Dan Ammann and Julia Steyn Leverage General Motors’ Legacy of Innovation to Lead in a Bold New Technological Era

General Motors Reimagining Personal Mobility

By Daniel Lai

Imagine a world with no cars parked on the sides of streets, minimal traffic congestion, and picking up a friend from the airport is as simple as ordering an autonomous ride from the safety and comfort of your sofa. That reality is not so far off, automakers say.

Catalyzed by the influx of new technology, Michigan’s OEMs are working feverishly on innovative ways to stay ahead of the mobility game, especially as the face of consumers gets younger and preferences shift away from vehicle ownership in favor of convenience.

Recognizing these changing trends, General Motors Co. exploded out of the gate with a flurry of product and partnership announcements this past year. The strategy was led by GM President Dan Ammann, a former Morgan Stanley investment banker who cut his teeth on Wall Street. That experience coupled with a keen forward-thinking prowess has proven to be a golden ticket for the automaker.

Julia Steyn and Dan Ammann introduce GM's new car-sharing service, Maven, which provides customers access to highly personalized, on demand mobility services.

Julia Steyn and Dan Ammann introduce GM’s new car-sharing service, Maven, which provides customers access to highly personalized, on demand mobility services.

In January, GM announced a $500 million investment in San Francisco-based Lyft to put an integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles on the roads in the United States. The partnership leverages GM’s deep knowledge of autonomous technology and Lyft’s capabilities in providing a broad range of ride-sharing services. Three months later, GM and Lyft launched a short-term rental program called Express Drive, which provides vehicles to Lyft drivers for a weekly rate. The service rolled out in Chicago, Baltimore, Boston and Washington, D.C.

GM’s increased focus on personal mobility solutions signals a new culture and bold leadership shift to position Michigan’s automotive industry as a formidable leader in autonomous technology research and development.

“We want to make sure that we’re in position that when (customers) think about mobility, they think about us every single step of the way. We are investing very heavily to define the future of personal mobility in the areas of connectivity, car- and ride-sharing, autonomous driving, alternative propulsion, and of course, all of the new technologies that are required to underpin those developments,” Ammann said during keynote remarks at the 2016 Mackinac Policy Conference.

“That’s really important because as we look at consumer behavior, we see a very clear trend where customers are willing to wait for the right vehicles, for the right level of connectivity before they make their purchase decision, we’re seeing increasing evidence of that every day,” Ammann added.

In addition to the Lyft partnership, GM announced a collaboration with MobileEye to crowd-source advanced mapping data for self-driving cars, introduced the Chevrolet Bolt, the first long-range, consumer-friendly electric vehicle, and unveiled its personal mobility brand, Maven.

Currently in 13 markets throughout the United States, the car-sharing service provides access to highly personalized, on-demand vehicles. Maven customers use its app to search for and reserve a vehicle by location or car type and unlock the vehicle with their smartphone.

“With more than 25 million customers around the world projected to use some form of shared mobility by 2020, Maven is a key element of our strategy to changing ownership models in the automotive industry,” Ammann said.

The Maven team is made up of professionals from Google, Zipcar and Sidecar and led by former Alcoa vice president, Julia Steyn. The Detroiter recently sat down with Steyn to talk about Maven, the future of car-sharing, and GM and Detroit’s next steps in the new mobility era.

How would you describe a Maven user?

It is actually really interesting how Maven customers are very different from the traditional way how we sell cars. First of all, it is very simple because in traditional car sales, it is a one-time transaction and you really market a product. With Maven, we want as much repeat use and as often of a repeat use as possible. We are marketing an overall service and the experience to the customers. Just based on the numbers, Maven customers’ average age is 30 and the average income is above $80,000. We’re talking to the customers that we would not have had in the GM brand family. That’s where Maven is so additive to our traditional brands.

What makes Maven unique in the exploding next-generation mobility scene?

We are, as Maven, building on GM’s competitive strength. That comes first and foremost with the breadth of our portfolio. We have anything from Corvettes and the luxury vehicles and Escalades on one end, to the trucks. We are very fortunate that we can tailor the portfolio to our customers regionally.

Secondly, we obviously have the ability with the connection to the vehicle. We have been doing this with OnStar for a long time to create this very on-demand service. It is not only the app, it is the whole experience … how you interact through the phone and the app, and the same phone opens the vehicle and you kind of bring your whole digital life through what we have put through OnStar in the vehicle as well as the dedicated concierges who can curate anything from safety and finding directions to booking your restaurant or booking your hotel. They are specifically trained to interact with Maven customers.

We are also positioning vehicles where the demand is. Through our two services, Maven Home and Maven City, we track very closely whether these spots are the right ones. We understand where our Maven users are going and how to really tailor the services toward that. I believe that we are quite unique in elevating the whole car-sharing experience to a very different level.

Maven sits at the intersection of “traditional” automotive companies and next-generation mobility and technology firms. In your viewpoint, are traditional OEMs and suppliers ready for this transformation that is upon us?

It is happening as we speak. You kind of have to follow where the customer wants to go with that. I firmly believe that a company like GM has so many assets that are so crucial to the new space. First of all, looking traditionally at our scale, which we are able to do, we can finance the cars. We can obviously build the cars. We understand how to deal with insurance. We actually have been in the forefront of consumer marketing for over a hundred years. It comes in sort of a variety of innovation that has to happen, but the base is there, we are just doing it in a different way.

Technology is the table stakes right now. What is fascinating to me, what is happening in the industry right now in automotive, is a really big convergence of the technology that is just software and app creation with real assets. The consumers need both. They are not just consuming an app, they are consuming a service. They want something that is relevant to their lifestyle. That is why it is so important for us to take the Maven brand to be relevant to that lifestyle. We have customers who have taken Maven (vehicles) almost a hundred times in different geographical areas, so we want to be relevant. Where do they want to go? What do they want to see?

It is almost re-teaching this next generation how to interact with a vehicle in a fun way. The reality is, whether OEMs are ready for it or not, we are ready and we are very aggressively pursuing this strategy.

Major cities across the globe are competing to own next-generation mobility. Assess Detroit’s strengths and weaknesses in this competition.

I’m actually very excited about Detroit. It is clearly a story of revival and renaissance in a very young and modern way. If you look back at where Detroit has been, when you look a hundred years ago, it really was the industrial Silicon Valley. It is coming back. I actually strongly believe that it is important for Maven to ground itself in where we are, and Detroit just has this amazing energy not to give up and be really out there in trying new things. At some level, the city itself doesn’t have much to lose.

I think GM is also a bit like that. I’ve been with the company for close to five years and when I came it was the story of restructuring and survival. Now we are looking at a very different dialogue. I’m very thrilled. Frankly from a talent standpoint, our Maven team comes from all over the world. We speak 20-plus languages and between our team, we have more than 40 startups under our belts, so it is a very entrepreneurial team. Detroit has been an attractive place to come and work. We never lost a single candidate because we were in Detroit. People love the city.

The automotive industry has traditionally had a perception problem. The mobility industry offers technology to solve global issues. What can we do to change the old perceptions with millennials to attract more talent?

I think that Detroit is very much on the way there. I see the revival of some art, the revival of the food culture, and more companies that we have on the cutting edge, whether it is automotive or other industries. Real estate is dramatically changing Detroit and what has been happening; we are very linked with this. I think giving Detroit more credit is good. It needs to continue to be marketed as a destination — as a destination for travel and leisure, as a destination for new companies and new ideas. Nobody should be shy about putting a stake in the ground in that.

How important is it for the startup ecosystem to be in Detroit and around these automotive companies, and what can we do to foster that?

Personally, it has been a very fascinating experience for me to open and start a startup within a 100-year-old company. From the outside it might appear as a very daunting task. In reality, on every level of the corporation we have received tremendous support because I think it permeates not just the senior leadership team but also everybody who sees the industry that we are in the cusp of tremendous changes. People are excited to explore opportunities. In fact, most of the folks who supported our Maven startup did it not as part of their main job, but as something that they really wanted to put their fingerprint on.

I think getting the culture back, you have to move fast. You have to be able to experiment. You have to take ownership of what that looks like in a real commercial way. We at Maven are not about running experiments. We are running a new commercial business, and we are learning tremendous amounts through this and building very new capabilities for the company. I don’t know what can be more exciting. I think it is true for anybody who is going to start something new in Detroit.

What is next for Maven and General Motors?

This year our big push was to really launch a brand and get the exposure and the on the ground operation. We are very much happy with how the year went and how quickly we accomplished that. Next year we are going to be focused on growing our customer base and really deepening the relationships that we have developed throughout the country. A lot of exciting opportunities, a lot of exciting ways to grow.

What do you love most about Detroit and Michigan?

I definitely will not say the weather. I just like the attitude and the grit of the city and the energy and the vibe. I have seen that in New York, but many, many years ago when Brooklyn was hustling and bustling. Now I live downtown in Detroit and even in the past five years I have seen the amazing change in the restaurant scene and a change in who my neighbors have become; it is so cool. I just want to contribute to the growth of the city. I think anything from the art scene to the fashion scene, all of that is so honest and so raw and so sincere that you just have to be amazed in what happens next, so I’m watching.

Daniel Lai is a communications specialist and copywriter at the Detroit Regional Chamber. 

Changes ahead for auto industry provide opportunity for region

The Future Is Cloudy and Bright 

By Sandy K. Baruah 

January is always an exciting time in the Detroit region. The promise of a new year, and of course, the arrival of the North American International Auto Show, one of the premier global events on the automotive calendar and an opportunity to not only showcase the world-leading mobility assets of our region, but also the incredible and real urban renaissance of the city of Detroit.

High resolution headshot

2017, however, brings an unprecedented number of questions that could potentially impact our mobility industry.

  • Have we seen peak demand for vehicles?
  • How will the trend towards longer vehicle loan terms impact the market?
  • Will we see spiraling incentives if demand weakens?
  • Will fuel prices remain low and the demand for more pro table SUVs and CUVs continue unabated?
  • How will the Trump Administration’s pro-business, limited-regulation and potentially anti-trade policies impact the industry?
  • Will the supply chain be impacted by possible changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement?
  • And, of course, how will the continuing transformation of mobility as a product to mobility as a service – and the emergence of non-traditional players – impact our industry?

While nobody really knows for sure what the answer to these questions are, there seem to be some key principals that bode well for Michigan’s most important industry.

Michigan-based mobility companies, both at the original equipment and supplier levels, have not forgotten the hard lessons of the Great Recession. This is evident in their cautious deployment of capital and far more restrained use of debt. Break-even points have been lowered substantially and there is a far greater focus on profitability as opposed to market share. OEMs have been far from sentimental in axing unprofitable legacy nameplates and brands. Suppliers and OEMs alike have resisted major capital investments in production facilities for fear of having underutilized capacity even though they have struggled to meet historic levels of demand.

While no one saw the fuel price spike of 2007 coming, with ample yet dormant shale reserves in the United States, and a strongly pro-energy president coming into office, it seems unlikely that America will experience some kind of fuel crisis or price spike. This is good for consumers, good for the economy, and therefore, good for the automotive industry, which stand ready to meet the demand for high-riding, flexible yet fuel-efficient crossovers and utilities.

On the cautionary side, however, remains concerns over ever-lengthening loan terms. Also, the growing use of incentives is troubling several analysts. Fall 2016 vehicle sales were trending below 2015’s record levels, only to see an exceptionally strong November that was driven by a surprising growth in incentives.

But perhaps the best news of all for the immediate and long-term future is the posture of Michigan’s mobility companies regarding product. As recently as a decade ago criticism that U.S.-based companies were not always producing world-beating products was not far off the mark. But today, these companies have gone from “zero to hero” in record time. Just look at any automotive “best” list and you will see that American brands, and products produced in America, are earning more than their fair share of accolades.

Our Michigan-based companies have made this  region the most active and concentrated place for next-generation mobility research, testing and deployment. No place on the planet can compare. We have the advantage going into the future. Our friends in Silicon Valley have recognized this and have started to establish a presence in Michigan, just as our companies have done the same in the Valley.

It is certainly an exciting time in Michigan and for the industry we love. Michigan’s challenge is unique. We have to take the lead in creating world-beating products today and tomorrow, while preparing for the most revolutionary change in the industry since its creation over a century ago. Fundamental change is in the air, including a very different president. It is certainly a great time to be associated with Michigan and the automotive industry – and I am equally certain that all of us associated with the industry will indeed earn our paychecks.

Sandy K. Baruah is the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Brinks Gilson & Lione’s Oberholtzer interviewed by Comcast Newsmakers; advises caution on collaborative projects between the auto and tech industries

Brinks Gilson & Lione’s Oberholtzer interviewed by Comcast Newsmakers; advises caution on collaborative projects between the auto and tech industries

Steven L. Oberholtzer managing shareholder of the Ann Arbor office of Chicago-based Brinks Gilson & Lione, one of the largest intellectual property law firms in the U.S., was a guest on Michigan’s Comcast Newsmakers, a news platform presenting public affairs information via interviews with local, state and federal officials and business and community leaders.

The topic of the interview, which can be viewed here, was a discussion on the unique challenges faced by traditional automakers and their supplier partners amid high profile collaborations between the auto and tech industries. Oberholtzer advises the auto industry to protect its core competencies while using shared technologies vital to the ongoing development of autonomous vehicles, hybrids and other technology-driven initiatives which reflect a fundamental shift in the auto industry. The interview followed a blog post Oberholtzer contributed to Automotive News in June 2016 on the same topic.

Oberholtzer’s practice at Brinks focuses on patent and trademark counseling, corporate intellectual property policy development and administration, technology licensing, joint development and joint venture relationship agreements. He has extensive experience with the intellectual property legal issues of the automotive industry and a lifelong interest in the industry and its products. Oberholtzer was previously employed as a senior project engineer with a domestic OEM manufacturer and as in-house patent counsel for a Tier 1 supplier. In private practice, he has acted as primary outside counsel for a number of Tier 1 and lower tier supplier engagements that include worldwide responsibility for all intellectual property issues and management of teams of attorneys handling all facets of these matters.
Oberholtzer is the principal author of a primer on intellectual property entitled, The Basic Principles of Intellectual Property Law. He holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Kettering University, formerly known as the General Motors Institute, and received his J.D. from the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University.

Comcast Newsmakers is presented online at www.comcastnewsmakers.com and across Comcast’s national Xfinity on-demand service.

Brinks Gilson & Lione
The attorneys, scientific advisors and patent agents at Brinks Gilson & Lione focus their practice in the field of intellectual property, making Brinks one of the largest intellectual property law firms in the U.S. Clients around the world rely on Brinks to help them protect and enforce their intellectual property rights. Brinks attorneys provide counseling in all aspects of patent, trademark, unfair competition, trade secret and copyright law. More information is available at www.brinksgilson.com.

AIAG Re-elects Chairman and Vice-Chairman to Its Board of Directors

SOUTHFIELD, Mich., Jan. 22, 2013 — AIAG has re-elected the chairman and vice chairman of its board of directors, the not-for-profit, member-supported organization announced today. Chairman John Batchik, vice president of quality at Freudenberg-NOK, and vice-chairman David Kneisler, vice president, global quality at Dana Holding Corp., will each serve another two-year term, which expires Jan. 1, 2015.

“As AIAG concentrates its efforts on accelerating the development of the automotive supply chain’s sub-tier, especially in the area of quality, we rely heavily on the vision, experience and direction that these supplier quality leaders provide,” said J. Scot Sharland, executive director of AIAG.

“Both John and David have been indispensable to AIAG in support of our ongoing commitment to foster a seamless, efficient and responsible supply chain.”

At Freudenberg-NOK, Batchik leads quality system development and strategy execution for the group’s automotive, general industry, and other product groups throughout the Americas. He has a master’s degree in manufacturing management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and received a bachelor’s degree in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan.

Kneisler is responsible for Dana Holding Corp.’s customer and internal operational quality for its four global product groups. He also leads the company’s product safety, technical problem solving, quality systems and warranty management activities. He holds an MBA from the University of Michigan – Flint and has a bachelor’s degree from Michigan Technological University.
About AIAG

AIAG is a unique not-for-profit organization where, for more than 30 years, OEMs, suppliers, service providers, government entities and individuals in academia have worked collaboratively to drive down costs and complexity from the supply chain via global standards development and harmonized business practices. AIAG membership has grown to more than 960 members include renowned OEMs, such as Caterpillar, Chrysler Group, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Navistar, Nissan, Toyota, and many of their parts suppliers and service providers. For more information, visit www.AIAG.org.

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AIAG Contact: Dave Lalain
Ph. 248.358.9741
dlalain@aiag.org

The Quell Group Contact: Rick Bourgoise
Ph. 248.649.8900
rbourgoise@quell.com