Snyder touts Mich. as leading mobility hub

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday touted Michigan as the world’s leader in automated and connected-vehicle technology, saying continuing that lead will depend in part on the state establishing public-private partnerships in the U.S. and around the world.

“Seventy-six percent of the U.S. auto industry’s research and development happens in state of Michigan. But that’s not good enough in my view,” Snyder said during keynote remarks at a Washington Auto Show breakfast.

“My goal isn’t to make it versus someone else – not versus (Silicon) Valley, not versus some other part of the world. It’s how to be the best partner.”

Snyder, a Republican in the final year of his tenure, said Michigan is working on collaborative agreements with test facilities in 10 different countries to potentially share data and setting up partnerships.

“It’s about doing this smarter, better and safer,” Snyder said.

He credited American automakers for leading in the area of mobility, while acknowledging the “fabulous” work being done by Silicon Valley companies.

“We have a problem in Michigan, generally. I’m really proud to say, substantively, we’re by far doing the greatest work in this area, but then we have this Midwestern humility problem, where we decide not to tell anyone else in the world about what we’re doing,” Snyder said.

“We need to work on our marketing and be louder and prouder about what we’re doing.”

The sponsor of Thursday’s breakfast was the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

He stressed the need to continue developing the talent pipeline for industrial automation robotics, and setting up the legal and regulatory environment that supports the development of “smart” vehicle and infrastructure technologies.

Challenges that Snyder highlighted included cybersecurity threats, privacy concerns, insurance constraints and the economic impact on the traditional work force, such as truck drivers or commercial delivery drivers.

“They’re going to be around for a very long time but eventually those fields will be going away,” Snyder said. “We’re not going to wait for it to be a crisis, but we’re proactive in helping train and retrain and help people understand they have new opportunities and fields they can go into.”

He offered the example of Washtenaw Community College creating a program for “mobility technicians.”

“I bet you never heard of a mobility technician. Who are going to be those people, ultimately in every the dealership in the country, that are going to be repairing radar or lidar,” Syder said.

“In the meantime, the industry is going to hire everyone of them as we do all this testing.”

Snyder also called on Congress and the administration to “get going” on passing an infrastructure bill in part to enhance the deployment of vehicle-to-infrastructure safety technology and other “intelligent” highway systems.

“We do need an infrastructure bill at national level,” Snyder said. “It’s hard to do. I did it in Michigan, but it was hard to do there. ... It took me about five years to get something done and the first time I did it, it failed,” referring to a ballot referendum.

After his remarks, Snyder said Congress also needs to continue to put resources behind testing sites such as the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township – one of 10 federally designated testing sites for driverless vehicles and technology.

“That needs to continue to develop. They need to look to put resources behind that on how we can ramp that up - we’re ramping up anyway,” Snyder told The Detroit News. Federal funding “is something that would be needed to ensure we can do more even faster.”

Also attending the show is John Maddox, the head of the American Center for Mobility, who said the Ypsilanti automotive test facility is very supportive of legislation pending in the U.S. House and Senate that would allow automakers to sell thousands of self-driving cars.

“It’s the right step. It’s absolutely critical for the United States to maintain its leadership on automated and connected technology,” Maddox said.

He noted a forthcoming study from KPMG auditing firm that ranks countries by leadership in mobility, saying it found the U.S. isn’t necessarily in first place anymore.

“The bill really begins to solidify what everyone knows, which is the U.S. needs to focus on this technology because it will transform transportation, has a lot of benefit for society, and quite frankly industrial and economic competitiveness,” Maddox said. “We’re supportive of any federal effort to recognize the importance of the technology.”