“If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Motor City and Michigan: Are They About to be Replaced?

The Motor City might consider changing its namesake because of the recent trend in auto-design. US-based auto-manufacturers have begun broadening their off-shore business to include the design of automotive components and technology; in the process, lessening the hold of Michigan-based factories, particularly those in Detroit on automotive design.

In fact, in an article in the Tri-Cities Business Review it was revealed that:

Last year's North American International Auto Show sensation, the Chevrolet Volt concept, was designed in part in the United Kingdom.

Toyota's Venza production crossover design introduced in Detroit this year came from its California design studio. The Verve subcompact came from Ford's European designers.

Even GM's reborn Buick Riviera was designed in cooperation with the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.

A program announced recently by GM to focus on advanced battery technology will operate from facilities in Warren, Milford, Germany and China.

Automotive design - from conceptual sketches and clay modeling to computer-aided-design engineering - has been hit as hard in Michigan as any other part of the industry.

While it’s far from being impractical, this trend has affected thousands of Michigan natives and residents, particularly those who are skilled in vehicle design. But it seems this trend is likely to continue because the advantages of moving designing jobs out to other states and even off-shore countries greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Automakers have talked about diversifying their products, continuing to improve every car that comes out of their factories, lessening production and labor costs and giving people jobs, and those can be achieved by expanding the reach of their companies.

On the other hand, Michigan, despite all the odds, still is considered to be the “world's intellectual center for the auto industry”, according to David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. Clearly the effects of the changes have yet to be felt in the Motor City. But with automakers relying more and more on outsourced sites for auto-design, it wouldn’t take long until large numbers of Michigan-based workers will find themselves removed from industry support.