Michigan Tries To Retain Industry Leadership In Fast Transition To EVs

This should be a prime time for Michigan to celebrate its new era of achievements in the automotive industry.

Ford is turning out all the units it can produce of the most exciting all-electric vehicle in America, the Ford F-150 Lightning, at a plant in Dearborn, while also spending nearly $1 billion to convert an old train-station campus in downtown Detroit into a research complex that will be devoted to future vehicles. General Motors is investing billions of dollars in new EV production in Lansing, Orion Township and Detroit. LG Chem and other suppliers are plopping down big sums as well to develop the EV supply chain in the state.

But as U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appears at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s policy conference this week on Mackinac Island, he’s coming to a Michigan that is gripped with a kind of apprehension about the future of its most important industry that last evidenced itself when Silicon Valley giants began investing in autonomous-vehicle technology.

That is, many of Michigan’s leading economic figures fear that the state is slipping behind others as the U.S. auto industry, including Michigan’s homegrown leaders, is making a rapid transition to develop and build all-electric vehicles and begin leaving the internal-combustion past behind.

“I want to raise the alarm bells,” Quentin Messer, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., told the Detroit News. “We want to put fear in other states.”

Right now, that dynamic is going the other way around, after Ford and GM announced billions of dollars of investments in EV production in the mid-South, Stellantis just announced plants in Canada and Indiana, and Hyundai has committed to a handful of facilities in Georgia, ammong other recent commitments. Along the way, as Michigan officials got their noses out of joint about Detroit Three announcements, they’ve been reminded that in reality and in perceptions, among Michigan’s shortcomings are a questionable supply of vast shovel-ready sites and electricity costs that don’t stack up favorably against those in Tennessee and elsewhere.

“Economically and symbolically, this is a fight Michigan can’t afford to lose,” opined the Detroit News this week.

Michigan remains the national leader in the design, engineering and development of automobiles, with a culture of engineering, including software development, that is second to none in America. The state also is trying to stake out a leadership position in accommodating electric-vehicle owners with networks of charging stations, such as at state parks, and in a region-wide coalition with other Great Lakes States.

But the big money in EVs is in their production, and that is an area where Michigan doesn’t want to be just a player — it wants to be the leader, as it has been in the century or so of history of the automobile.

“We have to build a moat around Michigan business,” Messer told the News. ”We are going to reverse this tide. When you get punched in the mouth, you need to be able to punch back.”

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