Gov. Gretchen Whitmer aims to keep Michigan’s ‘pole position’ in autonomous vehicles with new agency

February 25, 2020

By Emily Lawler

A new state agency and other administrative changes will help Michigan maintain its “pole position” in the auto industry as it branches into mobility and automation, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told a gathering of education and mobility experts at the MICHAuto summit on Tuesday.

“In the state that put the world on wheels and that’s home to some of the most innovating, driven workers on the planet, we must continue to work to solidify Michigan as a global leader in mobility,” Whitmer said in a statement.

The mobility industry includes things like autonomous, electric and connected vehicles and technologies.

On the hood of a car, Whitmer signed two executive orders: one creating the Michigan Office of Future Mobility under the and another creating the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification. Both are housed under the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

The Michigan Office of Future Mobility, to bed led by a soon-to-be-named director, will coordinate mobility-related initiatives across areas like economic development, labor and infrastructure efforts.

The orders also abolish the Michigan Council on Future Mobility, which was created by a 2016 law and housed in the Michigan Department of Transportation, and create the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification. The new council will have 17 voting members and advise the governor and legislature on changes to state policy.

Both aim to capitalize on Michigan’s heritage as an auto state, but also move the state into the future “mobility” sector, focusing on things like autonomous vehicles.

The moves “will help us build on the success we’ve seen in the automotive and mobility sectors,” Whitmer said ahead of signing the executive orders.

Jeff Donofrio, director of the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, said he’s looking for somebody who understands the industry very well and can help Michigan pivot to the future of the mobility industry.

Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah said Whitmer “is building and expanding on the work to ensure that Michigan’s companies, infrastructure and people are ready to compete, ready to win, and ready to shape the next century of mobility.”

The executive orders earned praise from industry executives.

“FCA applauds the creation of the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and looks forward to working with the Governor and her team to help ensure Michigan remains the home of the quickly evolving mobility industry,” said Stephen J. Buckley, FCA senior technical fellow – electrical engineering in a press release.

Officials from Ford and General Motors also applauded the move.

Whitmer said in order to keep the state’s “pole position” in the industry she is also focused on bolstering the state’s workforce and fixing the state’s roads.

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Michigan governor creates office for mobility initiatives

February 25, 2020

Associated Press (AP)

By David Eggert

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Tuesday that Michigan will have a mobility officer to coordinate all initiatives related to self-driving and connected cars, an effort she said will ensure the state is the go-to place for testing and producing vehicles of the future.

While speaking at the MICHAuto Summit in Detroit, Whitmer signed an executive directive to create the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, effectively immediately. It will be led by a chief mobility officer whose name probably will be announced in April, Whitmer said.

She also signed an executive order to establish the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification, an advisory group that will replace but function similarly to one created by a 2016 law. The council will be housed within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity instead of the Department of Transportation.

Whitmer told The Associated Press that business leaders told her administration it would be helpful to have one place of contact in state government for issues related to the mobility sector.

“Obviously that doesn’t mean that there won’t still be many departments involved. But there will be one quarterback,” she said in a phone interview. “That’s, I think, essential to ensuring that we’re harnessing all the great things we’re doing in a focused way that makes sense.”

While many states are competing to lead in mobility, Michigan is in a great position because it is home to the auto industry and has many engineers, top research universities and extensive “connected” infrastructure, Whitmer said.

Her directive cites six trends driving a period of “unprecedented change” in the auto industry and mobility sector: autonomous driving, vehicle connectivity, powertrain electrification, shared mobility, intelligent automation and the global supply chain.

The Democratic governor’s order creating the new advisory panel and putting it under a different agency will take effect April 27 unless it is rejected by the Republican-led Senate. The moves were welcomed by automakers, environmental groups and a major utility, Consumers Energy.

Whitmer signed the directive and order on the hood of a self-driving vehicle that has technology developed by Pittsburgh-based Argo Al. The company’s partner investors include Ford and Volkswagen.

View the original article here

Michigan creates chief mobility officer, council focused on auto tech industry

February 25, 2020

Automotive News

By Chad Livengood

DETROIT — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Tuesday creating a new Michigan Office of Future Mobility led by a chief mobility officer for the state focused on strategies to build up the automotive mobility tech sector.
Whitmer signed the directive on the hood of a Ford Motor Co. autonomous vehicle at a MICHAuto Summit in Detroit with auto industry leaders.
The Democratic governor also signed a second executive order establishing a Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification.
The Office of Future Mobility will be housed within the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
The chief mobility officer, their office and the new council will be focused on developing a talented workforce for developing artificial intelligence technologies for self-driving vehicles and “placing a greater emphasis on the importance of electrification and electric vehicle infrastructure and overall state strategy around mobility,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer announced the new mobility industry initiatives after detailing the major auto industry investments the Detroit 3 have launched in the past year: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ conversion of two east side Detroit engine plants into a new Jeep assembly plant; Ford Motor Co.’s plans to build a fully electric F-150 pickup in Dearborn; General Motors’ retooling of its Detroit-Hamtramck plant to build electric vehicles, including a revived Hummer SUV.
“We are going to continue moving forward to keep our foot on the gas,” Whitmer said.

“This is a double and triple down for our industry,” MICHAuto Executive Director Glenn Stevens said on stage at the one-day summit at the College of Creative Studies’ Taubman Center in Detroit’s New Center.
Jeff Donofrio, director of the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, said he expects to fill the chief mobility officer position within “the next few weeks.”
“We’re looking for someone who understands the industry very well, understands the kind of north stars that we’re trying to drive toward, right, which is making sure we have a strong auto industry that’s able to pivot to the next generation of mobility,” Donofrio said.

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Diversity and Inclusion: An Industry Imperative

Diversity and inclusion is a top industry priority now more than ever. A panel moderated by “Autoline” host John McElroy and featuring Margaret Baxter, executive director of the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement (CADIA); Jatinder-Bir “Jay” Sandhu, CEO of NYX, LLC; and Kristen Tabar, group vice president of vehicle development and engineering at Toyota Motor North America Research and Development, identified best practices for satisfying the indisputable need for a stronger culture of inclusion.

The speakers’ collective sentiment on D&I was that it takes continuous effort at all levels of an organization – institutional to interpersonal implementation. While incremental action has proven effective for many teams, an authentic, applicable D&I culture starts at the top with leadership.  

“It doesn’t matter where you start. Just get going,” said Baxter. “You have to create a safe space for people to have these conversations and let people ask the difficult questions.”  

With a highly diverse workforce, NYX, LLC finds success in embracing and accommodating differences. Its facilities keep libraries of multi-lingual project instructions, new employees are partnered with a buddy from a similar cultural background to get acclimated, and the company invests in on-site ELS training before and after shifts.  

“It’s in our DNA that we’re going to look at different cultures and accept them,” said Sandhu.  

The panelists also emphasized the inherent business benefits of strong D&I practices. Staying mindful of the audiences being served will encourage diversity in personnel and ideas to reflect those needs and generate better results.  

“We really believe that innovation comes from this diversity of thought and that inclusiveness of hearing everyone’s voice, including all of our customers,” said Tabar.  

Finally, the group agreed that a thriving culture of D&I is rooted in listening – both accepting different perspectives from outside of the organization and incorporating internal feedback for process improvement.   

Thanks to Toyota for sponsoring this session. 


Growth in the Global Market

At the 2020 MICHauto Summit, Michael Robinet, executive director of automotive advisory services at IHS Markit, outlined factors in his keynote address that will impact Michigan’s position in the global automotive mobility landscape and provided insight into the steps necessary to affirm the state’s leadership among other emerging markets. 

Robinet explained that IHS Markit provides vehicle forecasts on powertrain electrification, autonomy, and mobility. As part of the advisory team, Robinet works with suppliers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to help better understand what’s happening in the industry. 

Suppliers and manufacturers look at two different factors when it comes to growthRobinet said, specifying that they consider both the data monetization of autonomous and education content, along with how to drive more volume and establish new dealer networks. 

“Our business has long been driven [by] scale and that mantra continues today,” said Robinet. “When you’re designing new electrification or autonomous structures, it’s a lot easier to afford if the number you’re dividing it by is an awful lot bigger than your competitor.”  

Robinet also noted some longterm trends emerging including that while sports utilities or crossovers will remain close to 50% of the market, that growth is slowing. And pickup trucks have likely leveled out for now in terms of their share of the market. 

Michigan has remained strong over the last decade and the volumes are still quite strong, Robinet said.  

“You see that global OEMs are really refocusing their efforts on using existing powertrains, harnessing new levels of electrification, and looking for where the data is going to have value in the future.” 

Executive Director of MICHauto Glenn Stevens Jr. and host of “Autoline” John McElroy joined Robinet onstage to continue the discussion. 

The group talked about how the industry has changed, and where it is headed in the next decade. Leadership has shifted drastically in the last ten years, noted Stevens. 

“When it comes to issues that are important, for example, diversity and inclusion, it was mentioned that it either comes from the top and from the troops, or it doesn’t work and it’s not relevant and impactful,” said Stevens. 

McElroy directed the discussion to how the U.S. needs to be thinking about the importance of the automotive and mobility industry. We are competing against countries that have industrial policies that are taking jobs away from us, he explained 

“We’re going to have to do things that make sure it’s on more of a level playing field,” said McElroy. 

Industry Diversification: Defense Meets Automotive

The 2020 MICHauto Summit brought two major industries together to discuss pathways to collaboration in a panel featuring Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for Michigan and Chief Operating Officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber Tammy CarnrikeDirector of Next Generation Combat Vehicle for the U.S. Army Futures Command Brigadier General Ross Coffman, and President and CEO of Safety Technology Holdings and Humanetics Innovative Solutions Christopher O’Connor 

Host of “Autoline” John McElroy, who moderated the panel, asked O’Connor how companies like Humanetics can become suppliers to the military. 

“It’s challenging in terms of identifying what the need is and how to apply that product, and then how to be competitive with the other players,” said O’Connor. 

Much of what already exists in companies also exists in the military, added Coffman. He shared that he wants to see more of Detroit and Michigan become involved with partnerships and collaborations. The autonomous vehicle space is huge for the military here, he noted. 

More than 60 years ago, Humanetics was developing aircraft ejection seats, said O’Connor. Most of the original products the company created were military based. 

“I spent 35 years in the army and in the army reserves,” said O’Connor. “Our introduction into the military and trying to work with developing products for injuries was near and dear to our background.” 

McElroy discussed with Carnrike how her role as civilian aide ties into her Chamber positionAs civilian aide, Carnrike is the eyes and the ears in the state of Michigan for the army, she explained. Her job is to help with recruitment and look for new opportunities for collaboration with the business industry, particularly automotive and manufacturing.  

“Most people don’t understand that the US Army is like a very large corporation,” said Carnrike. “Bringing in my Chamber job and understanding our business community through our MICHauto program, there’s such an opportunity for cross pollination.”  


Thanks to Kettering University for sponsoring this session. 

John McElroy: Michigan’s Auto Industry Embarks on a Dangerous Decade

“Autoline” host John McElroy encouraged attendees at the 2020 MICHauto Summit in his keynote address to be proactive, not reactive, when planning for the industry’s next decade. McElroy emphasized that automakers will face both direct and indirect costs in their innovative practices. 

“We are embarking on a very dangerous decade,” said McElroy. “The traditional auto industry is under threat.”  

Starting with electric vehicle development, McElroy discussed how automakers are building EVs because of government regulations, not consumer demand. This results in automakers not making money on production. Additionally, electric vehicles only feature 10 engine forgings – a fraction of traditional internal combustion engines. This results in less work for the foraging industry and potential future foraging plant shutdowns.   

In the race to develop autonomous vehicles, automakers spend massive research and design budgets, sometimes more than $1 billion per year. And while McElroy agreed with the idea of spending more money on autonomous vehicles, he pointed out that it is a heavy financial burden with no tangible return on investment (at least right now). 

McElroy considered aspects of Michigan’s economy that need to improve for the state to lead the next decade of automotive and mobility: 

  • Nurture the startup economy and look to other locations where they are successful. 
  • Work with the defense industry to recruit the best and brightest. 
  • Welcome and support incoming immigrants as they look for industry jobs. 
  • Continue to collaborate and find ways to better Michigan’s education system 

By having a genuine sense of urgency in these focus areas, McElroy believes Michigan will be in a better position to lead the next decade in the global mobility revolution.