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Motor City Stakes Claim To Be Capital of Autos’ Future

November 7, 2019

The Detroit News

Kalea Hall

Detroit — The Motor City’s historic strength in manufacturing is enabling it to become the center for the future of the automotive industry.

Just a few years ago, conventional thinking assumed Silicon Valley’s tech heavyweights held the upper hand in producing the next generation of vehicles. That was before the extensive problems experienced by electric-vehicle start-up Tesla Inc. in building EVs at its California plant, among other challenges to the tech-will-prevail thesis.

“There was this thinking that Silicon Valley was going to crush Detroit, that they knew how to do it better,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Cox Automotive. “Well, reality has set in” that Detroit knows is how to make cars. “Yes, they can be autonomous, they can be EVs. But … you still have to know how to build a car.”

Detroit does. And recent investments by all three Detroit automakers as well as a Silicon Valley self-driving company are helping the city build on its legacy of manufacturing know-how to stake the claim as the nation’s center for self-driving and electric vehicles.

“It’s almost like we are a Silicon Valley again, because if you look back over a century…we were a hub for natural resources, innovation and people — and we are seeing that again,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto and the Detroit Regional Chamber’s vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives.

The city’s reinvention as a hub of innovation is visible in Corktown, where Dearborn-based Ford is building a campus that will be an electric and autonomous technology center for the automaker and its partners. The technology will take shape at Michigan Central Depot, a towering symbol of Detroit’s decline as it sat vacant for 30 years. Ford plans to reinvigorate it to house 2,500 employees and create space for partners to have another 2,500 employees to develop and test new mobility technologies. The station’s transformation, which will include retail and hospitality businesses, will be complete by the end of 2022.

“Ford believes in the city of Detroit and its peoples’ future as a global hub for modern mobility,” Ford’s Corktown spokeswoman Christina Twelftree said. “Michigan is the automotive R&D capital of the world and Detroit is uniquely positioned to leapfrog other urban cores to explore the role transportation can play in revitalizing cities.”

Already there’s a staff of 250 Ford Autonomous Vehicle LLC employees working in the neighborhood.A fleet of self-driving Ford Fusion Hybrids being tested with partner Argo AI is a common sight in the Motor City.

The global automotive industry has multiple cities wanting to stake the claim that they are the center for future automotive technologies. Because Detroit is “working from a position of history and a position of strength with regards to the ecosystem, it’s a great place for the center to develop,” Stevens said.

“We are very quickly becoming not only an automotive center, but an absolute global leader for the development of this next-generation mobility technology.”

GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant is yet another example of the city capitalizing on what it knows how to do best: build vehicles.

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