My congratulations go out to Gretchen Whitmer for winning my state’s gubernatorial election. The governor-elect – as well as governors across the other 49-states – face many great challenges from health care to infrastructure with significant financial constraints. Of course, with great challenges come great opportunities. Given the significant inflection point the automotive industry is at related to autonomous technology, vehicle electrification and transformational mobility as a service innovation, governor-elect Whitmer has the opportunity to create a business environment in Michigan to maximize the positive returns of these trends while minimizing the transitional costs. Here are a few ideas I would think the Governor-elect should pursue to accelerate these mega-trends. Other governors are free to apply these as applicable.
- Connect-the-dots before initiating-the-new. The State abounds with advanced vehicle technology testing institutes and facilities. The State hosts the American Center for Mobility, University of Michigan’s Mcity, Western Michigan University’s Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities, and Kettering University’s Mobility Research Center to name a few. It is always attractive to bring in new money, start new initiatives and make political headlines. However, I would suggest we take stock in what we have, reinforce these assets and leverage the collective, current assets to solve industry and public policy problems.
- Don’t forget autonomous and electrification touches all forms of transportation. Too often when we talk about transportation and mobility we only think about passenger vehicles – because they are in our garages and we drive them every day. However, the mega-trends of autonomous, electric and mobility as a service need to be integrated into commercial vehicles, rail, air, water and pipeline as goods cross all these forms of transportation and individuals interact with each as well as we optimize how merchandise goes from manufacturer to retailer to customer and, for example, making first- and last-mile transportation efficient makes mass-rail more efficient. Having the many facilities listed above allows the state to address these varied transportation modes.
- Make our Manufacturing USA centers model operations. The industry is on the cusp of a light-weighting and multi-material revolution. Detroit hosts two public-private partnerships under the Manufacturing USA initiative that could, with the right direction, be the epicenter of many industry lightweight innovations. The Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) and The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) are not only beginning to run pre-competitive manufacturing projects, but they also have the opportunity to be learning laboratories to teach the most recent manufacturing technology to the next gen labor force.
- Engage the finance community equally to industry and labor. In Michigan, it is easy to focus on the manufacturing and labor side of the business and overlook the capital side. The industry has always been a huge consumer of capital. But, it has been dominated by big business, with big balance sheets and big investment bankers. The industry’s transformation is going to take a mosaic of funders – from the recent SoftBank Vision Fund investment into GM’s Cruise to corporate and independent venture capital funds and non-distress, private equity (the auto industry is very familiar with the PE firms focused on distressed turnarounds). The state must be a welcome environment for all these forms of capital, including our traditional commercial bankers.