A Candid Conversation with Michigan’s Promising Next-Generation Industry Leaders

What excites and motivates you about mobility and the industry you are working in?

Anya Babbitt, Founder and CEO, SPLT

Mobility excites us at SPLT because of the industry’s power to make large and widespread impact that affects people’s lives. When we think about mobility, we think about transforming the way people meet and move by leveraging urban technology. Mobility is a fascinating space to be in because it is changing so rapidly and that is precisely what makes it both challenging and inspiring.

Erica Klampfl, Future Mobility Manager, Ford Motor Co.

At Ford I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to work on solving both current and long-term mobility challenges to make mobility affordable economically, environmentally and socially. It’s exciting to look at the future of our transportation system, and more importantly wor

Automotive and Mobility's Rising Stars

Automotive and Mobility’s Rising Stars

k to solve real challenges people are facing. We’re seeing global megatrends such as explosive population growth, an expanding middle class, air quality and public health concerns, changing consumer attitudes and priorities that continue to impact the practicality of personal vehicle ownership in cities. It’s been exciting to partner with Ford leadership on our Ford Smart Mobility plan, forging a new business area for Ford — one that continues our tradition of providing mobility for all, but now beyond just through personal ownership.

Laurent Vioujas, Software Design Champion, Visteon

Cars are an integral part of our everyday lives, and it is exciting to know that the products we develop reach so many people around the world. Products we work on today may not go to market until 2020, so I have a unique glimpse into the future and know my work will continue to impact drivers for years to come.

What does having a great “culture” in a company mean to you?

Anya Babbitt, Founder and CEO, SPLT

At SPLT, culture is baked into everything we do. We believe our company is family. We strive to create a space where our team feels comfortable to grow and innovate. Our culture is a reflection of the people that make up our team. Without culture, what do you really have? We’re about being a great company for our customers, but also for our employees, and achieving that balance requires discipline and mindfulness.

Erica Klampfl, Future Mobility Manager, Ford Motor Co.

I’ve been at Ford for 16 years and I think having a great company culture is extremely critical in providing an environment to inspire innovation, creativity and a willingness to continually evolve. We’ve worked hard to energize the entire workforce to think outside of the box and are challenging employees through encouraging experimentation and enterprise-wide innovation challenges. The core company principle of treating others with dignity and respect is something that I really value, and you can see how this plays out within both our internal and external relationships. We’re using our 113 years of industry expertise and talent within the company to evolve as both an auto and mobility company, and our dynamic company culture has contributed to that.

Laurent Vioujas, Software Design Champion, Visteon

To have a great culture, you have to go beyond competitive salaries and benefits. For me, work-life balance, team collaboration and good leadership are key. Fostering a company culture that challenges and empowers employees to reach their full potential, while also recognizing their innovations, is equally important.

What critical actions are needed to attract, promote and grow Michigan’s next-generation workforce?

Anya Babbitt, Founder and CEO, SPLT

We need to think different. The easy answer is that we need to attract talent from around the region, the country and around the world to bridge diverse perspectives. But we also need to look right next to us and change the way we value talent. The history of entrepreneurship here is rich and remains, and we need an expectation shift that fosters entrepreneurship among young people.

Erica Klampfl, Future Mobility Manager, Ford Motor Co.

The changing automotive and mobility landscape makes Michigan an exciting place to work right now. As we look to bring new talent to our teams, we’re constantly looking to recruit smart minds from diverse backgrounds that will help us create these next-generation transportation solutions. Michigan needs to foster an environment of innovation, continue to bring in and create a receptive environment for entrepreneurs, work with universities to ensure curriculum prepares and generates students that provide the right talent, and be open to expanding into new areas.

Laurent Vioujas, Software Design Champion, Visteon

The continued revival of downtown Detroit will help. We must evolve to meet the expectations of the next-gen workforce that grew up with digital devices and lacks patience for outdated tools. Companies must invest in technology, and partner with local colleges and universities to tailor programs so graduates have the skills to work in Michigan. Internships identify talent and build industry knowledge prior to graduation.

What is one thing you like about Detroit and Michigan?

Anya Babbitt, Founder and CEO, SPLT

It’s hard to focus on just one thing, but I would say it’s the people and — in one word — the community. The people of Detroit and Michigan have opened their arms up to us, especially the founders coming from New York and Atlanta. I joke with my co-founder that southern hospitality is one thing, but the Midwestern hospitality is second to none, and we have benefited from the tremendous values of hard work and hustle that makes up the fabric of this community.

Erica Klampfl, Future Mobility Manager, Ford Motor Co.

I am constantly impressed by the resilience and resourcefulness of the people of Detroit. Their willingness to transform their own identity and pivot from just being the Motor City to driving entrepreneurship around new mobility solutions inspires me.

Laurent Vioujas, Software Design Champion, Visteon

There’s so much to love about Detroit and Michigan. I especially love the “never give up” mentality here. Detroit has been through some tough times, but the recovery has been remarkable. The automotive industry is moving forward, and Detroit is at the heart of it all – constantly pushing the limits and boundaries of innovation.

Michigan Leading the Mobility Revolution

By James Amend 

Automakers are conducting an unprecedented technology harvest, scouring the globe for the latest breakthroughs to prepare their organizations for a revolution in personal mobility.

And make no mistake, industry leaders say, the day when autonomous cars and trucks begin plying the nation’s roadways — or when people choose to borrow, share or rent a vehicle instead of owning it — is just around the corner.

Ford recently announced its intent to have a high-volume, fully autonomous SAE level 4-capable vehicle in commercial operation by 2021 in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service.

Ford Motor Co.’s fully autonomous Fusion Hybrid research vehicle on the streets of Dearborn. Ford has been researching autonomous vehicles for more than a decade and currently tests fully autonomous vehicles in Michigan, Arizona and California.

“In the history of technology, we have been surprised often by the speed of which it matures and autonomous vehicles will be another example of that,” said Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering at Ford Motor Co. “What I don’t want to do is leave the impression that getting there is going to be easy, because it won’t be.”

To meet this unprecedented change, the industry must break away from a century old business model. Instead of designing and engineering new technologies almost entirely in-house, automakers will have to collaborate more closely with traditional suppliers, forge partnerships outside of automotive and build entirely new units within their companies focused on future modes of transportation.

Ford has already begun real-world testing of autonomous vehicles with exercises in California, Arizona and Michigan. The company expects by the next decade it will be selling cars and trucks that operate without a steering wheel, throttle or brake pedal.

“I am very optimistic that the (Ford) target of 2021 is very achievable and we’re committed to it,” Washington added.

Automakers are conducting an unprecedented technology harvest, scouring the globe for the latest breakthroughs to prepare their organizations for a revolution in personal mobilitytion of alternative fuel.

A group of Ford Motor Co. engineers work on a phone-as-car go app. When a passenger gets into a ride sharing car, he or she taps a mobile device that automatically opens an app interface giving him or her control of the radio and climate. Eventually, any controllable feature, like the passenger seat, could be added.

The real-world testing is part of Ford Smart Mobility, a plan the 113-year-old automaker expects will put it on the leading edge of autonomous vehicle technology, connectivity, mobility, customer experience, and data and analytics. The Ford plan includes strategic investments in technology companies — City Maps, Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC, SAIPS and Velodyne — meant to deepen the automaker’s expertise in emerging technologies, such as computer vision, machine learning, artificial intelligence and high-resolution 3-D mapping.

Much of Ford’s work on future mobility falls under the direction of Smart Mobility CEO Rajendra “Raj” Rao. A transformation agent, Rao previously built out the digital prowess of companies such as IGATE Capital, Brunswick Corp. and 3M. Rao underscores the gravity of future mobility work at Ford by calling the opportunity to lead Smart Mobility a “culmination” of his career.

Other automakers are taking similar steps. General Motors has partnered with a pair of San Francisco-based companies, Lyft and Cruise Automation, to speed development of its ride-sharing and autonomous driving initiatives. The company also launched its own personal mobility service, Maven, in January.

FCA US LLC has leapt into autonomous research through a partnership with Google, arguably one of the world’s leading technology companies. The unlikely duo has cloaked their work in secrecy for competitive reasons, but it reportedly consists of outfitting 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans with Google’s autonomous vehicle technology.

“What develops from here, we’ll see,” FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne told journalists in Windsor recently.

Volkswagen, which is remaking its business after a damaging emissions-cheating scandal, hired Johann Jungwirth away from Apple to lead its digitization efforts as the German automaker stretches into autonomous vehicles and the mobility services of ride-hailing and car-sharing.

Jungwirth recently disclosed plans for a standalone brand at VW entirely devoted to urban mobility services.

At Toyota Motor Co., professors and scholars are encouraged to pursue research in green energy technology to explore the next generation of alternative fuel.

At Toyota Motor Co., professors and scholars are encouraged to pursue research in green energy technology to explore the next generation of alternative fuel.

Toyota has put its autonomous vehicle development under the auspices of Gill Pratt, a robotics genius who previously led the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency centered on driverless cars and machine learning. Pratt is CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, an Ann Arbor hub for the Japanese automaker tasked with developing artificial intelligence systems, so its cars can someday learn the intricacies of driving.

But Pratt said even an engineering giant such as Toyota must go outside its organization to achieve unquestionably safe driverless cars.

“Coopetition is actually the goal here,” he said. “Our great hope is for constructive competition and also collaboration between all the car manufacturers, the IT companies, different governments and hardware manufacturers.”

James Amend is a senior editor at WardsAuto in Southfield.

Michigan schools on cutting edge of high-tech programs to meet needs of auto industry

By Dawson Bell

Employment prospects in Michigan have turned around dramatically since the depths of the Great Recession in 2008-09.

Overall job numbers have rebounded to near pre-recession levels. The state’s unemployment rate (5.4 percent) is now below the national average after a decade spent among the highest in the country (peaking in 2009 at 14.9 percent).

But one of the most striking features of Michigan’s turnaround is that it represents not so much a restoration of a lost economy, but the creation of a transformed one.

Director Hayder Radha and doctoral student Mohammed Al-Qizwini use LiDAR sensors to collect data from the autonomous vehicle in the CANVAS program

Director Hayder Radha and doctoral student Mohammed Al-Qizwini use LiDAR sensors to collect data from the autonomous vehicle in the CANVAS program at Michigan State University

Nowhere is that transformation more remarkable than in the automotive and transportation manufacturing and service sectors — long the bedrock of the state’s economy. The home of the auto industry has become ground zero for the development of 21st century mobility technology. And with that transformation comes one of the most significant challenges the state now faces: developing a workforce with the talents needed to sustain that position of leadership.

Consider a report issued in April by the research group Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan, which identified 564,000 state workers employed in the broad category of transportation safety — from tractor-trailer drivers to engineers and planners. The size of the cohort is astonishingly robust, and the demand for new workers intense.

Yet in some areas most in search of new talent, demand far outstrips supply. In 2014, for example, employers sought to fill more than 16,500 jobs for transportation-related application and software developers, while only 1,586 potential employees had recently completed the requisite training for those jobs.

Fortunately, a broad range of educational institutions, nonprofits and businesses are moving quickly to turn the skills gap around. Among them:

Washtenaw Community College, where the Advanced Transportation Center (ATC), launched in 2015, is working with academic and industry partners to provide training and certification for students in a variety of leading transportation technologies. Those include: computer service diagnostics, lightweight materials and advanced manufacturing techniques, and the technology required for autonomous and connected vehicles.

Director Al Lecz, who spent 36 years with Ford Motor Co. working primarily as a powertrain engineer, said technology has fundamentally transformed the transportation industry. The culture has rapidly become one in which flexibility, innovation and creative problem solving are highly valued, he said.

A Michigan Tech engineering student uses a software program to check a voltmeter on a hybrid electric vehicle.

A Michigan Tech engineering student uses a software program to check a voltmeter on a hybrid electric vehicle.

“It is an absolutely thrilling time to be an engineer or technician,” Lecz said.

The Michigan Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing (MCAM), formed by eight community colleges (Bay, Grand Rapids, Kellogg, Lake Michigan, Lansing, Macomb, Mott and Schoolcraft), trains aspiring and displaced workers in high-demand technical fields, e.g. computer numerical control (CNC) and mechatronics (combining electronics and engineering). The program received a nearly $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor at its launch in 2013.

The formation of a partnership between Ford Motor Co. and the University of Michigan will bring Ford engineers and researchers on campus at the university’s new robotics lab. The partnership is aimed at accelerating autonomous vehicle research in collaboration with UM academics and students in a place where “machines walk, fly, drive and swim,” according to reports issued with its announcement in September.

Connected and Autonomous Networked Vehicles for Active Safety (CANVAS), within Michigan State University’s electrical and computer engineering program, is testing a range of technologies for driverless and connected cars.

Director Hayder Radha said the objective is to train a new generation of engineers in new technology that rely on sensors, radar, computer science and artificial intelligence to create a vehicle capable of independent navigation.

In the last 20 years, vehicles have evolved rapidly into highly sophisticated mobile computers, Radha said. But the impending launch of autonomous and connected vehicles has generated unprecedented interest among millennials.

Ding Zhang and Kira Barton discuss results from a recent test of a robot that uses cooperative algorithms in the HH Dow Building at the University of Michigan. The robot interacts with other robots that are installed with cooperative algorithms that Barton and her research group designed in hopes of providing a model for larger scale implementation of autonomous vehicles and robots.

Ding Zhang and Kira Barton discuss results from a recent test of a robot that uses cooperative algorithms in the HH Dow Building at the University of Michigan. The robot interacts with other robots that are installed with cooperative algorithms that Barton and her research group designed in hopes of providing a model for larger scale implementation of autonomous vehicles and robots.

“I’ve been overwhelmed with students who want to work in this area,” Radha said. “They may not even want to drive, but they want to develop and drive autonomous vehicles.”

MSU Engineering Dean Leo Kempel said Michigan has long been home to the highest per-capita concentration of engineers of any state in the country. What is changing is the rapid expansion of the field into new disciplines, like computer science, sensor technology and artificial intelligence.

“Students want to work on those things. They want to work in areas where they can make change,” Kempel said.

That ideal has also led to a boom in interest in Wayne State University’s electric-drive vehicle engineering degree program, one of the first programs of its kind in the United States aimed at reducing the nation’s dependence on imported fossil energy and lessening the environmental impact of petroleum-based vehicles through innovation.

For more than a century Michigan has been a preeminent state for engineering and technology, Kempel said, “but in 20 years, I think we may look back and say the last 20 were better than the previous 50.”

The pace of change is dizzying, but Michigan’s colleges appear to be keeping up.

Dawson Bell is a metro Detroit freelance writer.

Global Automotive Forum Offers Insight Into Future of Mobility Industry in China

As part of a strategic effort to learn more about Chinese automotive market trends and strengthen existing industry relationships, the Detroit Regional Chamber traveled to Chongqing, China in June to participate in the 2016 Global Automotive Forum. The three-day trip provided an opportunity to share the current state of the auto industry in Michigan with leading Chinese industry executives, as well as explore developments in electric vehicle manufacturing and the connected and autonomous vehicle landscape in China.

The trip builds on the Chamber’s longstanding relationship with the Chinese Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) and was conducted in partnership with the Michigan Automotive Industry Office and Michigan-China Innovation Center.

While abroad, Justin Robinson, the Chamber’s vice president of Business Attraction, attended several events around the show and participated in a panel discussion on doing business with the Michigan automotive industry attended by representatives from Chinese suppliers. Kevin Kerrigan, senior adviser for automotive initiatives at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), also led a panel discussion on connected and autonomous vehicle development and electric vehicle development for over 600 attendees.

Robinson said a key takeaway from the trip was the stark difference between the two countries on a next-generation mobility strategy and current progress by our respective domestic suppliers in this space.

“While the U.S. has made a pretty full pivot into connected and autonomous technology, China’s priority still seems to be focused on new energy/electric vehicle development,” he said. “We are roughly a couple years further along in the connected mobility discussion with the exception of a very small number of leading Chinese automotive and technology firms.”

That’s where Michigan’s numerous research and development and vehicle testing assets, such as the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run, will benefit the state and country in the long-term, Robinson said.

“How can Chinese companies keep up with the technology demands of both new energy and connected and autonomous vehicle markets? Most of the Chinese OEMs and suppliers don’t have the dollars to invest in that type of research and development. It will be interesting to see how that plays out,” Robinson said.

Other key takeaways:

  • Chongqing is China’s largest manufacturing base. The city has an annual auto capacity production of 4 million vehicles with Chang’an and Ford Motor Co. making up a large percentage of this capacity.
  • Chinese brands held over 30 percent share of the Chinese passenger auto market in 2015.
  • Chinese industry execs know that the country must transform its smart mobility strategy as the industry continues to rapidly develop due to disruptive technologies. The challenge is that China’s domestic auto industry lags behind the world’s auto powers in terms of development levels, professional expertise and other related criteria.

In addition to the Automotive Forum, the Chamber and MEDC traveled to Chengdu, China in support of Michigan’s sister state, Sichuan Province. While there, the team met with Sichuan government leaders and a small number of Chinese OEM and Tier 1 suppliers with a focus on electric and autonomous technology.

As a follow up, the Chamber assisted with the hosting of the Executive Vice Governor of Sichuan to the Detroit region at the end of June featuring 80 delegates from government, industry, education and tourism. The visit was anchored by a reception hosted by Gov. Rick Snyder, and a tour of the city hosted by the Chamber featuring delegation representatives and Sichuan Executive Vice Gov. Wang Ning.

For more information on Forward Detroit, contact Marnita Hamilton at 313.596.0310. To view a full list of investors and past Investor Exclusive content, visit our Investor Resources page. For more information on Business Attraction, contact Justin Robinson at 313.596.0352.