American Automakers have begun to spenD billions to rebuild their workspaces but Is Detroit relevant anymore?
The big Consumer Electronics Show just closed in Las Vegas and, from all of the attention it got this year, it seems that technology and the automobile have converged. While there were smatterings of the usual news from the show focused on the phone and the smart refrigerator, the big news was being made by the auto companies and their technology partnerships, and by technology companies and their developments for the car.
For a while here, we’ve been wondering how soon it might be before the auto industry was totally disrupted, relocating both figuratively and physically to the West Coast. Google seemed totally capable of shaping a car, Tesla and others seem comfortable in Nevada, and Ford had opened an outpost in Silicon Valley.
So long as these developments were seen as tech versus metal, as Silicon Valley versus Detroit, one could see a long path between vision and mass reality for the self-driving car and autonomous vehicles, in general. While all of the press chatter seemed to imply that the change was already here, expert others still placed these developments decades into the future.
Now, however, it appears that the appeal to consumers and the inevitability of autonomy have driven Detroit and Silicon Valley together. There are words of mutual respect appearing in the press, and implications of a bridging strategy in which the expertise form each location seeds and accelerates development in the other.
Nick Sampson, SVP at Faraday Future, another new car company and Tesla’s neighbor out in Nevada, was quoted by The Verge saying, “That’s what driving the types of people and the locations that we’re all being based in. That’s a shift away from the traditional places like Detroit or like Stuttgart. Companies are setting up new locations where the types of people we need and the environment and cultures reflect a different kind of lifestyle."
Bosch, also, made statements about this new mutual admiration society. Mike Mansuetti, the president of Bosch’s US subsidiary said, "We feel that we have the best of both worlds. The speed, agility, and customer focus of Silicon Valley is complemented — and made better — by the high-tech innovation and manufacturing know-how that the auto industry has long demonstrated.”
The Detroit companies have plans in the works for several billions of dollars in investment in new and renovated facilities in Southeast Michigan. These are essential, arising from the constraints and neglect of the past couple of decades but driven more by the shift toward electric propulsion and autonomy. Each of the car companies has also announced its shift to becoming a “mobility” or “transportation” company, signalling a vastly expanded product and services portfolio.
Detroit will soon begin to look entirely different as the traditional car companies draw technology talent to new facilities in Southeast Michigan and as new industry and product categories redefine the character and content of the vehicle. Never since Henry Ford has Detroit been more relevant.