Print Friendly and PDF

Accelerating Our Electrified Autonomous World

By Claire Charlton and Glenn Stevens

Michigan has long been known as the global epicenter of automotive design, research and engineering. As the industry undergoes one of its most profound changes, companies large and small are leading the charge in developing next-generation technologies that are ushering in a new era of mobility solutions around connected, electrified and autonomous vehicles.

As major players in this space, global parts supplier Magna International and Ann Arbor startup May Mobility are changing the paradigm of industry collaboration, working together to bring electric, autonomous shuttles to the masses and contributing to Michigan’s mobility transformation. Each bring unique contributions to the industry and their partnership as providers of technology.

The Detroiter interviewed Swamy Kotagiri, chief technology officer for Magna International, and Edwin Olson, CEO and co-founder of May Mobility, on how they are leveraging the decades-old experience and know-how of a traditional supplier with the innovative prowess of a startup to forge solutions for today’s mobility needs with clear eyes on the future to help solve tomorrow’s global challenges.

How is Magna’s R&D expertise helping expand the global automotive industry’s commitment to electrification?

KOTAGIRI: There are a lot of bold predictions about the future of mobility. For Magna, we believe the future is, at least in part, electric and autonomous. If we look at the overall Magna product portfolio, we are addressing mobility as a whole including key areas of autonomy, electrification, connectivity and shared mobility.

On electrification specifically, Magna is engaged in not only hybrid and electric powertrain systems, but also with developing electric and electro-mechanical systems.

What was once six or so basic powertrain architectures will balloon to more than 50 by 2025. Magna is focused on the development of scalable building blocks to support such proliferation. Our deep understanding of vehicle system requirements helps us ensure these developed solutions support powertrain system level needs for all the different areas of mobility.

Magna is committed to innovative partnerships to bring technology to the market. What led Magna to partner on May Mobility’s automated, electrified shuttle?

KOTAGIRI: We are excited to support new mobility efforts like this one, which will ultimately help getting around crowded city centers easier. Partnerships like with May Mobility provide the opportunity to continue playing a role in the startup ecosystem and serve as cornerstones to Magna’s “open for business” mindset. Through this approach we look at all aspects of mobility, including privately owned vehicles, ride-sharing, ride-hailing, and mobility as a service, and we consider how we can help build solutions for startups like May Mobility.

May brings a pure startup mentality to this partnership. Magna is an established global tech supplier. What are the challenges and opportunities of this partnership?

OLSON: Magna International is our manufacturing partner. While the vehicle design and autonomy stack is engineered by May Mobility, Magna helps bring our vision to life at scale, enabling us to retrofit hundreds, and eventually thousands of shuttles. Magna shares our high technical standards and excitement about servicing the growing demand for self-driving vehicles to meet today’s transportation needs. This deal demonstrates our commitment to scale operations with a partner who understands quality and reliability in the build process, and who can match the exacting process that makes us a trusted community partner.

Experts assert that low-speed, shared electric shuttles on a fixed route are the first widely-deployed autonomous vehicles. Why is this an appropriate beginning?

OLSON: Deploying low-speed electric shuttles on limited route networks is a practical solution to many existing transportation problems using technology that’s ready and safe now. By giving real people, not opt-in test subjects, a chance to experience self-driving vehicles in a controlled setting, we believe we will be able to scale the technology more quickly. And by easing people into the whole idea of self-driving cars in a way that helps them in their daily routine, we are also able to collect early-stage data and customer feedback.

For new technology partnerships to emerge and new mobility solutions to be brought to life, what are the critical success factors for Michigan? 

KOTAGIRI: Around the world, the next generation of mobility and the requirements for mobility as a service are being defined in part by a new class of service providers, like May Mobility. Large cities are beginning to dictate requirements for powertrain, especially EVs, full autonomous capability and vehicle use cases, such as no single occupants. Sharing of mobility and making it multifunctional are the next steps in improving city access, passenger movement and access to services. Partnerships will ensure there is support in place for implementing new solutions driven by mobility’s transformation.

What have you learned from your pilot programs in Detroit and Michigan and how will that data drive your decisions on EV shuttle deployment?

OLSON: The value of getting out to market as the first fleet of self-driving shuttles is immeasurable. From user experience to business models to corner cases experienced in the streets of Detroit, we’re learning something every day about how real people want to use and interact with self-driving vehicles in their everyday lives. We’re able to draw on years of experience with the talent that’s available in the Motor City, while drawing some of the best minds from research and academia to develop our cutting-edge technology.

Claire Charlton is a metro Detroit freelance writer and Glenn Stevens is executive director of MICHauto.