Michigan governor OKs bill that lets auto dealerships adjust hours, closures

Crain’s Detroit Business
Oct. 18, 2021
C.J. Moore

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed off on a bill that will let the state’s auto dealerships adjust their hours for flexibility’s sake.

Under the newly approved bill, S.B. 128, dealerships can be open for less than 30 hours a week for up to four weeks each year. They were previously required to be open for 30 hours a week year-round.

The bill, which Whitmer signed into law Oct. 14, amends the Michigan Vehicle Code, an act that stipulates licensing for dealers. It will take effect 60 days after the date it was enacted.

Whitmer’s office said requiring dealerships to be open for more than 30 hours a week for all 52 weeks in a year could create issues for stores trying to plan employee absences. Those extra four weeks with lessened hours could help accommodate employee emergencies or vacations, Whitmer’s office said.

“I am happy to sign legislation that supports our small businesses and puts Michigan first,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Senate Bill 128 lifts restrictions for Michigan car dealerships without compromising opportunities for consumers.”

Dealerships that want to alter their hours have to let the Michigan Department of State know seven days prior to the change, according to the bill. At least 15 of the 30 hours of operation have to fall between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this common sense legislation that will provide many small independent automobile dealerships with much needed regulatory relief and flexibility when emergencies occur and provide them with the ability to plan for other temporary closures,” Michigan Independent Automobile Dealers Association President Otto Hahne said in a statement.

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As Part Of An Infrastructure Advancement, Macomb County Announces More EV Charging Stations

62 CBS Detroit
Oct. 7, 2021
April Morton

As the future of EV’s increases, Macomb County is making sure they’re ready to receive them. As the world starts to transition into an EV era, Macomb County Executive says the county will make the experience convenient for drivers.

“We understand it’s coming I think that’s where the industry is headed they all made that commitment and they’re very vocal about that, that’s where they are headed with the car industry so we need to make sure that we’re prepared,” said Mark Hackel, Macomb County Executive.

Hackel says the county is advancing infrastructure in southeast Michigan and preparing for EV’s is a major piece of this work. During a press event on Thursday, he toured a few EV’s and got a feel for how the charging stations work. He says this is history in the making.

“Great grandparents probably when they were first buying cars, the question can you get a car then how do you find a gas station, so it became a matter of convenience for us and everywhere you turn you see 4 or 5 gas stations,” said Hackel.

Hackel says soon enough this will be the case with EV charging stations, these located at the Towns Mart Marathon in Washington Township are makes 29 total in the county.

“got to believe somewhere down the road 15, 20 years from now this will be something that will be common place, not just in Macomb county but the entire State and probably throughout the country,” Hackel said.

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Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos among supporters of Novi-based startup’s hybrid battery approach for EVs

Crain’s Detroit Business
Oct. 18, 2021
Pete Bigelow

A Novi-based startup whose battery architecture could someday give electric vehicles more than 750 miles of range is getting a $25 million boost from a group of high-profile investors.

Our Next Energy Inc. said Monday that it raised the money in a Series A round that closed Oct. 1. Leading the round is Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the climate-minded venture capital fund started by Bill Gates and supported by the likes of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.

“They’re an important backer that can give us long-term capital,” Our Next Energy CEO and founder Mujeeb Ijaz told Automotive News.

“They’re focused on finding alternate energies, as their name implies, and seeking out disruptive technologies. Unless you’re at a level that’s significant and can scale, they don’t invest. So I’m very excited. … We wanted to recruit a particularly strategic group of investors that would help our company build a great foundation and grow.”

Others participating are Volta Energy Technologies, BMW i Ventures, Flex Ltd. and Assembly Ventures. The venture capital group brings expertise in supply chain management, battery storage and chemistry composition. Together, that expertise could raise the profile of a startup that, rather than beginning on the West Coast, is in the backyard of the traditional auto industry.

“It really exemplifies the opportunity to create technology that drives the future of mobility here in a legacy center of the industrial West,” said Chris Thomas, co-founder and partner at Detroit-based Assembly Ventures. “We want to thread amazing entrepreneurs to the people and places who know how to produce at volume, so the fact we’re doing this here — not to be too trite — is heartwarming. We can create the future right here rather than outsourcing it to other places.”

When Ijaz began working on EV technology in the 1990s, he believed 100 miles of range was sufficient for ordinary car buyers because the average driver needed less than half that number for their daily commutes.

Despite his initial assumption, range became an obstacle to early adoption. Customers wanted enough to cover long distances.

Now Ijaz believes he has developed battery technology to make trips of up to 800 miles per charge possible, and he has the financial backing to embark on transforming the technology into a commercial product.

He said the funding infusion enables the company, founded in July 2020, to push forward on building its first battery factory, continue hiring and conduct further research and development on its next-generation battery product.

New approach

Those efforts could solve the quandary of the majority of customers being most interested in a vehicle that covers not just their daily needs, but that occasional long trip.

“No one really wants charging stations to be the answer en route,” Ijaz said. “They want a vehicle that goes where they want it to go. So we’re going after that last percentage point.”

To do that, Our Next Energy is not so much creating a battery but marrying two complementary ones. A hybrid battery approach allows Ijaz and his engineering team to combine a workhorse battery that handles the daily drives and frequent charging with another designed to stretch range on those occasional long hauls. Underlying chemistries for each battery are tailored for their respective tasks.

The second battery, which the company calls its Gemini battery, is the linchpin for range breakthroughs. It remains in the research phase, and Ijaz said pre-samples will be available next year. Later, Our Next Energy intends to seek an automotive partner to further flesh out passenger vehicle applications.

Of course, many startups claim they’ve unlocked battery breakthroughs. Ijaz understands the skepticism that follows such bold statements.

“I’ve been in batteries for 30 years, and I don’t like things that don’t have data behind them,” said Ijaz, who previously held executive roles at Ford Motor Co. and A123 Systems. “But I really do think we’ve demonstrated enough that we know we can do this. The next big thing is to do it methodically and not recruit the market before the technology is ready.”

The first battery, on the other hand, is ready now. That one, called Aries, is designed for durability and to avoid thermal runaway conditions. It is scheduled to enter production by the end of 2022, assembled in partnership with an unnamed tier 1 supplier in Michigan. Aries is made up of lithium iron phosphate. Notably, it does not contain nickel or cobalt, two materials found in many batteries. Ijaz avoided them because he foresees a supply chain pinch that will make them difficult to find and increase prices.

That strategy appealed to Thomas, who is concerned about relying heavily on raw materials found outside the U.S.

“We need to ensure that with the inputs, there’s no way to have a bottleneck that turns on and off outside our control,” he said. “This focus on ensuring we’re looking at abundant chemical compositions and rooting out cobalt — which for me is not only a question of availability but one of ethics and human rights — we’re excited about that being in their DNA from day one.”

Delivery customer

Even without being paired with Gemini, Aries has its first customer, which has booked 6.3 gigawatt-hours worth of battery orders over the first five years of production, Ijaz said. While he’s not disclosing the customer yet, he said it operates in the delivery truck space, a general market that he is eager to reach.

“The delivery truck market is the most receptive to moving at the speed at which we want to go as well,” Ijaz said.

In tests with the customer, he said, Aries alone offered 88 percent more range than the conventional battery pack the company had been using in its trucks. With overall costs of vehicle operation already favoring EVs, adding substantial range sealed the contract, he said.

“What’s been missing is the price point they need to hit, and fundamentally, the solutions to hit range targets where they’re not really in a predicament and barely making their routes,” Ijaz said. “Now they can let their customers know they have this option, and it grows their market even further. Accessibility to the market is linked to range. It’s the ultimate truth of electric vehicles.”

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Stellantis, LG announce joint venture to produce EV batteries in North America

The Detroit News 
Oct. 18, 2021
Breana Noble 

The maker of Jeep SUVs and Ram pickup trucks on Monday said it has entered into a memorandum of understanding with LG Energy Solution to create a joint venture for the production of electric-vehicle battery cells and modules in North America.

The joint venture between Stellantis NV and the Korean battery maker intends to break ground in the second quarter of 2022 on a battery plant for hybrids and EVs assembled in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The plant will have an annual production capacity of 40 gigawatt hours with the goal of starting production by the first quarter of 2024.

A location is under review, and Stellantis declined to specify if it’s in Michigan. The quasi-governmental Michigan Economic Development Corp. on Monday did not return requests for comment on whether it is actively involved in the project.

The partnership, which is subject to regulatory approval, is the next step for Stellantis, the merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and French rival Groupe PSA, in its bid to compete in an electrified future. The company plans to invest $35.5 billion in electrification through 2025 and offer an all-electric option for each of its models in the United States by 2029. Stellantis believes it must produce batteries for plug-in hybrids and EVs to represent more than 40% of U.S. sales by 2030.

“Today’s announcement is further proof that we are deploying our aggressive electrification road map and are following through on the commitments we made during our EV Day event in July,” Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said in a statement. “Together, we will lead the industry with benchmark efficiencies and deliver electrified vehicles that ignite passion.”

Stellantis during its EV Day said it plans to have 90 gigawatt hours of capacity contracted in North America by 2030. It expects to have two battery plants on the continent by then, with the second built with a major battery supplier or its European battery joint venture.

LG already is tied up with one other Detroit automaker: General Motors Co. Their joint venture, Ultium Cells LLC, is constructing battery plants in Lordstown, Ohio, and Spring Hill, Tennessee, which will open in the first quarter of 2022 and late 2023, respectively. The Lordstown plant will have 30 gigawatt hours of annual capacity. Two other plants, whose locations have yet to be announced, also are planned.

LG currently produces lithium-ion battery pack system and controls in Holland for Stellantis’ Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, a relationship that dates to 2014. LG also produces batteries for GM’s Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV, which the Detroit automaker recalled in August after a manufacturing defect was found to create a fire risk while vehicles charged.

Chrysler has said there has been no indication of similar defects in the Pacifica’s high-voltage batteries. LG has said assembly lines are individually operated for different EV models and the manufacturing process for Chrysler modules is different from from the Bolt’s. Samsung, meanwhile, is supplying the batteries for the new plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee 4xe SUVs.

“Establishing a joint venture with Stellantis will be a monumental milestone in our long-standing partnership,” said Jong-hyun Kim, CEO of LG Energy Solution, in a statement. “LGES will position itself as a provider of battery solutions to our prospective customers in the region by utilizing our collective, unique technical skills and mass-producing capabilities.”

Ford Motor Co. has teamed with SK Innovation Co. to produce batteries in the United States. Two BlueOvalSK plants in Glendale, Kentucky, and one in Stanton, Tennessee, are expected to open starting in 2025 and will offer a combined 129 annual gigawatt hours of capacity for the Dearborn automaker.

In Europe, Stellantis has partnered with French oil and gas company TotalEnergies SE and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz for its Automotive Cells Co. joint venture. A total of three battery plants are planned in France by 2023, Germany by 2025 and Italy by 2030. Altogether, they represent 120 gigawatt hours in annual capacity.

“With this,” Tavares said of the LG partnership, “we have now determined the next ‘gigafactory’ coming to the Stellantis portfolio to help us achieve a total minimum of 260 gigawatt hours of capacity by 2030.”

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Border Reopening A ‘Big Relief’ Says Detroit Regional Chamber VP

Oct. 14, 2021
Rusty Thomson 

The Detroit Regional Chamber is ready to welcome Canadians back once the border reopens to non-essential travel.

The U.S. land border is set to reopen to fully vaccinated Canadians in early November, although a firm start date has not been released.

Glenn Stevens, vice president of the Detroit Regional Chamber, says it’s a big relief.

He says this is about friends and family interactions, tourism and commerce, interactions businesses can have in person and people who have property in Michigan. He describes it as a “big pressure relief valve on all four of those things.”

Stevens says Michigan has a $26-billion annual tourism business but so many businesses have not been able to depend on that revenue.

“We have over a million visitors per year who come over not only on a daily basis, but on a tourism trip standpoint.”

He says it comes at a good time as the Christmas shopping season is approaching.

“We can fell that all the way from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula. There’s 19 crossings between Ontario and Michigan and that’s a pretty substantial percentage of the U.S. border crossings with Canada, which is Think is 119. So this is a really good time for this to be happening.”

Stevens says the reopening is about four things, but most importantly, it’s about friends and family interactions.

“It’s tourism and commerce, third it’s the interactions businesses can have in person and there’s also property owners on both sides that visit different places, to access their property or check on their property. It’ got a big pressure relief valve on all four of those things now.”

Fully vaccinated Americans have been allowed back into Canada since August, provided they can show proof of a recent negative COVID test.

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Let’s Detroit’s Marjace Miles: The Importance of ‘Why Michigan’

In 2019 when I decided to become a Talent Ambassador for Let’s Detroit, I never dreamed that filling out a 10-minute application would someday take me to Mackinac Island. MICHauto on the Island and the Mackinac Policy Conference are some of the most prestigious gatherings in the state, drawing the most influential people from throughout our region. So, when I was given the opportunity to attend and speak, I did not hesitate.

It did not take long for me to realize just how incredible the opportunity truly was. I started the day star struck as I boarded the ferry. I spent the entire 15-minute trip trying (unsuccessfully) to muster the courage to talk with award-winning journalist and host of Detroit Today, Stephen Henderson. When I reached the island, I chatted with Christian Greer, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Science Center, as a horse-drawn taxi carried a group of us to the Grand Hotel. The night was filled with networking, handshaking, and unforgettable conversations at The Gate House. The excitement picked right back up the next morning with a delicious breakfast with a great group, including the trailblazer, entrepreneur, and Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of GS3 Global, Lisa Lunsford. That all occurred in less than 24 hours.

Being in the presence of some of the brightest and best our great state has to offer was inspiring but also kind of ironic. See, the reason I was there was to talk about how, as a state, we are losing our brightest and best. In 2019, when I chose to volunteer at Let’s Detroit, it was because I was shocked at the low rate of my classmates that decided to stay in the area upon graduation (University of Michigan Ross School of Business); but it wasn’t just my class at Michigan. I looked back at every major step of my Michigan journey, and I realized that many of my academic and professional peers decided that Detroit was no longer for them. The fact of the matter is, without a concerted effort to attract and retain top young talent, the Mackinac Policy Conference in 20-30 years will not have the same reach, impact, or prestige it does today. It was with that undertone I prepared to give my speech.

The next morning as I told the MICHauto community my story, I concluded with a bit of an unusual call to action. I explained that as business professionals it is second nature for us to have a two-minute elevator pitch about why we invested in this company or why we are excited about that project. However, how many of us have a two-minute “why Michigan speech”? If we truly love this area as much as we say we do, why don’t we share it more?  For me, it’s the unique community, the special culture, and the career opportunities I have available. Initially, I was not sure how the message was received. However, the sheer number of conversations I had afterward was truly encouraging. There were so many people like me that shared the same passion and determination to see this area continue to grow.

Of course, simply telling why we love this area is not the silver bullet we need, but it’s a start and something we can all do. As Detroiters and Michiganders, it is up to us to control our narrative. I guess only time will tell if we are successful in our mission. If I have the privilege of attending MICHauto on the Island or the Mackinac Policy Conference again in the future, I look forward to meeting more and more young talented professionals. This will be the true measure of success.

Thank you once again to Let’s Detroit and MICHauto for the opportunity. The experience was incredible, and I was truly humbled to be a part of it.

This opinion piece was written by Marjace Miles, consumer marketing manager of autonomous vehicles for Ford Motor Company.

CEO Spotlight: umlaut’s Samit Ghosh

Samit Ghosh is the chief executive officer Americas at umlaut. MICHauto spoke with Ghosh about his priorities as an industry leader and his prediction of what’s to come for autonomous and electric vehicles.

What is your number one priority as CEO?

As the CEO Americas and Board Member at umlaut SE, I have found my number one priority is giving clarity on the mission of the company so that the starting point, roles and responsibilities, and objectives and challenges are clear. Only then can we work together as one team. This is made possible through constant and repeated communication, which helps remove ambiguity and ensure there is no doubt on what is going to or needs to happen to continue driving the business forward. Then, it is important to give the responsibility directly to all the leaders.

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

The next generation of fully connected vehicles and autonomous vehicles are not being developed on the east coast or west coast, they are being developed here in the Metro-Detroit area, and is full of opportunities. It’s becoming abundantly clear that automotive is more of a “high-tech” industry, especially as you look at the developing technologies of connectivity, autonomous, electrification, and shared mobility. The vehicle itself will develop more into being an element of a highly connected ecosystem. The car of the future, actually, the car of today, is already full of software and will require further software development to offer all the services or features that we demand from our mobility and transportation device. And of course, it’s not only a mobility and transportation device, but it must also connect seamlessly with our communication device (which umlaut dissects in our most recent white paper about the Connected Digital Cockpit), and the car becomes the “phone on wheels.” And for this continued evolution, we need the amazing capabilities and talent coming out of universities: software development competence, system integration capability, communication technology knowledge. The headquarters of where these technologies are being developed and integrated into a vehicle are in Michigan. The automotive industry is in an unreversible process to shake off its old image. Automotive is attractive. It pays well and offers great opportunities for advancement and professional development.

What is your prediction of electric or autonomous vehicles over the next 5 years? The next 10 – 20 years?

We are currently seeing electrification play a major role in the automotive industry, and this will only accelerate over the next five years. Today, we are developing autonomous driver-assist technologies. We will see these features become more commonly available in the next 5 years and also moving into all different segments of the vehicle market. What really is the game-changer is the integration of electric and driver-assisted vehicles into a larger ecosystem. For that, we need the merging of clever engineering with the digitization of product development as well as a seamless operating system in the back, so not only are the technologies there but the offering services which are enabled by these technologies. In 10-20 years, this ecosystem will be fully integrated into our lives and everyday activities. We will see easy-to-use charging infrastructure across the entire nation that doesn’t depend on extensive trip planning to avoid range anxiety. Business models that rely entirely upon autonomous technologies for the delivery of goods and services are not currently available. Companies like Uber will see a change in their business models when they are able to decrease operating costs, allowing for higher sustainable profitability. Business models that would be too costly all of a sudden become affordable, but seamless integration and seamless deployment are key – and for that, you need the combination of engineering and digitization. That’s why umlaut is so happy to announce its intent to join forces with Accenture because we feel our combined services can make this a reality.

What book are you currently reading that you would recommend? What is the key takeaway?

I’ve been reading a lot of manuals and watching YouTube videos on how to clean out the throttle body on my 26-year-old convertible, because digitization doesn’t fix my rough idle problems on this car.

MICHauto Investors Among 2021 Automotive News PACE Award Winners

Each year, the Automotive News PACE program honors superior innovation, technological advancement, and business performance among automotive suppliers. Winning companies are recognized around the world as the industry benchmark for innovation.

In its  27th year, the program honored 14 companies for product and technology advances, with innovations in vehicle component design for electrification at the forefront. In addition, 15 companies were also recognized under the PACE Innovation Partnership Award and PACEpilot Innovations to Watch. Among this year’s winners were MICHauto Investors: Faurecia, Ford Motor Company, Nexteer Automotive, and Stellantis.

The winners of the 2021 Automotive News PACE Awards are:

  • Aptiv: Solid-state electrical centers
  • Bosch: Level 2 autonomous Class 8 trucking application
  • CarSaver: Nissan Buy@Home
  • Cerence Inc.: Cerence Pay
  • Faurecia: IRYStec perceptual display platform vision
  • Garrett Motion: E-Turbo for hybrid powertrains
  • KAR Global: ADESA Simulcast+
  • Lear Corp.: Battery disconnect unit
  • Marelli: Very high-pressure GDI fuel system
  • Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials: KyronMAX™ roof receivers
  • RoboSense (Suteng Innovation Technology Co.): MEMS solid-state automotive lidar
  • Schaeffler Group USA: P2 hybrid module for rear-wheel-drive transmissions
  • Valeo: eACCESS 48V electric powertrain system
  • Work Truck Solutions: Commercial vehicle business model

The 2021 Automotive News PACE Innovation Partnership Award winners:

  • Daimler Trucks North America and Bosch for their partnership on a Level 2 autonomous Class 8 truck application
  • Ford Motor Company and Schaeffler Group for their partnership on the P2 hybrid module for rear-wheel-drive transmissions
  • Stellantis and Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials for the partnership to develop KyronMAX roof receivers

The 2021 Automotive News PACEpilot Innovations to Watch:

  • Arbe: 4D imaging radar
  • CNXMotion: Brake-to-Steer
  • Detect-It: Coder-free AI enterprise software
  • Lear Corp.: 5G V2X telecommunications unit
  • Lear Corp.: INTU Thermal Comfort with ClimateSense technology
  • Nexteer Automotive: Steer-by-wire with stowable steering column
  • Noble Gas Systems: Conformable high-pressure hydrogen tank
  • Sonatus: Dynamic data management solution
  • Swift Navigation: Precise positioning
  • Vayyar: Automotive 4D imaging radar