Mobility Moments Podcast: 2019 Recap with Glenn Stevens Jr., MICHautoDecember 11, 2019
December 5, 2019
By Claire Charlton
It’s the end of 2019 and it’s been a busy year for mobility initiatives in Detroit and across Michigan. Today we’re checking in with Glenn Stevens, executive director at MICHauto, to recap the year and learn more about what’s ahead in 2020.
Welcome to Drive’s Mobility Moments Podcast where we talk with the people building the mobility ecosystem in the Detroit region. I’m your host, Claire Charlton.
Glenn, hello and welcome to Drive’s Mobility Moments podcast. How are you doing today?
Good. And how are you today, Claire?
I’m wonderful. Thank you so much for joining me.
I’m happy to be here.
So Glenn, as executive director of MICHauto and also the vice president of automotive and mobility with the Detroit Regional Chamber, you always know what’s happening in the world of mobility here in the Detroit region. So I’m excited to check in with you for an update. It’s been a busy year for mobility. 2019 has been a very busy year and I’m hoping that you can share with me some of the key initiatives of this past year. So what’s top of mind for mobility development in the Detroit region right now?
Well, you are correct that it has been a busy year. Actually the last few years have been quite busy together with our partners around the state and including a new governor. We were very fortunate to have Governor Snyder be a leader in this space and Governor Whitmer and her team have picked up right where a Governor Snyder left off. And so we’re working very closely with the new administration. But what’s top of mind right now is that mobility is a very fast changing environment and a couple things have come to the forefront. And right now the electrification of the industry is a very, very big focus. And then also the startup community, we have continued to double and triple down on building the startup community and the ecosystem here in Michigan. And a lot of progress has been made.
So I visited the PlanetM Landing Zone site recently and saw that there are just dozens of Landing Zone members. And I think that speaks to sort of the startup community that you were talking about. Can we talk a little bit about the growth there?
Certainly we can. If you go back just to short two years ago the ecosystem for startups was really limited in the mobility space to the Techstars initiative and thank goodness for Techstars coming to Detroit and setting up Techstars Mobility. But we felt together with our partners at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and PlanetM that it was important for us as regional, city, state partners, to continue to invest and build in this. So we’re now two years into this and at this point in time we have 55 members of that startup landing zone, 39 startups and 16 industry partners. They’re represented by eight different states, 13 countries and there is a lot going on in that space right now.
Give us a brief rundown of some of the different types of mobility businesses that are a part of that 55 cohort at the Landing Zone.
Certainly. Well, you’re going to see everything from app based startups, which are working on parking solutions and things like that all the way up to drone technology and kind of everything in between. And when I say everything in between, mobility is a very broad word. So you’re looking at technology, which is in the connected space, technology and the automated space, technology in the shared space and then technology in the electrification space too.
So we’re seeing a lot of different technologies and a lot of different solutions and ideas come about whether it be intelligent transportation systems, for example, with a company like Derq, which has been partnering with MDOT to an acquisition that Bosch made of a company called SPLT for ride sharing. There’s all different types and shapes and sizes and nationalities of companies there.
And you said that electrification is big in mobility right now. Let’s talk about some of the initiatives that have happened in Detroit with regard to developing an infrastructure for electric vehicle use.
Certainly. Well, obviously the market and the consumers are driving this and this is a global perspective we have to look at. So certain parts of the world that mandated more electrification on their vehicles and on the roads, for example, China and parts of the European Union. But what we’re seeing here is the companies that are here in Detroit, and there are now 21 different OEMs with either headquarters or R & D or technical centers here, really focusing on the electrification development. So when you look at a company like General Motors, which is investing in the manufacturing of today, but also being very keen to the market that’s out there and the trends that are going, we see that those companies are developing that type of technology.
But the infrastructure has to come with it, to your point, and for example, I’ll give you three examples. Fortunately we have two very progressive, power utility companies, both DTE and Consumers are really focused on this, are investing in the infrastructure itself in entire really movements and entire initiatives. And then we also have, on the legislative side, Senator Mallory McMorrow and some of her bipartisan cohorts in the legislature have introduced legislation to increase the number of charging stations across the state of Michigan, in particular in state parks. So that’s legislation we’re also working on. So the vehicles are coming, the consumer demand is gradually increasing, but the infrastructure has to go hand in hand with it.
So let’s talk a little bit about the startup community that you mentioned. Startups need capital and they need supporters. And I know that there are PlanetM mobility grant monies that are being granted to help build that ecosystem. How important or what effect does the availability of these grants have on the ecosystem in general?
Well, sure. So the consumers of innovation in the case of the auto and mobility space, the global auto automotive manufacturers are the tier ones, they’re the companies that are looking for that and they’re literally scouting all over the world. And technology is going to emanate from a lot of different places. But when it comes to startups, there has to be a culture and an ecosystem that combines a lot of different things. For example, research institutions are a big part of it. So we have three R1 universities here, Wayne State, Michigan and Michigan State. That’s an important part of it, but the venture capital has to come too. So tracking very closely.
In fact, I was looking at it the other day, the Michigan Venture Capital Association tracks the investment in startups, in particular mobility startups. We’ve had gradual growth in that. So growth comes from innovation and innovation is fed by the capital and that capital is really coming from three areas: The private corporations with venture arms, private investment firms, pure venture capital, and also fortunately, state and local government. And particularly I give the MEDC a lot of credit for the investment they’ve made in some of these mobility pilots around the state because they’re not only solving problems in communities, but they’re also allowing companies to get a jumpstart with their technology.
Let’s talk about what’s ahead. What predictions do you have for 2020 with regard to what we’ll see in the mobility ecosystem here in the Detroit region and in Michigan?
Well, as you know, Claire, we have an unprecedented community here with regards to OEM suppliers, technology firms, universities. It is a very unique global cluster. But what got you here doesn’t necessarily get you there unless you continue to evolve. So there is a large, large focus by MICHauto, the Detroit Regional Chamber and our partners to make sure that we’re continuously evolving. And so what we see coming up is a continuous involvement in Industry 4.0 to make sure that the factories that we have today are as competitive globally as can be. And that’s a really big, big focus is to be competitive globally on a manufacturing basis.
But now what we’re looking at as transportation evolves is the current vehicles, for example, are becoming more and more safety automated with safety features, they’re becoming more and more connected and now they’re becoming more and more electrified. So we’re going to see those trends continue. And, and really what we’re going to see, we hope is the continuing buildup of this startup community in this innovation space around the state. And there are a lot of accelerators around the state, whether it be SEAMLESS and Start Garden in Grand Rapids or Ferris Wheel in Flint or Lean Rocket in Jackson. We have to tie all these altogether and make sure that we continue to at least invest in startup innovation.
So I really think we’re going to see more of that. And that’s a big, big focus. So it’s really making sure that the industry of today keeps building vehicles and we continue to evolve with this connected and mobility world that’s evolving. And it’s a challenge and an opportunity because Michigan has to do both and Detroit has to do both.
And so what can you share with us about how the North American International Auto Show 2020 is shaping up? Now I hear that there is a Michigan Mobility Challenge that will spark some immersive activations for the show next summer. What do you know about it?
Sure. Well, we work very closely with the Detroit Auto Dealers and the North American International Auto Show. I mean they are not only a cultural institution, this show, but they are strategic partners to the industry. So Rod Alberts and his team are at the top of our partner list. So the move to June is really an exciting move because it’s not only showcasing a city in a month where it’s June, it’s our best weather month. But it’s also an ability to evolve. because auto shows and shows in general are really more experiential than ever before. So we think that from a big picture standpoint, this is an opportunity to showcase the transportation of today, showcase the mobility solutions of the future, but also roll in a little Detroit music, a little Detroit food and little Detroit culture to have a really cool event.
As part of that, the governor has set forth an $8 million Mobility Challenge and there will be five different displays of technology from a variety of partners from around the world, which we’ll be showing off autonomous and connected technology in the city. It’s really a pretty exciting project and I frankly am really impressed with how far it’s developed and where it’s at right now.
Awesome. I look forward to that. What else do you want people to know about mobility in the Detroit region now and in the future?
Well, I think that if you go back not too long ago, and we know of us because we actually did a lot of focus group work ourselves and we really looked around the world and said, “What are other regions, other states doing to evolve in this mobility space?” I remember there being a headline in the wall street journal in July of 2014 it said, “The future of the cars is in Silicon Valley.” And a lot of us looked at that and said, “Well, not if we have something to say about it.” And fortunately I think a lot of us have been working very closely to make sure that Michigan is positioned to be not only viewed as incredible metal benders, but incredible innovators of technology and talent. So I think it’s important for us to keep the pedal down on that. We can’t rest because all different parts of the world want a piece of this mobility space.
And I’ll put it in context, there’s two reasons for it. One is we need to solve problems. So we need to have a world that is safer, less congested, and has less pollution, and that’s really what’s driving these mobility solutions. But at the same time, there’s an economic opportunity. If you look at the global auto industry today, it’s about a $3 trillion industry. But if you look at personal mobility in a shared use economy that rolls all these new technologies together, you’re talking about a multi trillion dollar industry. Michigan needs a piece of that. Michigan needs to be a leader in that, both for solving problems and taking advantage of the economic opportunity. And that’s what we’re really working on. And that’s important for us to keep working on together.
Glenn, thank you so much for spending time talking with me about mobility on Mobility Moments Podcast today. I really appreciate talking with you.
Claire. Thanks for the opportunity, I really enjoyed it.
Special thanks to Glenn Stevens from MICHauto for being my guest, and thank you for listening to Drive’s Mobility Moments Podcast. Learn how and why the Detroit region leads in next generation mobility at Driven, www.detroitdriven.us. Listen to our podcasts, catch up with our mobility news and features and subscribe to our newsletter.
For Driven, I’m Claire Charlton. Talk to you again soon.