Electric vehicle technology continues to approach a critical brink, where charging infrastructure, sales and adoption are predicted to explode in the next few years. In the midst of this upbeat assessment, Michigan continues to play a key role in this industry innovation by virtue of its solid foundation. The Lansing State Journal recently profiled Indian carmaker Mahindra. A few years back, Mahindra opened its $5 million technical center in Troy to design cars that won’t even be sold in the US, and will begin production on its electric GenZe scooter in Ann Arbor at the end of the summer. LSJ notes that “the importance the company places on Detroit know-how is evident.”
Know-how is exactly why Michigan is the place for the EV industry to grow. Let’s break it down:
An Eye for Details: Michigan’s development as the capital of automobile production means the economic value of small parts manufacturers is much higher here than, say, Silicon Valley. That’s why even Tesla is investing in Michigan tool-and-die shops. As Built by Michigan explains in this factsheet, the key supply chain segments needed to make EVs already exist in Michigan, and they’ve been doing good work for decades. These local manufacturers are part of larger economic patterns of agglomeration that developed decades ago, which just means that the industry is established here in ways it’ll never be anywhere else.
Innovative Universities: The University of Michigan just opened MCity where researchers will be testing automated and connected vehicle technology in a mini city full of roundabouts, fake street signs and simulated pedestrians. Many of those cars will be electric as technologies of the future converge. The first wave is already happening-- MCity is the testing ground for 3D-printed, electric, and autonomous campus commuter cars.
Michigan universities also boast some of the best engineering programs in the nation. U of M is consistently in the US News’ Top 10 engineering schools, Michigan Tech has a curriculum devoted specifically to the study of hybrid technology, and Michigan State professors are contributing to renowned national EV research groups.
Clean Energy That’s Ready to Go: Michigan has a burgeoning solar and wind economy ready to contribute to EV sustainability. Utilities like DTE and Consumers are increasing investments in solar and wind energy, and, according to a report from the nonpartisan Environmental Entrepreneurs group, Michigan grew 616 clean energy jobs in the first quarter of 2015, which put us in the Top 5 states for clean energy job growth.
Michigan has been at the forefront of developing an electric vehicle industry cluster for a while, but the potential for increased demand for EVs and EV infrastructure means it’s critical that lawmakers and businesses continue to make the right moves to ensure this promising industry continues to grow here. Creating new obstacles for EVs, like proposals we’ve seen for unreasonable new EV fees or eliminating Michigan’s innovative renewable energy standards, may prompt industry leaders to look elsewhere.
Given Michigan’s many advantages--its auto heritage, university innovation, and clean energy leadership--we trust that our elected leaders will choose to take advantage of this next wave of EV innovation.
We’ll keep you updated on the developments around EV fees, and hope that you’ll join us in continuing to encourage lawmakers to keep them as low possible while this new industry segment gets its foothold in the market.
Climate & Energy Program Director
The Ecology Center