Much of the narrative around Michigan’s automotive industry focuses on rekindling past glories or working to remain relevant with auto makers across the globe. Gone are the days when the industry faced impending doom, buoyed largely by the controversial auto bailout during the onset of the Obama presidency. Still, changing consumer demands, unknown fuel efficiency requirements and always formidable competition from Asian markets leave lots of questions.
But recently executives at Ford Motor Co. signaled something of a surprise when they declared their intent to be at the forefront of alternative transportation systems and autonomous vehicles. Industry watchers say the embrace of alternative vehicles could result in Michigan’s biggest spurt of innovation since the first 25 years of the 20th century, when Detroit led the automotive revolution with a barrage of exciting products and companies.
This was hardly predicted. During the heart of the Great Recession, and even before, few believed Michigan would ever jump aboard the alternative and autonomous vehicle movement. It runs counter to everything that defines the individual brands building cars in Detroit. But Ford now says their entire management team supports the move and they expect other car makers to follow suit.
Despite the evolution in thinking, success — and real economic growth in Michigan as a result — is contingent on cooperation between government, research institutions and the auto industry so that new jobs and profits can actually materialize. Autonomous vehicle development constitutes an opportunity for explosive growth in and around Motor City, but only if key players drive the effort together and avoid blind spots.