Peter Wittwer

Ford Headquarters

Ford Headquarters

Detroit Trip

Day 1: Monday

Ford HQ

In the morning we went to Ford HQ and met with Dennis Tosh as well as Ellen Hughes-Cromwick. Ellen gave an interesting viewpoint of her role as Chief Economist at Ford. She talked about the structure of the economy as well as her predictions for the future of Ford. She told us that there are four economists that work under her that make predictions on the auto industry in Europe, Asia, North America, and South America. Africa’s economy wasn’t quite developed enough to present enough of a market for Ford to enter. Ellen believed that going forward Asia is the future of the auto industry, specifically China. As China’s middle class continues to get larger and larger, the huge country will become a huge market for cars. Mr. Tosh on the other hand is the Director of Global Trading and Risk Management. Some of his responsibilities include controlling the company’s balance sheet to make sure they have adequate cash flows and capital and hedging futures.

Federal Mogul

In the afternoon we met with engineers from Federal Mogul. The man who gave us a presentation on what the Tier 1 supplier does was Keri Westbrook. He explained how Federal Mogul is primarily concerned with producing spark plugs and pistons for engines. He had an extreme passion for his company and work, Federal Mogul only lost three employees from 2013 to 2014, which shows people are very happy working at Federal Mogul. On our tour we were exposed to a completely different side to the automobile industry. Federal Mogul tests engines at extreme temperature conditions to find out no only the breaking point of the engine, but also to see if the engines in car will be able to function in day to day use no matter the weather. What I found most interesting was when we met with the researcher in charge of spark plugs. Just by changing the way the transmission functions (switching from combustion to an electric spark plug), cars can become 5% more fuel efficient. By combining that technology with other modifications in the car, cars can become up to 15% more fuel efficient. Overall, it was clear years of preparation and research goes into testing and creating the components of cars before they can hit the road.

Day 2: Tuesday

Federal Reserve

We started off the day with a visit to the Federal Reserve. We learned about all the causes of Detroit’s bankruptcy. The men at the Federal Reserve didn’t blame the auto industry for the Detroit’s fall into debt, but  credited poor leadership as the main cause. Other reasons include poor management of city employees’ pensions, poor infrastructure, crime, the mass migration from Detroit (population has decreased from 2 mill. to 700,000 in 50 years), and lastly poor school system for Detroit’s bankruptcy. Detroit has the lowest percentage of college graduates in its city then anywhere else, and that’s also coupled with extremely low high school graduation rates. The men at the Federal Reserve believed in order for Detroit to recover crime needed to be cleaned up, schools needed to be improved, and leadership needed to be much smarter and more professional.

Ford HQ

In the afternoon we went over to Ford Headquarters to meet with two women executives involved in HR and strategy. Felicia Fields was in charge of HR at Ford and she gave us an interesting powerpoint in the Thunderbird Room outlining Ford’s future, The One Ford Plan, and also what Ford looks for in job applicants. Going forward Ford is expanding heavily in Asia, specifically China. China’s middle class is expanding rapidly and Ford is supplying a huge amount of cars to Chinese consumers. She also talked about Mulally’s One Ford Plan, she talked about how he completely switched the way the executives communicated as well as how problems were identified through his weekly board meetings. He also stressed the importance of abandoning excess car brands and focusing on producing great Fords and Lincolns (Ford one luxury brand). Finally, she talked about how Ford hires roughly 1,000 college students annually and the majority of them are engineering majors.

Day 3: Wednesday

Heidelberg Project/DIA

Today we visited the Heidelberg Project in the morning, to say the least it was a very abstract form of modern art. Two streets contained very common items used and sculpted to form sculptures and art. All the houses were completely painted in different designs. After meeting with the founder of the Heidelberg Project Tyree Guyton, I managed to make my own opinions on the art. I think the entire walk up and down both streets represents the journey of life. This is shown by the clocks and shoes everywhere along the streets. This represents movement through time. I think the Heidelberg Project is an admirable up taking, it’s a community effort that can get people to focus on artwork rather then getting involved in gangs or crime. I thought it was very admirable that Guyton has no resentment towards the person who burned many of his houses down that he had transformed in the making of the Project. It really made me realize that the emotions and messages we send out into the world are very important and can affect other people. The DIA was much more traditional artwork throughout history. I mainly stayed in the section dedicated to Italian artwork, the art was very beautiful and I sincerely hope that the city of Detroit preserves the DIA.

UMTRI

In the afternoon we visited the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. We were allowed to drive in a car simulator, which was extremely interesting. After that we learned a lot about autonomous vehicles as well as vehicle to vehicle communication. Right now it looks like vehicle to vehicle communication is very feasible. Sensors have been extensively developed to the point where they could hopefully prevent a lot of accidents. In my opinion, autonomous vehicles are not that feasible due to the legal ramifications, as the people at UMTRI told us autonomous vehicles can be deployed for highway driving, but it gets a lot trickier to have an autonomous vehicle that can drive through a city. I think that we may see an autonomous vehicle that can drive itself on highways and then signal for the driver to take over in highly congested areas as well as cities.

Automotive News

In the evening we had dinner with editors for the Automotive News. I had an extremely interesting conversation about the future of Tesla. The editor we were eating with, a graduate of Carleton College, explained how he believed Tesla was a great idea, but wasn’t sure if the company could be successful. He explained that Tesla doesn’t make profits off of their cars, but rather makes all of its money on emission credit sales. This was not a productive business model for the future as cars continue to get more and more fuel efficient on track to meet the 2025 CAFE standards. He also thought that it would be hard for Tesla to completely forgo dealers since they play such a huge role in the auto industry and also have many politicians in their back pocket. He thought that being able to customize your car online and also order it online was very innovative, but he wasn’t sure if it could be successful in the long term. He lastly closed that Tesla’s stock had risen so much due to projections from analysts, that he wondered if it could be the next stock bubble. Nonetheless, Tesla is truly innovative, but it’ll be interesting how they do in the future.

Day 4: Thursday

BorgWarner

At BorgWarner we learned how a tier 1 supplier operates. I thought it was very interesting how highly the intern spoke of his experience at BorgWarner. The company allowed him to engage in many interesting projects as well as even manage a team of employees to gain experience. This was definitely the  work environment I would love to work in one day. We also toured the  facility, I noticed how high tech some of the appliances were. It was also interesting how there were no offices, it truly was an atmosphere that fostered teamwork as well as communication.

Brose

Although our time at Brose was limited I thought it was extremely interesting to see the electronics and electronic innovation that goes into producing a car. The Electronics Director from Brose gushed about how they produced the technology for the automated trunk door. By just waving your leg by the truck and having the key in your pocket the door would automatically open. They sold this technology to Ford, and Ford extensively advertised this cutting edge technology in their marketing campaigns. It just shows how competitive car companies are over the smallest piece of technology so they can extensively advertise it and get a small leg up on competition.

Day 5: Friday

We met with two former Honda employees who talked about their experience working for the Japanese car company. The man at our table stressed how innovative the CEO at Honda had been while he was there. Completely abandoning certain models even and having to go back to the drawing boards with his engineers and coming up with the blueprints for huge commercial successes such as the Accord on a piece of scrap paper. I thought it was interesting that in the old days, things were much less planned and amazing ideas for automobiles could spring up from an inspired man with a pencil and piece of scrap paper. We talked about autonomous cars as well and how Google has really put a lot of work into developing sensors and technology to create an autonomous car. An autonomous car would be great for the elderly since many of them are not allowed to drive as they get older. Autonomous cars could allow elderly people to still be able to run errands without being a risk on the road.

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