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The automotive industry, our state’s signature industry, is at an inflection point. The design, engineering and advanced manufacturing of next-generation mobility solutions represent an enormous opportunity for Michigan, while also posing an increasing economic threat if we do not act and lead.

The economic contribution of Michigan’s current automotive industry is $225 billion annually to the state and nearly $3.5 trillion globally. Future projections track the mobility industry in a shared use economy at upwards of $7 trillion annually.  

I am grateful to our state leadership for recognizing and working with MICHauto on promoting, retaining and growing our signature industry. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent executive actions — creating an Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, a chief mobility officer role, and the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification — are significant steps to ensure Michigan has the focus, resources, and most importantly, a roadmap to solidify Michigan as a global mobility leader.

For over 120 years the automotive industry has been woven into the very fabric of our culture and communities. Michigan has been at the forefront of innovation, engineering and manufacturing to bring products to life, taking us from the first industrial revolution into the age of mass-produced vehicles and rise of suburbanization.  

In today’s Digital Age, technological advancements move at an incredible pace.

Vehicles are the most complex consumer products on the face of the earth. They operate at the core of the connected world and the internet of things, and we depend on them for safe, reliable, and sustainable transportation. 

Automakers and their suppliers are keeping pace with advanced technology while simultaneously honoring their rich automotive heritage. Today’s vehicles are connected, electrified, moving toward automation and operating in a shared-use economy. And while the internal combustion engine is not disappearing anytime soon, there is no question that the demand for electric vehicles is increasing and that mass adoption will continue to progress.  

Comparatively, there can be less than 20 components in an EV propulsion system and more than 1,000 in an internal combustion engine. This equates to new technologies, companies infrastructure and a potentially significant impact on Michigan’s traditional supplier base, which spreads across the communities of our state. 

Our unique and powerful automotive ecosystem continues to flourish. Michigan continues to lead the nation in the number of engineers, has more than 21 OEMs with a presence or global headquarters here, and it is home to 96 of the top 100 suppliers to North America. Among all of this brainpower, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office chose to locate their first satellite office here because of the volume of innovation. 

However, there is still a great deal of work to be done and diversification is key.

One of the greatest platforms we have for diversification stems from our expertise in advanced manufacturing and modernization. Today’s industry is being centered on artificial intelligence, machine learning, additive manufacturing and cybersecurity.

Michigan needs to develop new mobility technology and solutions, while simultaneously growing the economy with the traditional automotive industry. To do that we need to be forward-thinking in the following areas:

Diverse and Highly Skilled Talent 

• Our citizens will need digital and technological skills to thrive in this new environment.

• Ensuring that we have the correct education and training programs in place is essential.

• STEM education in K-12, higher education programs, and reskilling and training opportunities need to provide all citizens with the capacity to meet the job requirements of today and in the future. Furthermore, Michigan must be a welcoming and attractive state for immigrant talent.

Industry 4.0 

Our ability to adapt and utilize technology in our manufacturing centers and communities will allow us to compete globally. 3-D printing, augmented reality and advanced robotics mandate that our traditional automotive industry compete in a different way. We “make” things in Michigan and ensuring that our shop floors are also the factories of the future is vitally important.

Solving Global Issues

Hyper-urbanization, climate change, scarcity of resources and demographic shifts require that our traditional vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers develop transportation solutions that solve global issues, not contribute to them.  

Our companies and communities must be prepared, and Michigan’s OEMs have seized this opportunity. General Motors, our states’ largest industry employer, has focused its entire strategy and execution on a world where we have “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”  

Whitmer’s executive actions pick up where Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration left off, setting a course for Michigan to evolve and lead. We are supportive and encouraged that her administration is seeking to make sure that industry, education and government intersect so that sound policy, intelligent infrastructure and most importantly essential skills and training are in place. The office and council will play critical roles to chart a course for Michigan’s signature industry and the mobility future.

When a society, community, individual or in this case, an industry and state, face an inflection point there are two options. We either chart a course for upward trajectory for our economy and embrace and utilize change or we fall victim to it, as we have in the past due to forces that we were not prepared for. We have continuously brought products and technology to life in this state and must continue to do so. 

Gov. Whitmer’s signings at the MICHauto Summit on Feb. 25 in Detroit were indeed significant and they are impactful actions that further differentiate and enable Michigan to lead in the next generation frontier of mobility.

Glenn Stevens Jr. is the executive director of MICHauto and the vice president of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

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