Michigan Automakers Pave Way for City of Tomorrow

Connectivity, ride-sharing and electrification address challenges in dense urban areas

By James Amend

The city of tomorrow, where public, private and shared mobility services are interconnected to more efficiently and sustainably move people and goods, lies years down the road, but Detroit automakers already are paving the way.

“It is a time of tremendous change,” said Jessica Robinson, director of City Solutions at Ford Motor Company.

Advancements in autonomous and electric vehicles are occurring every day as the industry transforms from traditional automaker to personal mobility provider. Meanwhile, ride-hailing and car-sharing services are rapidly expanding and very shortly cars will communicate with each other and a city’s infrastructure. At the same time, however, the global population is skyrocketing, especially in urban areas  already suffocating under transportation congestion.

Robinson’s group is a one-of-a-kind unit within the industry tasked with addressing urban-environment issues and developing mobility solutions for congested cities. The group has delivered numerous innovations, although a key element of its early work has been reaching out to city leaders around the world to get a firsthand look at the mobility challenges facing urban centers.

“We can’t build more streets,” Robinson said. “So how do we move more people and more goods? The way to do that is greater orchestration.”

In New York, for example, traffic speed in Manhattan’s midtown area has fallen 20 percent in the last 10 years to 4.7 mph. And despite the litany of public transit options, vehicle ownership in outer boroughs such as Brooklyn remain a relatively robust 40 percent.

Ford’s Chariot startup was an early answer for New York. The on-demand ride-sharing service employs Ford Transit vans and shuttles up to 14 passengers along commuter routes. Vans take up the footprint of oneand-a-half vehicles and complement existing public transit routes as a first- and lastmile option for commuters. The company crowdsources rider data, too, so Chariot can service the right places at the right time.

“Microtransit fits into an industry middle ground between high-quality public transit and driving yourself, or walking,” Robinson said. “It enhances peoples’ ability to get around, brings efficiency with the shared piece and is responsive to demand.”

Chariot has expanded into eight other cities, including San Francisco, Austin and Seattle. Ford also recently began a public bicycle sharing service in collaboration with San Francisco’s transit authority. Ford GoBike launched in 2013 with 700 bikes available across 70 stations. Later this year, the automaker expects to provide 7,000 bikes.

Ford GoDrive is another experiment. It is a one-way car-sharing service in London, England. Parking is guaranteed and riders pay as they go, reserving and accessing cars with a smartphone app.

GENERAL MOTORS

General Motors is working on several initiatives, including its Maven car-sharing unit. Maven offers GM cars and trucks for hourly, daily and weekly use targeting everyday people, residential communities, commercial entities, and the gig economy, an exploding network of drivers providing mobility services in urban areas under short-term contracts.

Launched in New York and Ann Arbor just over 18 months ago, Maven has expanded into nearly every major U.S. metropolitan market with 10,000 vehicles having logged 170 million miles.

Peter Kosak, executive director of Urban Mobility at GM, said Maven Gig is an example of how new forms of mobility satisfy changing consumer demands, generate jobs, and provide transportation to underserved populations. And with thousands of units of the Chevrolet Bolt, Maven Gig is slashing emissions and giving civic leaders critical insight to building future electric vehicle charging stations.
“The next step would be autonomous vehicles and a link to mass transit,” Kosak said.

Kosak said autonomous electric vehicles working in concert with local transit authorities could make a city more sustainable by reducing public transport costs, as well as providing rides and delivery services to urban areas outside of bus and rail routes.

“Now we can get our elderly to the doctor. We can deliver food. We can get our kids to school,” he said. “It is a powerful concept.”

FCA US LLC

Fiat Chrysler (FCA US LLC) also is driving the industry toward an autonomous future. The automaker’s Chrysler Pacifica minivan is being used by Google’s driverless car unit, Waymo. Testing of 600 cars is underway in California and Waymo was expected to expand its validation work into Southeast Michigan in late 2017.

The automaker also is collaborating with Germany’s BMW, chipmaker Intel, and Mobileye, an Israeli automotive vision expert, on self-driving technology. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne called the collaboration vital to advancing driverless cars by sharing technologies and creating greater scale to drive down cost for users.

FCA also adopted Google’s powerful Android operating system to heighten the connectivity potential of its latestgeneration UConnect infotainment system. The system would potentially string together the growing universe of Android-powered devices and systems.

“(The) collaboration with Google has been an extremely beneficial opportunity for both companies to explore how in-vehicle infotainment and connectivity technology continues to evolve, and what it takes to meet consumers’ increasing desire for innovation of information with minimal distraction,” said Chris Barman, head of electrical engineering at FCA.

TOYOTA MOTOR CORP.

Among the projects at Toyota Motor North America in Ann Arbor is a broad research initiative into how drivers interact with advanced vehicle technologies to ensure future cars safely interact within their environments.

Five separate projects with national universities including the University of Michigan focus on societal acceptance and will generate data-driven insights into the use of future vehicle technologies, such as automated systems.

While much work lies ahead to fully integrate the emerging modes of transportation with traditional ones and public transit, industry leaders agree an environment where they have historically operated independently is no longer sustainable.

“The period we are in promises to unlock as much value and impact lifestyles and landscapes as the automobile did in the very beginning,” GM’s Kosak said. “It is going to be transformative.” James Amend is a senior editor at WardsAuto in Southfield.

 

Magna International Reveals New, Ultralight Door Module

Ian Simmons, vice president of business development, research and development at Magna International, was on hand at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) to announce the company’s new, ultralight door architecture that will help address lightweighting requirements for automakers. Magna’s product offers 42.5 percent mass savings compared to the average industry door.

Simmons presented alongside Reuben Sarkar, deputy assistant secretary of sustainable transportation at the U.S. Department of Energy, who together with FCA US LLC and Grupo Antolin, developed the new technology. The pair also presented a solution to further help global automakers meet emissions standards and reduce fuel consumption through lightweighting. Learn more here.

Mobility initiative aims to match state auto business, Silicon Valley

Crain’s Detroit Business 

By Dustin Walsh 

January 8, 2017

The state’s Planet M mobility initiative is aiming to play matchmaker between companies in Michigan and Silicon Valley.

Planet M, a branding partnership between the state and local economic development firms, businesses and colleges, plans to identify and solve the manufacturing, testing and customer gaps faced by Silicon Valley’s tech industry players focused on transportation and mobility.

Mass production, particularly of automobiles and automobile technology, has proven difficult for California companies. Apple Inc. pulled out of making its own car, and Tesla Inc. has repeatedly missed its delivery targets for its lower-cost Model 3. California needs Michigan’s expertise, but at the dawn of a new age of mobility and technology, the auto industry can also benefit from the fast-paced nature and vitality of Silicon Valley’s technology stronghold.

“This was dreamt up by talking to industry, here in Detroit and in California,” said Trevor Pawl, group vice president of trade and procurement programs at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The plan is his brainchild.

“We want to get Michigan companies involved in the valley and get those startups and tech companies there access to the end clients here,” Pawl said. “If we can connect them to Ford or Delphi or whomever, that means they’re more likely to invest and create jobs in Michigan.”

The MEDC and its partners will spend $250,000 in 2017 on sponsorships, creating “Shark Tank”-style events where California startups pitch Michigan’s auto players and, ultimately, set up a state economic development office in Silicon Valley. Additional funds will be spent on marketing the concept, Pawl said.

The state plans to become a sponsor of Santa Clara, Calif.-based processor maker Nvidia Corp.’s GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, Calif., in May. Planet M would be marketed and state economic agencies would be present, once a deal is reached, Pawl said. The conference attracts global scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs focused on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and driverless cars.

The goal of the initiative is to create or be involved in 12 events between Silicon Valley and Michigan.

Pawl said too often Michigan’s auto industry is used as the commercialization piece of the supply chain, losing out on the profitable aspects of innovation.

“We’ve spent years touting that we’re the auto capital, that we have 375 (research and development) centers,” Pawl said. “But what happens too often is a raw idea comes from, say, Japan, then to Silicon Valley for early-stage development, then to testing in Tennessee, then to Farmington Hills for validation. We’re the last stop on the innovation chain. We need to be stop number two. We need to be the innovation center.”

Farmington Hills-based Flextronics Automotive USA Inc., a subsidiary of Singapore technology conglomerate Flex Ltd., is already in discussions with the MEDC to get involved with the initiative. Flex is involved in 12 businesses, including a $2 billion automotive unit dedicated to autonomous, connected and electrification vehicle technology. Its U.S. headquarters is located in Silicon Valley. Flextronics employs 600 in Michigan and its customers include Ford, General Motors Co., Tata Technologies Inc., FCA US LLC, etc.

Chris Obey, president of Flextronics Automotive, speaking from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, said Flextronics is often overlooked in the automotive conversation because its U.S. headquarters is in Silicon Valley, where automakers look more to Delphi Automotive plc and Robert Bosch LLC that have more established relationships.

“We’re trying to get recognized as a tier-one supplier in the auto sector, so being on top of a contact initiative like this is important,” Obey said. “We’re looking to continue to invest in the Detroit area, so we want to help bring our knowledge base in Silicon Valley to Detroit as it becomes a larger and larger tech zone and an autonomous vehicle center.”

Flex, and Flextronics, is the sort of multifaceted business Detroit wants to attract. Flex’s business lines include manufacturing of 80 percent of the world’s wearable devices, including all of the activity trackers for San Francisco-based Fitbit Inc. It supplies customers in the connected home, energy, server, storage and mobile fields.

“Speed is currency and the world is moving faster and faster, and we’re hoping to show Michigan’s auto sector how important it is to innovate at high speed,” Obey said. “We’re working with several local companies on autonomous projects, and we’re going to focus more of that work in Michigan. This initiative should help others to do more of the same.”

Glenn Stevens, executive director of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MichAuto, an automotive advocacy group that works closely with the MEDC, said the auto companies are now technology companies, so aligning with the world’s greatest idea generators is important.

“A lot of these entrepreneurs have this perception that the traditional auto companies move slow,” Stevens said. “That’s just not true. With programs like this, we’re able to change this perception and show them how automotive is a real target market.”

Tim Yerdon, director of marketing and communications for Van Buren Township-based Visteon Corp. and chairman of MichAuto’s talent and retention committee, said getting products to market is now the auto industry’s greatest challenge.

“It’s all about how quickly we can get these new (automotive) functions to market,” Yerdon said. “Anything the state can do to expedite that is another feather in our cap and to the state and industry.”

Stevens said the Silicon Valley plan is the first in what he hopes will be a full expansion of the state’s economic prowess across the country.

“There’s real opportunity with the Valley, but not limited to just there,” Stevens said. “There’s opportunity in Austin or Boston or other parts of the world. It’s not just about accelerating something that’s happening today, but connecting those with these ideas all over the world with the consumers (Michigan auto companies) of that technology.”

View the original article here: http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20170108/NEWS/170109880/mobility-initiative-aims-to-match-state-auto-business-silicon-valley?X-IgnoreUserAgent=1