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Michigan is still driving auto innovation

The Detroit News 

August 30, 2016

Re: Kaitlyn Buss’s August 24 column “Ford stiffens Detroit, Silicon Valley competition”: Michigan might be facing strong competition in the race to define the future of mobility, but we’re far from losing when it comes to being the smart choice for investing in the automotive industry.

Ford’s autonomous vehicle research and development efforts continue to be headquartered in Dearborn and the Michigan-based team collaborates with its Palo Alto and Aachen facilities. As Buss rightfully points out, the automaker is also embarking on a 10-year transformation of its more than 60-year-old Dearborn facilities to create a high-tech campus. The drastic transformation is part of Ford’s goal to move from an automotive company to a mobility company.

When you consider the number of West Coast tech companies and startups that are opening offices in Michigan, the storyline isn’t about competition. It’s about collaboration. Just look at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which signed a deal with FCA U.S. to develop a fleet of 100 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans and open a research and development office in Novi.

Another is California-based electric car startup Faraday Future, which is inquiring about licenses to test self-driving vehicles in Michigan. These stories are just two of numerous other cases where the Motor City and Silicon Valley are coming together and changing the automobile as we know it.

The Planet M campaign was created to showcase Michigan’s ongoing evolution into a hub of mobility.

Seven global or North American research and development headquarters are operated in Michigan by automakers like Ford, General Motors Co., FCA U.S., Hyundai Motor Group, and Toyota Motor Corp. Eight research and development facilities for original equipment manufacturers like Honda Motor Co., Subaru, and Volkswagen of America Inc. call Michigan home.

We still rank number one nationally for our number of advanced automotive industry jobs and businesses that are here, as well as our concentration of engineering talent. And our University Research Corridor—consisting of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University—directly impact automotive innovation, spending more than $60 million a year on research and development projects. For almost 50 years, Michigan has averaged one automotive patent per day.

We’re also home to nationally-ranked engineering programs and schools like Kettering University, which recently broke ground on the General Motors Foundation Automotive Research Area that was funded by GM. This advanced proving ground will provide academic opportunities to research numerous mobility technologies, including self-driving vehicles.

This new proving ground is just the latest such facility in our state, which already has two purpose-built self-driving vehicle proving grounds, the 32-acre Mcity at the University of Michigan and the soon-to-be-completed 335-acre American Center for Mobility. These facilities have attracted international attention, with major automakers, suppliers and West Coast startups looking to use these assets to bring technology from concept to reality.

It’s because of our talent and assets that Michigan leads the nation with 49 connected and automated vehicle projects being conducted in our state, outpacing the 35 projects that are occurring in California.

So in the race to define mobility, Michigan isn’t sitting on the sidelines or struggling in last place. We’re right where we’ve always been: foot on the gas, racing into the future.

Sandy Barauh, Detroit Regional Chamber

Doug Rothwell, Business Leaders for Mich.

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