Attorney Robert B. Weiss Joins Dickinson Wright’s Troy Office as Of Counsel

TROY, Mich., April 7, 2020 – Dickinson Wright PLLC is pleased to announce that Attorney Robert B. Weiss has joined the firm’s Troy office as Of Counsel.

“I’m excited to be joining Dickinson Wright and their nationally-recognized automotive and insolvency/restructuring practices,” says Robert. “Over my career, I’ve enjoyed a great working relationship with many of my colleagues at Dickinson Wright and look forward to working with them and our clients, especially in the automotive industry, to navigate the evolving economic circumstances in the months ahead.”

“I have worked side-by-side with Bob for over 20 years and have always had a tremendous amount of respect for him. Bob is truly one of the most respected attorneys in the automotive and restructuring space,” says James Plemmons, Deputy CEO of Lateral Partner Recruitment. “We are very fortunate that Bob decided to continue his illustrious career with Dickinson Wright as he is a great addition to our team and will provide tremendous support to our practice and clients.”

Robert Weiss’ over thirty years’ experience advising automotive OEMs and their suppliers as outside counsel and, most recently, as General Counsel of Joyson Safety Systems, a multinational Tier 1 supplier, gives him dual perspective and a breadth of experience in all aspects of automotive supply chain representation. He has advised his clients on a wide range of complex and, at times, unique legal matters. Mr. Weiss is one of the pioneers in the development and refinement of supply chain protection in the automotive, manufacturing and related industries, and in collaboration with his colleagues, helped establish the protocol and refine processes used in dealing with critical, single-source suppliers in the “just in time inventory” context, which has since become the industry standard.

Mr. Weiss previously headed the commercial, restructuring, and bankruptcy practice of a large Midwestern law firm. He has represented manufacturers in complex commercial transactions, the structuring and negotiating of complex commercial supply contracts, sensitive internal investigations, and commercial litigation. As the practice lead, Mr. Weiss oversaw and actively represented clients in the events leading up to the 2009 financial crisis and was the lead lawyer of one of three law firms retained to represent General Motors Corporation in its Chapter 11 case.

Mr. Weiss has also overseen and has extensive experience with multiple restructurings of companies through pre-packaged arrangements, out-of-court restructurings, and Chapter 11 proceedings. He is a member of the State Bar of Michigan and has been recognized by Chambers USA, Best Lawyers in America, and Super Lawyers. Mr. Weiss received his B.A. from Yeshiva University and his J.D. from Case Western Reserve University.

About Dickinson Wright PLLC
Dickinson Wright PLLC is a general practice business law firm with more than 475 attorneys among more than 40 practice areas and 16 industry groups. Headquartered in Detroit and founded in 1878, the firm has 18 offices, including six in Michigan (Detroit, Troy, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Saginaw) and 11 other domestic offices in Austin and El Paso, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Lexington, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Silicon Valley, Calif.; and Washington, D.C. The firm’s Canadian office is located in Toronto.

Dickinson Wright offers our clients a distinctive combination of superb client service, exceptional quality, value for fees, industry expertise and business acumen. As one of the few law firms with ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certification, Dickinson Wright has built state-of-the-art, independently-verified risk management controls and security processes for our commercial transactions. Dickinson Wright lawyers are known for delivering commercially-oriented advice on sophisticated transactions and have a remarkable record of wins in high-stakes litigation. Dickinson Wright lawyers are regularly cited for their expertise and experience by Chambers, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, and other leading independent law firm evaluating organizations.

Pentastar Aviation Ranked #1 in The Great Lakes in Annual Industry Survey

WATERFORD, MI. – Pentastar Aviation, a leader in the world of business aviation, has been named the top Fixed Base Operator (FBO) in the Great Lakes by one of the most respected publications in the aviation industry. In fact, the score received in the 2020 AIN FBO Survey from Aviation International News (AIN) gave Pentastar the #1 ranking in the Great Lakes for the second year in a row and claimed them a spot as one of the best FBOs in the Americas.

Pentastar’s FBO, or what is more commonly referred to as their Executive Terminal, is located in Waterford, Michigan. It provides ease of access into Southeast Michigan and the surrounding areas and features luxurious passenger lounges, secure ramp access, attentive concierge service, heated hangars and Fivestar Gourmet catering among the many amenities offered to its clients.

“Our tagline is ‘Setting the Standard,’ and we look at it as more than just a marketing slogan,” said Greg Schmidt, President & CEO Pentastar Aviation. “We encourage our Customer Service Representatives to not only meet the needs of our customers, but also to go above and beyond in anticipating them. That’s why customer service training is not just for the CSRs at Pentastar, but for every single employee.”

“Reaching the highest rungs of AIN’s Annual FBO survey requires not only all around excellence in each of the five rated categories, but also consistency, as typified by Pentastar Aviation…,” writes Curt Epstein, AIN. “The FBO has a 6,000-sq-ft, two story main terminal building that also houses Fivestar Gourmet, the company’s in-house catering department which serves Pentastar’s customers as well as other operators on the airport and beyond. Other amenities include seven conference rooms ranging from four seats to 25, two snooze rooms, and a pilot lounge with massage chairs. Another unique feature is the Stargate, a secondary 11,000-sq-ft terminal with what is likely the only FBO-owned jetway in the country. Equipped with its own baggage carousel, it handles large groups of passengers, such as sports teams.”

AIN asks its subscribers to evaluate FBOs they have visited in the past year based on five categories — line service, passenger amenities, pilot amenities, facilities and customer service representatives. The current survey process, in which Pentastar has annually been recognized among the top FBOs, provides overall cumulative average scores from 2013 to the present.

Pentastar continues to be the most awarded aviation company in the FBO surveys for over a decade, recognized by those who appreciate their commitment to exceeding the industry standards for both safety and service excellence.

About Pentastar Aviation
Pentastar Aviation, wholly owned by Edsel B. Ford II, is a leader in the world of business aviation, providing aircraft management, advisory services, aircraft maintenance, avionics services, interior services and award-winning FBO services. Air charter transportation services are provided by Pentastar Aviation Charter, Inc., a U.S. FAR Part 135 on-demand air carrier, or by other U.S. FAR Part 135 certificated on-demand air carriers arranged by Pentastar Aviation, LLC. Their team is committed to delivering the highest standards of safety and service excellence to their customers.
Pentastar Aviation has been servicing regional and global travelers for more than 50 years and is headquartered at Oakland County International Airport (PTK). For more information, please visit

Walsh Online Master’s in Cybersecurity Receives National Ranking

TROY, Mich., April 2, 2020 — Walsh has ranked as having one of 2020’s Best Online Cybersecurity Master’s Degree Programs by Student Training in Education and Public Service (STEPS). STEPS recognizes schools providing students with quality, affordable online learning opportunities in fields of public service. Programs were ranked based on accreditation, format and course delivery, curriculum and affordability. Walsh is one of only 50 schools to make the list and received the highest ranking of any school in Michigan.

Walsh was one of the first schools in Michigan to be recognized as a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense and was the first school in the nation to offer a degree concentration in automotive cybersecurity. Its information technology degrees align with Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security NICE Framework Standards.

Walsh was an early adopter of online education, offering its first online course in 1998. Other recent recognition for excellence in online education includes a Tier One Global Online MBA, one of the Best Online MBA Programs in the U.S., and one of the Best Online Master’s in Network Security. Walsh’s online programs provide the same curriculum as on-ground programs and are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs and the Higher Learning Commission.

View the complete list from STEPS at

For more information about Walsh, visit

# # #

Walsh is an all-business, private, independent, not-for-profit, fully accredited college offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral business and technology degrees, as well as certificate programs. Founded in 1922, Walsh is one of Southeast Michigan’s largest graduate business schools, offering classes in several locations and online. Our internationally and nationally-ranked programs integrate theory and application to prepare graduates for successful careers. Walsh degree programs include accounting, finance, information technology, human resources, management, marketing, taxation and other fields. For more information, please visit

Walsh is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission ( and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs (

Point of View: Improving Transportation and the Safety of Roads

What should the role of public transit be moving into a future with transforming mobility options?

Jim Lilly: Public transit systems are facing an ever-evolving landscape. The emergence of individual mobility options may fundamentally change the role that public transportation plays in our society. The typical bus routes may no longer have the same importance that they once did, but there is a new frontier of connectors that can and should be explored.

Joe Tate: Public transit will continue to be a critical piece of infrastructure for residents to get around Michigan for years to come. Mobility technologies are certainly needed to fill gaps in our existing systems. As these new mobility options come online, I am very much looking forward to seeing the improvements incorporated.

Hands-free driving legislation has recently passed in Georgia and Indiana by bipartisan majorities. Do you believe this is a bipartisan issue?

Jim Lilly: Hands-free driving can and should be a bipartisan issue. In December, the House voted to ensure that our Michigan drivers were safer by passing legislation that restricted the use of cell phones by drivers under the age of 18.

Joe Tate: Absolutely. Safety is paramount especially when behind the wheel of an automobile. My colleagues and I practice and communicate safety on a regular basis, which is why the hands-free driving legislation is a bipartisan issue.

As next-generation mobility becomes the new frontier for the automotive industry, can we still champion the technology when our roads are crumbling?

Jim Lilly: We can use the challenge presented by next-generation mobility as an opportunity to reevaluate the way we finance our roads. Lifting unnecessary burdens on locals to allow them to fix our most damaged roads while continuing to fund Michigan roads at record levels is the best way to address this challenge.

Joe Tate: For us to most effectively implement new mobility technologies into society, we need to ensure that we are maintaining our current critical infrastructure systems, which includes our roads. For the state to be a leader in this nascent industry, we need to have the right ecosystem to foster this progress – this includes fixing our roads. I am grateful for Gov. Whitmer’s focus and priority on road infrastructure funding.

Jim Lilly is a Republican representing Michigan’s 89th district.

2020 NAIAS Puts Next-Generation Mobility in the Driver’s Seat

by Rod Alberts

Executive Director, North American International Auto Show

In just three months, next-generation mobility will find itself on the streets of Detroit as the next-generation of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) debuts, June 9th through the 20th.

Held in the summer for the first time, the 2020 show will feature 2-million-square-feet of vehicle and mobility experiences both inside TCF Center and outside in Hart Plaza. It will be a citywide showcase of new vehicles, innovative technology, and dynamic, moving displays and experiential ride-and-drives.

Nearly 117,000 engineers drive innovation here in Michigan, along with our state’s growing reputation as a startup powerhouse. No better place represents the new world of automotive technology and mobility than right here in Detroit, especially at the 2020 NAIAS.

With an expanded footprint, NAIAS is embracing this emerging mobility space with real-life, hands-on opportunities for show-goers to engage with new technologies like never before.

Through Michigan’s NAIAS 2020 Mobility Challenge, show visitors will have an opportunity for their first experience in an automated vehicle. Under the program, autonomous shuttles will provide first-of-its-kind technology demonstrations – on routes from the airport to Detroit and throughout downtown.

And, for the first time the show’s technology exhibition, AutoMobili-D Powered by PlanetM, will be integrated into the main show floor drawing on the synergies between OEMs, technology-driven suppliers, and entrepreneurial startups. Several countries will be hosting startup and mobility pavilions within AutoMobili-D, sharing innovations and new technologies that are moving mobility forward worldwide.

Keynotes, tech-talks, and panel discussions from some of the best minds and most prominent voices in the mobility space will now be featured in three locations — the AutoMobili-D Powered by PlanetM exhibit hall, TCF Center Atrium, and neighboring Crowne Plaza Detroit – to accommodate the growing list of technology and mobility content curation.

What’s more, the show’s expanded technology focus will reach beyond the boundaries of the TCF Center and Hart Plaza campus.

Activations and engagements will be positioned throughout the Motor City, including at some of downtown’s signature parks, such as Campus Martius and the Spirit of Detroit Plaza. Ride-and-drives along Detroit’s waterfront and other experiential activities will put visitors in the driver’s seat.

Also, Motor Bella, our all-new, three-day street festival of Italian and British cars and culture, will bring a unique mobility perspective to the Motor City with a lineup of supercars paired with authentic food and culture from both regions.

Working together with Michigan and the Motor City, NAIAS is the perfect world stage to showcase next-generation mobility that is transforming today’s automotive industry.

This state, this region, and this city are a collective hub for mobility innovation, and we’re ready to show the world in June.

Committed to Michigan’s Lead in Mobility

By Melanie Barnett

While the global competition to be the mobility capital of the world heats up, MICHauto is securing Michigan’s lead by advancing policy that will help Michigan remain competitive globally. This represents an enormous opportunity for the state, while also posing an increasing economic threat if we do not act and lead. For this reason, MICHauto, an economic development initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber, remains focused on promoting, retaining, and growing the state’s hold on the industry. While the global competition to be the mobility capital of the world heats up, MICHauto is securing Michigan’s lead by advancing policy that will help Michigan remain competitive globally.

Moving the Industry by Focusing on Policy

At the 2020 MICHauto Summit, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer actualized significant steps to secure Michigan’s leadership in the future of the industry, signing two executive measures to create the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification. MICHauto played a key role in working with her administration, amplifying its advocacy efforts to bridge the gap between policy and industry focus such as competitive testing and R&D for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV).

Last year, MICHauto invested in a full-time advocacy staff member to focus on keeping Michigan the most competitive state for CAV legislation. Additionally, in this growing technological world, passing hands-free driving legislation is also a top priority for MICHauto in partnership with The Kiefer Foundation and it’s mission to end distracted driving and all associated traffic deaths and injuries.

The Michigan Legislative Automotive Caucus, a bipartisan group of state senators and representatives has been a key partner to MICHauto in these efforts. The co-chairs for the 2019-20 legislative session – Rep. Jim Lilly (R-Park Twp), Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit), and Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) – regularly convene with MICHauto stakeholders to discuss automotive and mobility industry issues and opportunities.

MICHauto Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr. recently joined Sen. McMorrow and automotive leaders for a roundtable to provide awareness on the future of the electric vehicle (EV) industry, what policies are needed to support EV infrastructure and how Michigan can support the advancement of the EV industry.

“Michigan built the American automotive industry, but it’s an industry that’s changing more rapidly now than any other time before,” said Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) in a press release following the roundtable. “No other state has the history, talent and capability to design and build the next generation of electric vehicles, but we need to have the infrastructure in place to support that development. It’s critical that the legislature and the Governor work together to move forward on positioning Michigan to be a leader in the future of this industry.”

These efforts combined with an increased focus on building a highly skilled talent pipeline and robust mobility ecosystem –of automotive stakeholders, startups, university partners, testing grounds, suppliers, technology partners– will secure Michigan’s leadership in the global mobility revolution.

Melanie Barnett is the editor of Detroiter magazine.

Diversity and Inclusion: The Industry’s Superpower

By Karen Dybis

Of all the rapid-fire changes in the automotive industry, one truism prevails: Finding the right talent and promoting diversity and inclusion is the difference between being “your father’s car company” and becoming a mobility leader.

The traditional automotive industry is stereotyped as being a “boys’ club” and not diverse in its talent. But with new programs, investment, and industry support, officials say Michigan’s automotive and mobility companies are working to change this view of the industry, keeping them competitive for the long term.

Companies today have innovative mentoring programs, diversity-focused boards and advisors, empowered employee-resource groups, and leadership programs that improve diversity and inclusion from the factory to the C-suite to the boardroom.

Improving Business Outcomes

Michelle Sourie Robinson comes at the issue with fresh eyes – the attorney moved to Detroit five years ago to become president and CEO of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council (MMSDC), a nonprofit organization that promotes the economic growth of its members and the minority-owned businesses that serve them.

The MMSDC seeks to create innovative and efficient suppliers, Sourie Robinson says. Names such as Dave Bing, Vinnie Johnson, and Andra Rush – all of whom owned supplier companies that served the automotive industry – became well known and economically successful because they were strong businesspeople and had champions within the original equipment manufacturers, she says.

“That’s not happening at the same level today,” Sourie Robinson says. “It’s understandable – the entire marketplace has changed. But we have to make deliberate, intentional decisions and invest in opportunities that I think make all of our businesses better. A lot of different voices make us all better.”

Ensuring the diversity of a company’s employees represents the local community, as well as the nation, can be challenging, but having diverse voices helps companies to better understand their consumer bases and improve products.

“As we change our industry from traditional vehicle manufacturing, the ideas and innovation coming from a lot of different voices are exactly what we need and I think that’s coming through in our products,” says Kristen Tabar, group vice president of Vehicle Development and Engineering for Toyota Motor North America Research and Development.

Supporting Women in Stem

At General Motors Co., the company is focusing its diversity and inclusion efforts through its corporate giving arm into STEM and educational programs, boosting Michigan’s future while developing that all-important talent pipeline.

GM is supporting both its local partners, such as the Robotics Engineering Center of Detroit, as well as bringing fresh and proven programs to Michigan, says Hina Baloch, manager of Global Social Impact and STEM Education at GM.

“We wanted to bring the best-in-class nonprofits and partnerships to the city of Detroit. Everybody’s putting a stake into it,” Baloch says, resulting in successful launches such as AI4ALL and SMASH Academy, a three-year, STEM-intensive residential college prep program that empowers students to deepen their talents and pursue STEM careers.

Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) College of Engineering and Technology runs the successful Digital Divas program, encouraging young women to pursue careers in STEM. In its decade-old legacy, the bi-annual, daylong program has introduced nearly 7,000 participants to careers and college programs in STEM.

Initiatives encouraging young women to pursue careers in STEM help to break down gender stereotypes, strengthening inclusivity in tech careers.

It’s Never Too Late to Start

Bringing in people from all roles and responsibilities is key, says Cheryl Thompson, founder and CEO of the Livonia-based Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement (CADIA), a nonprofit focused on diversity and inclusion in the automotive industry.

“Everyone recognizes they need to do something. The difficulty is where do you start,” Thompson says.

CADIA’s goal is to double the number of diverse leaders in the automotive industry by 2030. Thompson seeks to achieve that mission through programs like the D&I Roundtable series, which brings companies together to share best practices, and RevUp events, which feature industry experts, panel discussions and case studies in ally-ship, talent acquisition, and cultural awareness.

“We don’t want to blame and shame. That doesn’t work. We want to meet people where they’re at, and that’s an evolution,” Thompson says.

Karen Dybis is a freelance writer, author, and speaker in Metro Detroit.

Securing Talent: Moblity’s Workforce Shortage

By Melissa Anders

A Commitment to Attracting and Retaining Talent

As Michigan strives to position itself as the epicenter of the mobility revolution, some industry leaders express concern about whether the region can be competitive in attracting and retaining the engineering talent needed to fill the increasing number of high-tech roles.

Yet, there’s excitement and optimism for the state’s mobility prospects, backed by several new initiatives and programs aimed at further developing the workforce.

“There are good jobs here and people are very interested in working for the automotive industry right now,” says Charlie Ackerman, senior vice president of human resources for Bosch North America in Farmington Hills. “We’re seeing a strong uptick in that … it’s a very exciting transformation that the automotive industry is seeing right now.”

Bosch anticipates needing an additional 350 software engineers in the next two years. But the market is moving so fast, educators can’t keep up with the ever-changing needs of employers, Ackerman says. And there are not enough available applicants in the workforce with unemployment being so low. That’s why Bosch recently launched a software engineer apprenticeship program to help fill its talent needs. It’s also using the program’s standards to upscale its current talent within the organization.

“The faster that we can get government, educators, and industry to come together to share perspectives around common platforms — not multi-platforms — but common platforms, that’s where we’ll succeed,” Ackerman says.

Employers and Educators Team Up

Addressing the talent gap starts with strengthening education. Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson agrees that educators need constant input from industry professionals to understand their workforce needs. Last summer, WSU partnered with the Michigan Mobility Institute to open the Center for Advanced Mobility to expand the university’s engineering offerings and offer curriculum focused on connectivity, autonomous driving, smart infrastructure, and vehicle electrification.

“A lot of times there’s a disconnect between employers and the educational system, so we think that this partnership will better focus what the needs are and hopefully we can help on the curriculum side in terms of delivering people who are well-trained,” Wilson says.

Of course, Michigan’s automotive and mobility industry needs these students to stay in the state after graduation. When it comes to international talent, nearly two-thirds of foreign students who graduated from metro Detroit and Ann Arbor universities, and chose to remain in the U.S. under a training program for STEM students, decided to stay and work for a Detroit-area employer between 2004 and 2016, says Neil Ruiz, associate director of global migration and demography research at Pew Research Center.

Local students also see this as a great opportunity to be in the Detroit area, says Wilson, thanks to the proximity of the major auto companies, various suppliers, access to real-world urban mobility challenges and a large pool of industry experts.

The area’s cost of living and quality of life are helping attract talent says Jeffrey Donofrio, director of the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) at the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

For example, Silicon Valley-based electronics company KLA Corporation is opening its second headquarters in Michigan to take advantage of the local automotive industry, a partnership with the University of Michigan, as well as the state’s natural beauty and quality of life.

“That’s the type of talent attraction we need to continue to nurture,” Donofrio says.

Melissa Anders is a metro Detroit native and freelance writer.

Michigan’s Mobility Advantage with MICHauto

By Melanie Barnett

When it comes to Michigan’s growing mobility startup ecosystem, outsiders have doubts about the state’s potential for success, and its ability to compete with contenders like Silicon Valley, Seattle, or Pittsburgh. Despite this, many mobility startups have made the move to Detroit due to its resources, affordability, and community of likeminded mobility innovators.

Detroiter hosted a discussion with three Detroit-based mobility experts at the PlanetM Landing Zone, Detroit’s premier mobility startup hub. At the table are Kevin Mull, head of Connected Mobility Services at Robert Bosch GmbH; Jessica Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Mobility Institute; and Ashok Sivanand, CEO of Integral.

Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto, and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives at the Detroit Regional Chamber, moderated the hour-long conversation tackling myths around the startup and mobility space in Detroit, and considering how Michigan’s assets position the state as a global destination for mobility tech companies.

GS: What’s the biggest myth to you about Detroit versus other places or what’s going on here?

JR: I think a big myth here is that everything that we’re doing is still automotive and has to be connected to automotive to be mobility. Now, that’s not to say that there’s not a lot of interesting things happening in that space, but I think Michigan from the outside still looks like the place where you manufacture vehicles, and that’s all that happens here. And what I’m excited about and what we’re working on is creating the talent that both designs and envisions the future of movement. So vehicles on new ground, yes, but everything else as well.

AS: Yeah, I’d echo that. I think when I speak to folks from outside of the region and we talk about how we’re working in the auto transportation space, they automatically jump to, so you’re working on the vehicle dash ‘cause that’s the only software that comes to mind about the auto industry. But a tad to Jessica’s point in thinking about the future of shared mobility, there’s a lot of moving people from point A to point B. I think there’s also a lot of innovation happening in the automotive ecosystem. We got to work with a team at Bosch that helps with diagnosing and servicing your vehicles in a more efficient way and how software is playing a huge part in that.

KM: Yeah, I completely agree with everything said so far, but I also think another [myth] is that the quality of the startups here in Detroit and Michigan and the region is not in the caliber of what you’d find in the Valley or Pittsburgh or somewhere like that. I think that our experience, particularly sitting here in the PlanetM Landing Zone that created these startup collisions with big companies like Bosch, who I work for, that you wouldn’t find that quality here is I think is something that I’ve heard as I’ve gone around to other parts because we’re active all over the world. Detroit easily holds its own with the other parts of the world.

GS: Let’s talk about how you all got here. I don’t think anyone’s originally from here, correct? Where did you come from? How did you get here?

KM: I’m very proud to say that I’m originally from Pittsburgh, and I went to the University of Pittsburgh, got an electrical engineering degree. At that time the business climate in Pittsburgh was pretty tough just coming out of the collapse of the steel industry. I worked in the steel industry in Pittsburgh. I had a friend that was working here in metro Detroit and he said, come on for the summer, get a little experience working for this company. That was doing technical publications in the auto industry. I came out expecting to be here for three months and I never left. So, 25 plus years in metro Detroit and almost four years in living in the city.

GS: Ashok, you’re not from Detroit. You’ve got quite a background.

AS: I grew up in the Middle East and my parents moved around a little bit… I moved to Toronto after school, worked for a bunch of startups there. One of the companies I worked for got acquired by a Silicon Valley company called Pivotal Labs. And when they opened up an office in Detroit, I moved out here to open that office and it was supposed to be a six month, get in, get out kind of thing. I was in Royal Oak at first. By the time I moved in here, it was already really comfortable despite what everyone said. Moved here two years ago, started a company, now I own a house.

JR: We have something common, which is all three of us came to Detroit thinking we’d only be for a minute and we all ended up staying and building things, which is actually cool. I first came to Detroit as part of Zipcar, which at the time was one of the first mobility service-based companies globally. I put Detroit on the list of cities that the company should look at expanding into in part because we needed to continue to grow. I came to briefly run the market and loved the business community here so much that I ended up pitching that I could move to the city as well. I also live in the city of Detroit itself.

GS: We’re in a new evolution that has connected, automated, shared, and electrified technology. Your thoughts on the scene here?

AS: The first thing that I think I’d want all the [readers] to think about is this definition of a startup. It’s often tied to venture capital and also tied to not being profitable. This wave has come around where those checks and balances are coming to the foray, right? Whereas if you compare it to entrepreneurs here, there has been a history of strong, small to medium businesses growing and scaling to big businesses here. The thing that the region could probably mature into is seeing that wave again.

GS: So, Bosch, you were one of the early ones to literally immerse yourself in this and have stayed immersed in it.

KM: I have been fortunate to get involved in some of our activities with either investing or acquiring startups. And you know, I’ve learned how hard that is from the corporate side as well. That’s why we’re here is to get that level of engagement and to be present in this ecosystem.

AS: Not to make it an us versus them, but it’s something that I’ve noticed that’s different between Detroit and even the suburbs around here. The businesses around here, the folks who work for the city around here, I find it’s just such an affable city compared to even the customers that we try to approach or the folks that we try to bring into our community for different things that are kind of tucked away in the different suburbs here tend to kind of have that policy. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed that or if that’s something just coincidental.

KM: I’ve noticed it from a work perspective and from a personal perspective, it’s much different than even where I was living in the suburbs compared to living downtown. And people just have a different approach. It feels like here’s this cause that everybody is rallying around which is mobility in the city or championed by the city. That’s probably different than maybe [Silicon] Valley for example, where it’s not really about the Valley itself and the success of the Valley. It’s more about the success of the individual companies. Here, it’s more the success of the region, and that high tide raises all boats here.

JR: We’re seeing the next iteration of that potentially now with plug and play. I’m opening their program here at FCA, intentionally engaging the minority business supplier community here. And I think that’s going to open a whole new wave of connections both for the suppliers that are here but also the startups that will engage in the community to continue to deepen those roots and take advantage of those connections to build things that are stronger and more lasting.

GS: I think you guys bring up an interesting theme. This is a very interesting city because it doesn’t have mass transit like a lot of cities around the world do. There aren’t going to be any tunnels dug anytime soon. So, we have to look for other solutions. I’d love to hear what your take on this. This is a large city that connects into suburbs where people do come and go, which has an international border where people are crossing and working every day. It seems like this is an ideal or unique place to test and develop. What are your thoughts on that?

JR: Recently, the Detroit Mobility Lab came out in support of giving voters here a chance to invest in regional transit. We think transit is important for the region to help people to be able to get around. I agree that we need other creative solutions as well. We’re seeing the city and public sector work very creatively. You need a backbone and investing in infrastructure is really important there.

AS: Coming from the perspective of talent, I’d say in terms of our business, being able to find talent has really been the constraint for our growth. We’ve [gotten to] where we’re oversubscribed as far as our customers go. Finding the kind of talent and organizing them to do the quality of work that we do has been hard for this market. There are a few reasons for that. I think Quicken Loans is doing it already in terms of opening a development office in Ontario. Similar to New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles getting really expensive here, Toronto is not a very accessible city anymore. And there are folks starting to think about other places to go and it’s definitely a big opportunity for Detroit and Windsor to collaborate.

I do have a question about something that you mentioned, Jessica. It’s something you’ve always wondered about and it’s something that extends in Toronto as well. Why is riding the bus not great?

JR: There’s been lots of research on this. There’s people like me, I’m considered what’s called the choice rider. I’m able to have a car if I want because of my economic status. Generally speaking, in most communities in the U.S., definitely in Detroit, as soon as you have enough money to buy a car, you do because it’s a status symbol. In communities of color, there’s other stigma around riding a bus and it goes back to the history of bus riding in America. And that’s also confusing. Like if you haven’t been on a bus a while, do you pay with cash? Do you use your app? Which door do you go in? How do you get the guy to stop when it’s your stop? It’s uncomfortable. We don’t do it in America.

AS: I’m proud to say that we did recently. We decided that we’re going to, as a company, go to the Charles H. Wright museum. I kind of pulled a CEO rank move where I said, we’re all taking the bus. It was just a really fun experience. Wow, this is really clean. Wow, the bus driver is really nice and really helpful. Folks have come back and said, hey, it’s really more convenient for me to just take the bus. If you have the opportunity to pull rank like I did for like a really short trip like that, you can introduce folks to the bus and then you’re likely going to bust a myth.

GS: You probably saw recently that Gov. Whitmer made a pretty significant announcement. You guys were talking about leadership and [that] it starts at the top. They just made a big commitment to not only the auto industry today, but where it’s going. What are your thoughts on that?

JR: With this new office of mobility at the state level, what I’m most excited about is two things. The first is the focus at the state level, linking the industry and what it means to the economy with the talent story. The Second is with the focus on the Council of Future Mobility. It’s in our DNA that [the] industry should have a collective voice in terms of needs. I’m not just talking about lobbying for legislative change. I’m talking about signaling where the industry’s going because the governor does not, or anyone in her cabinet, they do not have the luxury of getting out and meeting with the technology leaders who are driving their businesses forward.

AS: I think folks from [MICHauto’s] office as well as from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Have done a great job of demystifying how government can be supportive for entrepreneurship and economic development, even for the small players like us. I’m hoping that blueprint can be scaled up now.

KM: I think it’s going to be a great addition to the good work that’s already being done by [MICHauto] and others around. [Detroit] recently did the same thing with Mark de la Vergne’s position. If the state is as successful as what Mark has done for the city, then I think we’re really going to notice the difference.

Melanie Barnett is the editor of Detroiter magazine. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Electrified: The Power of Mobility

By Paul Eisenstein

Long, low, and sleek, Cadillac’s Celestiq might seem like a throwback to another era when luxury cars were largely hand-built to a customer’s specifications. But it’s no retro mobile. Celestiq is one of the dozens of new vehicles General Motors Co. will build – many of them in Detroit – as part of what CEO Mary Barra calls “the path to an all-electric future.”

The automotive and mobility industry is in the midst of a massive transformation from the internal combustion engine to battery power. Among Detroit automakers, GM has outlined the most aggressive shift. But Ford Motor Company is ramping up its efforts with products like the Mustang Mach-E SUV through new electric vehicle alliances with Volkswagen and Detroit startup Rivian. After a slow start, FCA US LLC is charging up its EV efforts as well.

Yet, there are plenty of skeptics who note that all battery-based vehicles captured just 5% of the U.S. market last year, pure electric models accounting for barely 1%. During a media briefing in March, GM President Mark Reuss says he expects those numbers to grow rapidly, though he acknowledges there are “a lot of pain points that prevent people from buying EVs.”

Challenges to Mass EV Adoption

The primary obstacles are limited range, high purchase costs, the lack of charging infrastructure, and long charging times.

The good news is that each issue is being addressed, in many cases, quite rapidly.

Take range. When the GM EV1 came out in 1996, it managed just 50 miles per charge. A decade ago, the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric barely topped 100. Ford will top 300 miles in versions of the Mach-E SUV, and some upcoming GM products will reach 400.

As for costs, the numbers are dropping rapidly, largely due to the price of batteries. A kilowatt-hour of batteries cost about $1,000 in 2010 and is now around $150 – a big difference considering long-range EVs have anywhere from 60 to more than 100 kWh packs onboard. GM’s target for the Ultium battery is “less than $100” per kWh and, by 2030, some experts believe that will reach $70 – with Xavier Mosquet, head of Boston Consulting Group’s automotive practice saying that target “could come even earlier.”

For buyers, he adds, that sharp tumble means they could hit “the tipping point,” where a BEV costs no more than a comparable gas vehicle by as early as 2023.

One of the biggest challenges is developing a nationwide public charging infrastructure resembling the network of over 100,000 U.S. gas stations. In reality, more than 80% of EV owners charge at home says Ted Cannis, Ford’s global director of electrification.

But to expand the appeal of plug-based vehicles, more public outlets will be needed, industry officials agree. Specially to let owners travel longer distances without worry. The good news is that there are now more than 25,000 places to charge publicly, according to federal data, with new stations opening daily.

And more and more of those use fast chargers, the latest of which can give a vehicle like the new Audi e-tron an 80% top-off in 30 minutes. GM’s Reuss says the company’s goal is to reach a 90% “state-of-charge” in just 10 minutes, not much more than it takes to fill an empty gas tank.

“The reality is there are limitations with EVs” but, going forward, there will be less and less constraints, says Daron Gifford, partner and strategy and automotive industry consulting leader at Plante Moran.

Paul Eisenstein is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Detroit Bureau.