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What do auto suppliers think about mobility, Trump and trade?

Detroit Free Press 

By Carol Cain 

February 11, 2017

With attention showered on the Detroit Three — General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — we sometimes forget Michigan  is home to some mighty big global auto suppliers.

Companies like Lear,  BorgWarner  and American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM) —  are huge in their own right.

Suppliers and original equipment manufacturers, which employ about  935,000 people in the U.S. and 169,000 in Michigan, according to 2016  figures, contribute in many ways  across our state.

Which is why David C. Dauch, chairman and CEO of AAM, Matthew J. Simoncini, president  and CEO of Lear, and James Verrier, president and  CEO of BorgWarner, will take to the storied Detroit Economic Club stage Tuesday at a luncheon held at the Book Cadillac.

They’ll share insights into the revolution sweeping the mobility sector with focus on self-driving vehicles and car sharing services. As suppliers, they work closely with automakers and also need to keep ahead of technology changes.

What concerns do they have about the push toward autonomous vehicles? Is the technology in place to make the leap safely?

As moderator of the sold-out luncheon, I’ll also ask their thoughts about Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which President Donald Trump has hinted at changing. The standards were implemented in the 1970s to improve fuel economy after the oil embargo.

And with the Trump administration wanting to change some trade policies, I’ll ask the executives — whose firms have operations in Mexico, China and other countries — how they might be impacted.

Though they haven’t been invited to the White House like the CEOs of the Detroit Three were last month, what message would they have for Trump if he were sitting in the audience of 700 at Tuesday’s luncheon?

“These three global tier one CEOs work with automakers all over the world,” said Beth Chappell, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Club. “Their insights and viewpoints on today’s auto industry have far-reaching impact for all of us in Michigan.”

Lear, headquartered in Southfield, has been a fixture among suppliers for 100 years (it is celebrating its centennial this year). The company has 4,000 employees at 12 facilities across Michigan.

Its CEO, Simoncini, is steering the seating and electrical systems maker by keeping ahead of technology.

“We’re excited about the future in mobility and autonomous vehicles — which is the greatest change in the automotive business since the moving assembly line,” Simoncini said.

“The auto Industry is sexy again, as new entrants and new talent join in,” he added. “Those who embrace change, such as Lear, will see this as a pivotal moment in the transformation of the automotive industry.”

No doubt he’ll also have something to say about the global stage, too. The company just signed an agreement to purchase Grupo Antolin’s seating business in France.

AAM designs, , engineers and manufactures driveline systems for light trucks, SUVs, passenger cars, crossover vehicles and commercial vehicles.

Founded in 1994, AAM has more than 100 customers worldwide. The company has 13,000 employees in 36 facilities in 13 countries including the U.S., Brazil, China, Germany and Mexico.

AAM’s headquarters and Advanced Technology Development Center are in Detroit. Its facilities include the Rochester Hills Technical Center. the Mechatronics Technical Center in Rochester Hills, and it has facilities in Three Rivers, Oxford and Auburn Hills.

“For AAM, future mobility is about making active technologies that are smarter and safer that improve vehicle performance and efficiency while maintaining our outstanding focus on quality and durability,” said Dauch. “AAM is developing these types of products at our advanced technology center right here in the city Detroit.”

BorgWarner is a $9-billion firm that finds clean and efficient technology solutions for internal combustion, hybrid and electric vehicles.

The firm began as a powertrain supplier in 1928.

BorgWarner has manufacturing and technical facilities in 62 locations in 17 countries and employs 27,000 people worldwide.

The company, with headquarters in Auburn Hills, has more than 1,000 employees in Michigan. BorgWarner also has manufacturing plants in Livonia and Cadillac and a tech center in Marshall.

“Every vehicle, whether it’s hybrid, electric or self-driving, still needs a propulsion system to get from point A to point B, and BorgWarner’s expertise in propulsion technology makes us a trusted product leader in this space,” Verrier said.

He’s bullish about Michigan’s prospects in this autonomous age amid competition from Silicon Valley, China and other places.

“Some of the recently passed state legislation allows more freedom in autonomous vehicle testing, enabling companies located in the state to further explore V2V and V2X opportunities,” Verrier said.

When you consider cars remain the glue that holds our economy together, what these CEOs say will resonate.

“They are the largest employment sector in Michigan’s automotive industry,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto and vice president, Automotive and Mobility Initiatives, Detroit Regional Chamber. “They support their local communities and their impact to our past, present and future in our state is significant.”

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