In 1901 Ransom E. Olds set up the first automobile manufacturing plant in Lansing, Michigan. Two years later, Henry Ford launched the Ford Motor Company, which would soon build the Model-T. Although Olds utilized conveyor systems in his first plant, the revolutionary development that enabled the mass production of vehicles did not come until 1913 when the modern assembly line was introduced at the Highland Park Ford plant.
Now, 119 years later, we are witnessing two significant manufacturing developments unfold in the Detroit region. The new FCA assembly plant and General Motors Co.’s Factory Zero will not only be manufacturing world-class vehicles featuring electrified propulsion systems, but they will also be enabled by the technologies of Industry 4.0. At the industry’s peak in the United States there were hundreds of companies designing, engineering, and manufacturing light vehicles. While the industry settled into several major players for decades, we are now witnessing another significant inflection point. The current mobility transformation is driven by major technologies in the areas of connected, automated, electrified, and shared.
The electric vehicle (EV) explosion, which was initiated by Elon Musk, has more than taken hold. In fact, what we are witnessing in the EV OEM world is strikingly like the growth of entrepreneurs and innovators in the market growth for manufacturers in the early 20th century. Long ago, there were companies such as DeSoto and Packard. Although they no longer exist, our familiar hometown OEMs Ford, General Motors, and FCA have grown and thrived globally, leading the mobility transformation. In addition, the EV industry has spawned new companies following in Tesla’s footprint, including Lucid, Lordstown Motors, Bollinger Motors, Rivian, Fisker, and Atlis. These modern automotive companies are the Studebakers and Tuckers of today. Just like in the last century, there will be winners, acquisitions, and failures. The winners and losers will include the regions of the world where new technologies are created and manufactured.
The vehicles of yesterday and the new innovations of next-generation mobility have been brought to life through innovative design and manufacturing processes. Today, Industry 4.0 and Mobility go hand in hand – one enabling the other. Walking through today’s engineering and manufacturing centers you will see robots, additive manufacturing, augmented reality, and other cutting-edge technologies. In both the plants and vehicles there are two major common technologies: connectivity of the internet of things and cybersecurity. Today’s data-driven, automated, and extremely connected plants are producing vehicles enabled by tens of millions of lines of code that must be protected by the latest in cybersecurity technology.
In the automotive industry in Michigan and globally the buzzword has overwhelming been “mobility.” Fortunately, we have organizations like Automation Alley that have led the way as thought leaders to ensure our region advances and leads with Industry 4.0 technologies. The conversation around mobility and electrification must include what drives the design, engineering, testing, and manufacturing of today’s vehicles and will enable our leadership in the opportunity of next-generation mobility. For Michigan to lead in the future, the industry must be globally competitive in how we manufacture and bring new modes of transportation to life.
The mobility and Industry 4.0 conversations are directly linked. In fact, this is Michigan’s competitive advantage, if we seize it. Revolutionary technologies in creating and manufacturing vehicles will again enable mass production, but this time it will be Michigan’s leadership in next-generation mobility vehicles and technologies.
I would submit that there are two driving forces behind the mobility inflection point: global societal changes and economic opportunity. Mobility technology must help solve the global issues of congestion and thus, emissions, safety, traffic fatalities, and injuries, as well as the ability of our citizens to be connected and have mobility solutions. People must be able to access health care, work, and education for economic growth, and mobility technologies can help solve global issues instead of contributing to them. The other opportunity is economic. Michigan’s automotive industry has an economic contribution to the state of over $225 billion, while the global auto industry is typically described as being a $3 trillion market. As we look to the future, personal mobility in the shared use economy is projected to be upwards of a $7 trillion industry. The opportunity for Michigan is to seize on this market potential, but the success will depend on the collaboration of companies, organizations, and very critically the talent required for both Industry 4.0 and mobility technologies. The opportunity to leverage our manufacturing heritage to create the vehicles and technologies of the future is one we collectively must seize. The alternative is not an option.