Companies to WatchJune 30, 2021
Detroit’s emergence as a tech hub continues as automotive innovates the world into the next-generation mobility era. That technology surge, however, is not limited to automotive. This section highlights some of the companies, automotive and beyond, worth watching as the next tech era unfolds in Detroit.
American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings
Originally focused on classic, but low-profit automotive components, such as axles, AAM has been taken a more high-tech turn. It recently received $5 million in funding from the U.S. Dept. of Energy to further develop a low-cost, high-performance electric drive system already being used by several Chinese automakers, including Baojun and SA.IC-GM-Wuling.
Waymo is a Google spin-off focused on autonomous and fully driverless vehicles. It has already begun testing its technology in several locations, including Phoenix, and hopes to set up a nationwide ride-sharing network. The company has partnered up with several manufacturers who will supply vehicles such as the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan assembled in Windsor. The vehicles will be modified with radar, cameras, LIDAR and other sensors, as well as onboard control systems.
Germany’s Bosch manufactures everything from appliances to smart vehicle technology. The company provides a wide range of automotive systems, including the WiFi and sensors that allowed Ford to test automatic parking technology on a modified Escape SUV last year. While a “safety driver” rode along, the goal is to let motorists exit their vehicle, tap a but.ton on their smartphone and let the vehicle park itself – and then later return when the driver wants to leave.
The focus for Airspace Link is drones – more specifically, solutions to help state and local governments use this increasingly important technology. It has teamed up with the Detroit Region Aerotropolis Corp., a two-county public-private development program. One key goal is preventing incursions into airspace around airports including Detroit Metro and Willow Run.
Automotive insurance is undergoing rapid technological change, among other things basing pricing on driver behavior. Clearcover now operates in 13 states and its mobile app-based approach has generated high scores from consumers. The company planned to set up a Detroit base but has delayed that due to the pandemic. But it’s working with the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. to begin hiring local employees.
Co-founded by Detroiters Greg Schwartz and Dan Gilbert, the company employs over 1,000 in 14 offices around the world – including Detroit – to conduct transactions in a variety of different fields, with an emphasis on high-end products and collectibles, including sneakers, as well as clothing and electronics.
Founded by the Sidewalk Infrastructure Project, Cavnue is working with partners like Ford’s autonomous affiliate Argo AI, Google, Waymo and others to help redefine urban mobility and roads. Its big project is the development of an autonomous vehicle corridor to connect Detroit with the growing high-tech center in Ann Arbor. A feasibility study is expected to be completed in 2022.
Dakkota Integrated Systems
Dakkota is setting up a new manufacturing operation on the site of the old Kettering High School. The $45-million investment will supply instrument panels and other components to the new Jeep Plant on Detroit’s East Side. The operation is a joint venture of the Rush Group and Canada’s Magna International.
The high-tech giant may be best known for its search engine but it has numerous projects underway in the metro area, including the Fellowship Program. Thirteen Google employees will spend six months working pro bono to develop an affordable housing search tool. Google, along with spin-off Waymo and other autonomous vehicle companies are working to create a self-driving vehicle corridor that will link the Motor City and Ann Arbor, with a feasibility study due in summer 2022.
Detroit Manufacturing Systems
This minority-owned Tier One supplier produces various modular assemblies for the auto industry, including instrument panels. That’s the classic part of its business, but DMS also has pushed into supply chain and logistics management, an area likely to become even more important in light of the shortages the auto industry has faced with microchips and other critical parts this year. It currently employs 800 but plans to add another 225 as part of a diversification program.
Paul Eisenstein is publisher and editor-in-chief of automotive news site TheDetroitBureau.com.