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MichAuto Looks to Grow its Reach, Efforts in Michigan

June 10, 2024

Detroit Free Press
Carol Cain
June 8, 2024

With darn near everything being recalibrated when it comes to the auto sector — fueled by the technology tsunami sweeping the industry and ongoing movement from gas powered vehicles to EVs — it should not come as a surprise that MichAuto, the statewide advocacy organization for the industry, has just gone through a reboot, too.

It is exactly how Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MichAuto, wanted it.

With so many changes taking place, Stevens knew it was time to check in with members, or investors as he calls the companies and organizations belonging to MichAuto, to gauge what they thought mattered and would need in the future.

MichAuto started as a volunteer grassroot initiative in 2007 to promote and retain the auto industry when it was on the precipice of an economic meltdown, along with the rest of the world. The industry survived that crisis and MichAuto did, too.

Stevens, who has led MichAuto since 2014, held its annual industry executive event the day before the Mackinac Policy Conference opened on May 28  to update its investors.  MichAuto has been part of the Detroit Regional Chamber since 2012.

Stevens announced at its northern Michigan gathering that MichAuto has strengthened its mission statement and has a new logo to reflect that.

“There is no other voice that represents all the various stakeholders of the industry in Michigan like MichAuto,” said Lisa Lunsford, CEO of GS3 Global and chair of MichAuto’s board of directors. “With its reenergized mission, brand and focus areas of advocacy, talent, economic development, and industry transition, they are well situated to continue to make an impact and continue to promote, retain, and grow our leadership in the global automotive industry.”

The auto industry matters to Michigan. According to MichAuto, there are 26 original equipment manufacturers that have headquarters or tech centers here, the auto and mobility industry contributes $304 billion to the state’s economy each year and 13 assembly plants and 96 of the Top 100 auto suppliers in North America have a presence in Michigan, to mention a few stats.

Stevens and his team conducted meetings, roundtables and sessions with MichAuto investors across the state.  I asked what he heard and a few more questions. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Tell me about the genesis of MichAuto?

Answer: It formed because there was not a unified and state-focused association voice for the stakeholders of Michigan’s largest industry. Other states like Tennessee and Alabama had statewide auto associations and remarkably Michigan did not.  Along with Tom Manganello (partner at Warner Norcross + Judd) and other industry professionals, I helped found MichAuto. Back then, we focused on educating policy makers and, particularly, on talent development for the industry.

Q: Why reboot MichAuto now?

A: Ours is an industry that is in transition and faces evolving challenges. We wanted to make sure that our work and mission reflected the leadership Michigan has on the global stage, as we promote, retain and grow our signature automotive and mobility industry. We undertook an in-depth project with our partners at Franco and listened to our investors and industry stakeholders through meetings, panels and roundtables.

Q:  Who are your investors or members?

A: Our investor community is unique from other associations and groups. We utilize the word investor rather than member because it signifies the relationship we have with them. They invest funding and resources to support MichAuto and we are invested and committed to being a voice for them. Our investors include OEMs, suppliers of all sizes, professional service firms, universities, community colleges, economic development agencies and startups. MichAuto stakeholders are all members of the Detroit Regional Chamber, except for companies located outside of the Detroit region.

Q: Sounds like you are making your reach more across the state, not just Detroit? True?

A: We heard several key messages from our stakeholders as we went through this process. We were told that our advocacy efforts are greatly appreciated. We heard that our willingness to speak up for the industry on critical issues, like the UAW contract talks with the Detroit Three last year, was also appreciated, and that stepping up as the voice for Michigan’s signature industry is what our stakeholders need. Our work on developing and retaining high-tech talent is critical. Most importantly, we heard that we need to do more of these things and more on a statewide basis. So we will be extending our reach and relationships to as many communities where our industry is present as we can. One thing we do know is that this industry touches every corner of this state and we want to make sure we are doing all we can to positively impact it.

Q: How do you describe the state of the auto sector in Michigan now versus five years ago?

A: We face more global, political, regulatory and climate challenges now than ever before in the history of this 120-year-old industry. The challenges are immense but so are the opportunities. We must meet the technical talent needs of the industry. We must be able to compete with any company on the globe. Now is the time for Michigan to lead in innovation, research, testing, engineering and advanced manufacturing.

Q: What is your takeaway about our state and its future on the global auto stage?

A: It is going to come down to leadership, competitiveness and mindset. Are we going to have the leadership to radically transform our education system performance, to commit to investing in innovation and to ensure we have strong communities and infrastructure that are attractive to people? We must have leaders that work together to advance Michigan. More than anything else, we need to have the will to change and adapt, otherwise we will be a victim of the impact of the inflection point that is the mobility industry transformation.

I remain optimistic about Michigan’s future. MichAuto exists to focus on the transition of our state’s signature industry and help develop the talent and future of our population.