A Conversation on Future Mobility and Economic Opportunity

Trevor Pawl

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer Trevor Pawl talks with Emily Frascaroli and Cory Connolly of the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification about major factors shaping Michigan’s mobility future and the economic opportunity it presents for the state.

Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer, Trevor Pawl, was joined by two members of Michigan’s Council on Future Mobility and Electrification, Emily Frascaroli, Managing Counsel, Product Litigation Group, Ford Motor Company, and Cory Connolly, Vice President, Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council (EIBC), to discuss the major factors shaping Michigan’s mobility future and the economic opportunity it presents for the state.

The trio discussed the findings of the Council on Future Mobility and Electrification’s first report, issued the week prior, aimed at addressing Michigan’s greatest mobility needs, capitalizing on the state’s long-established strengths, and identifying emerging areas where Michigan is primed to be a leader.

See below for excerpts and key insights from the conversation and watch the full 30-minute livestream to learn more.

Michigan’s mobility future is electrified and multi-modal

Pawl: Looking out at some of the key trends that will define a multimodal future, an electrified future, how would you describe this future and what are some of the things that you're looking at?

Frascaroli (Ford): Michigan has always been the global leader in the mobility space, and there are some big changes coming in the areas of electrification, automation, connectivity, and just amazing opportunities ahead of us. The key for Michigan is really the partnerships, working across industry and bringing lots of people together. That's one of the best things about the Council on Future Mobility and Electrification.

It brings together a very diverse group of people with experience across a wide spectrum of industry, government, academia, and others. When I think about everything that Michigan has going for itself, it has a lot of the assets that you listed. There’s all of the private industry that we have here, which includes the university network and all of the collaboration that we already have, public-private partnerships, all the test beds, and in particular the Michigan Connected Corridor, which is a one of the really great examples of a public-private partnership that's going to deliver something really amazing, which is this first of its kind 40 plus mile corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

And of course, that’s led by Cavnue in partnership with lots of others, including the University of Michigan and Ford, of course. So, it’s things like this that I think are going to help define Michigan’s role in the future, and the more opportunities like this that we capitalize on, the better.

Connolly (EIBC): I hear talk about this a lot when it comes to vehicle electrification, and I think that's the future. I think we're seeing that out of industry leaders like Ford and General Motors, which are making large announcements around a commitment to electric vehicles, and I think Michigan stands to be a leader in that space. Though with any inflection point, there's an opportunity. Any type of major change in an industry means that we have to be very intentional to get out ahead of it to try and make sure that we capture the jobs and the investment that's going to go into that space.

I think that there are going to be some really interesting intersections there around what's going to be possible. The need for energy on the electric grid, the integration of distributed energy resources. Thinking of vehicles as mobile-battery solutions is really going to be an interesting development. I think of the overlapping supply chains between energy storage needs. That's a massively growing global trend on the electric grid and supply chain in the electric vehicle space. I think it is going to be really an interesting space to be in. I think it is kind of a newer segment that hopefully Michigan can position to really take advantage of.

Work is being done today across Michigan to ensure the workforce is ready for future transportation needs – from engineering to skilled trades.

Pawl: What does the future of talent and workforce look like when it comes to mobility and electric vehicle adoption here in the state, and furthermore what should we be doing today to ensure our workforce is in place for the changes we're seeing?

Connolly (EIBC): I’m looking at this more from a charging infrastructure and deployment angle. On the deployment of charging infrastructure, we're about to see the federal government's made equipment, around 500,000 charging stations nationwide. We’re seeing increased interest from Consumers Energy and DTE Energy with increasingly ambitious pilot programs around vehicle electrification and state of Michigan grant programs around EV charging infrastructure, so I think now it’s helping get the existing workforce up to speed to do those jobs.

I know some of that's already happening with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and NECA, the National Electrical Contractors Association, right here in Michigan having developed a certification program for their electricians to get into this space. So, I think that's a really great opportunity. I also think that different industries, different components and charging infrastructure also needs to be manufactured somewhere and we talked to a number of companies that do that manufacturing from time to time. Some of them looking to relocate here, and we're sort of somehow their first point of contact. Also, companies are already here like Phoenix Contact in the Ann Arbor area. They already are building some of the plugs and some of the hardware associated with that. And then the last thing I’ll say is just that the increased need for data and technological-driven careers and that skill set is just going to become more and more important.

Pawl: Emily is obviously representing Ford but also representing some of the other automakers on our council like GM, Toyota, Stallantis, Rivian, and Waymo. Emily, how are some of these larger companies looking at the future of workforce?

Frascaroli (Ford): This is a really important issue, and I think it's going to be important going forward to really stay tied with industry in terms of the types of future talent that we're going to need and programs also looking at the reskilling of workers. For example, in emerging areas of technology, we talk a lot about engineering talent. You mentioned this need for 45,000 engineers by 2030, which is an amazing number, but we also need to think about other things besides just engineering talent. So, we have skilled trades and mechanics and frankly even lawyers. We’re going to have the need for training in those areas. So, I’m really proud of programs like the Law and Mobility program at the University of Michigan, where we started the Journal of Law and Mobility, which is really a unique publication. And that whole program is really set up to give students opportunities to learn about the future of law in this space, which is also really important.

Michigan’s vision of mobility is aimed creating equitable futures for individuals

Pawl: Part of the future of mobility is upholding a person's dignity. It shouldn't just be about being safer, greener, or more productive. It should also break down barriers and create more equity for those that traditionally have experienced some issues moving around. So, what are steps we should be taking to ensure a more equitable future for transportation in the state of Michigan?

Connolly (EIBC): We talk a lot about increasing the charging infrastructure out there, but I think that one helpful frame is to think about this in terms of the proportion of electric vehicle miles traveled as it versus the total miles traveled and increasing that proportion. If you think about it in that frame, then solutions like public transit become really valuable because you electrify one bus, the number of folks that are using that bus will get you that pretty important first step there. So, I think trying to prioritize some of the solutions that are in improving public transit but also electrifying public transit is something that we like to think about a lot. I think it is a really important space. I also think that we see more and more innovative electric vehicle companies that are really looking at smaller vehicles, micro charging opportunities, and first and last mile solutions. There's a lot there too that might make vehicle electrification more accessible to more folks.

Frascaroli (Ford): To mention Governor Whitmer’s leadership within this space, including announcements about new state initiatives around climate change; setting up the Climate Council; setting a target for Michigan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Ford has already committed $22 billion to developing the new next generation of electric vehicles and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 as well. Cynthia Williams, who’s the head of our global sustainability is part of the Climate Council, along with Cory, address some of the equity issues that were highlighted during COVID. Governor Whitmer formed the Racial Disparity Task Force and the Black Leadership Advisory Council that Dr. Donna Bell from Ford is also a part of. So, I think initiatives like that are going to be really important to keep moving the dialogue and these views forward. In particular on equity issues for those that are interested, Michigan Law School, is going to be hosting a three-week conference on exactly this topic. It's called Brave New Road: The Role of Technology in Achieving Safe and Just Transport Systems, so if these are issues that are interesting to people, I would strongly encourage them to participate in that conference and in that dialogue.

Finding the balance between rural and urban electrification efforts will be critical

Pawl: We are seeing a surge in investments and growth in EV manufacturing and EV adoption in Michigan and across the nation. Are there provisions being made to balance the needs of urban and rural spaces to ensure that they both benefit from new electrification initiatives?

Connolly (EIBC): So, I can't speak to this, saying this is for urban and rural spaces, but I do know that the state of Michigan has the optimization plan for charging infrastructure as a part of the Charge Up Program put together through EGLE. I’ve looked at it, and it's constantly being updated, where they’re trying to look at how do you service the entire state. And then the last phase that I was familiar with was they were starting to look at very specific urban settings, as a part of that. Obviously, in that first phase, hopefully it's including rural areas, and that more granular. Looking at kind of the intricacies and the nuance of a specific urban setting was that sort of second phase. And obviously that's an important thing to think about across the board. The last thing I’ll say on this is that's one reason why electric utilities are such an important part of this equation. They do service many parts of the state, rural or urban, and whether it's a community or co-op or an investor-owned utility. Investing in that transition will help make sure that we get the infrastructure everywhere.

Michigan is working to maintain its leadership in progressive public policy around transportation, in part through the efforts of the Council on Future Mobility and Electrification

Pawl: What are some of the policy imperatives looking forward for the state to keep our leadership position? On the Council, we have seven state department heads participating, four legislators, UAW, University of Michigan, and Michigan State, so everyone's is sort of gravitating on certain issues. What are the issues on your radar?

Frascaroli (Ford): The larger group has formed these four work groups that are looking at what I think are the big categories of areas of policy, where we think we need to really focus our attention. So that's electrification, insurance regulatory systems and public safety economics, workforce development, and automated vehicle technologies and smart infrastructure. There's important work to be done in all of these.

For me lately, one of the most important areas is electrification. I largely got really interested in this topic recently because I just got a brand-new Ford Mach-E, which I love! Everybody should go take a look at that. It's awesome, but I’m starting to understand our customer perspective on things like lack of charging infrastructure and worries about range anxiety and things like that. So, emerging policy that comes in that area and enables Michigan to be a leader is going to be really important.

By 2030, hybrid electrified vehicles are going to be 51 percent of all vehicle sales. By 2040, more than half of the world's vehicles will be electric and the vast majority of new cars will be electric. Ford has been a leader in this space. We're committed to electrification, so it’s going to be really important for Michigan from a policy perspective to make sure we have policies in place that support the development and launch of those products.

Connolly (EIBC): I think one policy imperative that's really foundational and goes across charging infrastructure deployment but how vehicles move a variety of is data. Looking at data around fleets and how they're used. Looking at data around where to put charging infrastructure and how to best optimize those are all very important topics and are sort of foundational to being able to really move forward.

Another item that I’m very high on is looking at financing solutions. So, DC Fast Charging, the highest-level charging infrastructure that we have at the moment, is very costly, and it's hard to make a private investment case. I think similarly there are challenges for particularly low-income and moderate-income folks to maybe afford some of the vehicles, or at least when comparing to a regular vehicle.

At times, that first sticker shock can get you, but when you look at total cost of ownership, etc., its more compelling. I think if you're able to bring financing solutions to some of these things, it’s helping make vehicles more affordable. And I think that's something that the state of Michigan can help with. It’s been done in other states to look at that in the energy and electricity space to provide improved financing and help bring the market to bear for some of these challenges. So, I think those are two areas that I think are interesting: the data and then figuring out how to leverage financing to really activate some of the private market capital that might be sitting on the sideline at the moment.

Michigan is setting the standards for self-driving and autonomous policy

Pawl: What is the status of automotive self-driving standards in particular? Will Michigan define its own standards, or will the state be following a more universal standard? What's your take?

Frascaroli (Ford): Anybody that follows in this space knows there's a lot going on in terms of standard development and largely a lot of activity at the federal level. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working on updating existing regulatory standards to account for self-driving vehicles and beginning the process of thinking about new standards. I should have listed in the assets of Michigan the leadership position that we're already in with the laws that we currently have in Michigan. And they’re very good. We're going to continue to look at those on the Council to see if there are improvements, we can make there, but I think the preference from at least from the industry side is that we would let the federal government take the lead on performance standards and states like Michigan would continue to manage pieces of it, like insurance, licensing, plating, registration and those type of things, which you really need. So, Michigan is already in a leadership position on this, and we’re only going to improve as time goes on.

Connolly (EIBC): The way we talk about it is just that all of these technologies are going to be a lot easier on electrified platforms. So, we see that this is like a step toward the mobility future that Michigan is envisioning and is going to lead on. And so, definitely those solutions are integrated and that's kind of the way we frame our work. Though we're trying to work on what we think is that first step is around the electrification piece.

Learn more about the latest in mobility in Michigan by visiting michiganbusiness.org/mobility and stay up to date with the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification by visiting michiganbusiness.org/ofme.

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