the original article. 

Howes: After three-year reboot, Detroit auto show hits inflection point

The Detroit News
Daniel Howes
Sept. 13, 2022

The Detroit auto show is back. Or is it?

After a three-year hiatus and a radical makeover driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and an exodus of global automakers, the North American International Auto Show is attempting to reinvent itself — just like its hometown companies and their rivals amid the undeniable pivot to electrification.

How and whether the show’s organizers succeed will depend far more on paying customers than the pared-down ranks of cynical media hands or the winnowing number of automakers calculating returns on their auto show investment. Most of those companies already have done such calculations, and that they won’t officially be on the Detroit show’s floor offers one answer, anyway.

But this is still the Motor City, home to General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and the cash-generating North American engine powering Stellantis NV. A successful show over roughly 11 days, whatever that looks like at this generational inflection point, will be critical to ensuring it endures in some form for years to come.

“The industry is undergoing a transformation,” said Doug North, president and owner of North Brothers Ford in Westland and 2020-21 chairman of the Detroit show. “Companies are. Dealers are. Social media and how products are shown has changed significantly in the past five years. I do see the show transformative of where it was.”

Nothing is guaranteed. The march of technology is reshaping the auto industry and its customers’ relationship to it. COVID-induced shortages of tiny semiconductor chips sourced primarily out of Asia are restructuring both production and sales processes. Deepening climate change concerns are effectively legislating internal-combustion engines out of lineups, imperiling jobs and ways of life in places like southeast Michigan.

Battery-electric vehicles are set to proliferate in mass-market showrooms, soon to test the market’s collective appetite for such radical change. Core skills needed to design, develop and build EVs are migrating away from more traditional automotive engineering spaces and toward software-based disciplines whose core competence is more likely to be found in tech spaces than automotive ones.

And the digitization of car shopping, along with new sales methods developed outside typical franchise laws, is forcing legacy automakers to reimagine their distribution, sales models and relationships with customers. The result: dealers, too, face a reckoning likely to change business as they’ve known it.

“You’ve got to evolve and embrace it,” said Thad Szott, co-owner of Oakland County-based Szott Auto Group and co-chair of this year’s auto show. “You embrace the change. And those who do will win.”

Thirty-two mainstream brands are expected to be represented on the show floor, the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association said, many of them organized by dealer groups. Nearly 2,000 media from 40 states and 30 countries are credentialed, down substantially from pre-pandemic levels. And as many as 8,000 people are expected to attend the Charity Preview on Friday and raise as much as $3 million for charity.

For this auto show, experience is the next new thing: the public will get to see electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, amphibious sport planes, hoverbikes, hoverboards and jet suits. Families can access interactive experiences, including a life-size dinosaur display, a monster truck throwdown and, yes, a 61-foot tall rubber duck.

Not as big as the good ol’ days? Nope, but the show shouldn’t be trying to recreate the past so much as anticipate the future. If quality trumps quantity, as it now does in a retooled Detroit that rightly prizes profitability and competitiveness over size and market share, that should be just fine for the first real auto show in more than three years.

Can an auto show founded on the Detroit cornerstones of metal, gasoline and rumbling V-8s navigate that transition to ensure continued relevance to its funders (automakers and, to some extent, suppliers) and to its customers (the real people who spend their hard-earned money to buy new cars, trucks and SUVs)?

We’re about to find out. Like the Detroit industry that emerged from the global financial meltdown and bankruptcy to deep skepticism among investors, the retooled auto show and its organizers at the DADA are being tested by their own key constituencies: can they demonstrate the ability to negotiate the big shift reordering the industry?

The show opening to the media — and a visit by President Joe Biden — on Wednesday exemplifies the challenge to the automakers, their suppliers, their dealers and their hometown auto show. Forget the 30-year run of pre-pandemic auto shows, boutiquey EV startups and gas-powered muscle cars: the future is arriving with astonishing speed, it’s increasingly electrified and Detroit’s place in it all is yet to be determined.

Old models and blueprints for doing things “are just not the same,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MICHAuto unit. “If we don’t do things differently — the competition is not Silicon Valley, it’s Ohio and Ontario” and social media platforms spanning the globe.

That’s not negative. It’s the truth. Since the last edition of the North American International Auto Show, hometown automakers like Ford, GM and Stellantis have placed most of their electrification bets outside Michigan in places like Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Ontario. But those same automakers, especially Ford and GM, also have launched credible EVs and quieted critics who insisted old Detroit could not hope to compete in a newly emerging space best defined by Tesla Inc.

“When it comes to the show, there’s a tremendous opportunity right now,” said Christopher Thomas, co-founder and partner of Assembly Ventures LLC, a mobility fund and adviser. “We see the zeitgeist. I don’t have a problem with a smaller show if it’s focused on quality, not quantity. I don’t want to be at the table; I want to play to win.”

He’s not alone. As the revived show opens to the media this week and to the public Saturday, how Detroit can compete and win jobs and investment, growing market share and rising market capitalization, is Job One for this town’s second automotive century. That’s because it has to be, lest entitlement and political intransigence in Lansing undermine efforts to bolster Michigan’s economic and educational competitiveness.

Recent evidence — see southern-state governors claiming to be the new capital of the new auto industry, or Silicon Valley boosters declaring Detroit dead, or Michigan’s comparative inability to compete for electrified investment — suggests the road ahead will not be easy or inexpensive.

No, it’s likely to be strange and uncomfortable as brands like Dodge signal the end for gas-powered muscle cars, as Ford reveals what could be the last Mustang powered only by an internal combustion engine, as President Biden touts administration policy backing faster adoption of EVs.

What that portends for the auto show, for the hometown automakers, for the men and women of the United Auto Workers staffing engine and transmission lines in Michigan and other states in the industrial heartland is not yet clear. One thing is certain: a Detroit auto culture that has long prized certainty cannot guarantee it amid this historic transformation.

“This is a rebuild,” said Rod Alberts, executive director of the auto show. “We don’t know the peak. We had to rebuild the show. It doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got a successful show.”

Exactly right.

Daniel Howes is senior editor/business & columnist for The Detroit News.

View the original article.

MICHauto Advocates in Favor of Autonomous Vehicle Operation

MICHauto was in Lansing on Sept. 13 to provide testimony in favor of Michigan House Bill 6369, which would ensure the continued allowance of autonomous vehicle operations in Michigan.

Paul Corbett, MICHauto’s director of Government and Community Affairs, attended a hearing to share the importance of this legislation to Michigan’s automotive and mobility industry in the future. View his remarks below, and watch the full hearing.


My name is Paul Corbett. I am the Director for Government and Community Affairs for MICHauto, and I’m glad to be here on behalf of our over 100 member-investor companies from across the state and the automobility industry.

I’d like to start by thanking you Chairman O’Malley, as well as Rep. Harris, and Rep. Puri for all the work you’ve all done on this issue already and more generally the time and effort you’ve dedicated in the past to issues important to the automotive and mobility industry here in Michigan.

The next generation mobility ecosystem is alive and well in Michigan in no small part due to the action of this body to make our state a leader in autonomous vehicle technology. That important work started in 2016 with the passage of the SAVE Act, which significantly enhanced Michigan’s position in autonomous vehicle research, development, and investment. Since then, Michigan has attracted a wide variety of mobility entrepreneurs and considerable venture capital activity. Indeed, at MICHauto we count among our members several startup companies that came from out of state because they knew Michigan had signaled that it was open for AV business.

We hear from those startup companies all the time; they love Michigan and the history of automotive innovation so integral to our state’s economy. But they also tell us that nothing stymies innovation and growth more than incoherent rules and unpredictable dynamics. Up until this point, we have avoided that fate as Michigan has benefited from bipartisan support for AV innovation and investment. From the previously mentioned SAVE Act signed by Gov. Snyder to E.O. 2020-2 signed by Gov. Whitmer to create the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification.

But to now allow the current law, that is the subject of this hearing, to sunset at the end of this year, would send the exact wrong signal. What was a smooth and predictable path for autonomous mobility innovators in Michigan may be become an unnavigable morass of different rules in every municipality across our state.

Therefore, we at MICHauto strongly support an extension of this sunset and respectfully ask that the committee take quick action to do so.

Thank you very much.