5 May 2014
After eating breakfast at the Pink Palace we started off our trip with a stop by the Ford World Headquarters. There, after going through security we were taken up to a meeting with Mr. Dennis Tosh, the director of Global Trading and Automotive Risk, and Ms. Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, the chief economist at Ford. They took the time out of their busy day to give us a quick overview of both of their jobs and their starts in the industry. Ms. Hughes-Cromwick was very inspiring with the sheer number of things that she has accomplished so far. They then answered all of the questions that we asked and gave us a look into where they see the company going. I found this meeting to be very interesting and a great start to our week.
From Ford we drove over to Federal Mogul, a tier 1 supplier of powertrain parts. They not only provided us with a delicious lunch, but also an interesting presentation and tour. The entire visit was set up as if we were customers, complete with the PowerPoint and stops along the tour. Although I was lost for most of the tour as to the intricacies of the product development it was enjoyable as it was clear that all of the engineers were passionate about what it was they were working on.
After our automotive meeting of the day we drove over to Ann Arbor to take a tour of the University of Michigan with Professor Smitka’s brother and to find some dinner. After a miscommunication at a Mexican restaurant with the rest of our class Professor Smitka, Anton, and I were lucky enough to go to Frita Batidos, which served Cuban street food. It was absolutely delicious.
6 May 2014
I have to say that Day 2 was my favorite day of the trip. We started off the day with a trip to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Detroit branch. They gave us a short tour of their money room and then ushered us up to their main boardroom. There we met Mr. Paul Traub, a business economist, and Mr. Martin LaVelle, a senior associate economist. Mr. Traub gave us the overview of the current economy that he was scheduled to present to the board the next day. Mr. LaVelle followed with an explanation of how the Detroit bankruptcy came about and the current plan to help heal the city. I loved both of these presentations. They used all that we learn in our theory classes and apply it to the real world. It was amazing.
Following a quick lunch at the Fed, we headed back to the Ford World Headquarters for round two. While pulling up to the parking lot, our vehicle was discussing what we thought was in those highest floors of the head quarters with all of the windows. After going through security, we were taken directly up there to meet with Ms. Felicia Fields, the vice president of human resources and corporate services and Ms. Mary Anderson, the director of human resources strategy in the famous Thunderbird Room. This is where the heads of Ford have held their weekly review meetings and made many many important decisions. Today, Ms. Fields and Ms. Anderson gave us an explanation of Alan Mulally’s vision One Ford. This intricate, fact and relationship driven plan is what provides structure to everything that Ford employees do everyday. They also went over what they saw as the biggest obstacles facing college students and the industry today, namely the lack of STEM strength.
We wrapped up our second day with a trip to Comerica Stadium to watch the Tigers play the Houston Astros. Although I do not have strong ties to either team it was a fun adventure and an enjoying game. It was not close though, with the Tigers pulling ahead of the Astros 11-4.
7 May 2014
We started out today with a trip over to the Heidelberg Project. A neighbor hood in Detroit that Mr. Tyree Guyton decided should become a living breathing art museum. As our tour guide said, its one of the few places that you don’t only examine the art, the art examines you. Mr. Guyton started to become invested in his neighborhood, started prepping it, just by simply cleaning it up. He then started the art project itself with his family home where he grew up, by painting polka dots over the entire outside. He then started branching out to other houses and plots with sculptures and paintings made of everything from used shoes, old cars, and ovens, to stuffed animals and shopping carts. The Heidelberg project now is spread out over two blocks and is really a community creation. Mr. Guyton started with a broken and blighted neighborhood and created a bright and colorful community. He gave his community something to bond over and work together to improve.
Following the Heidelberg Project we dried off over at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Because we only had a short time before our next meeting it was sort of a crash course at the DIA. I managed to power walk through the Renaissance, Modern, Greek and Roman, and Contemporary art exhibits. For the class though the major exhibit was the Diego Rivera mural. He seemed to really capture the era of the start of the automobile in Detroit. He managed to beautifully depict the Rouge in its hay day, not to mention the effects of both peaceful and war times on the industry.
Our third and final adventure of the day before dinner took us over to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. UMTRI really had quite the interesting afternoon set out for us with three different speakers and two different labs to tour. Our first speaker introduced us to one of UMTRI’s current major research projects, the connected vehicles. The goal of this project was to determine the benefits and the convenience of having a required communication system in every new car. This little box would be constantly sending out a little radio signal with the car’s location and would be able to take in other vehicles’ radio signals. This would allow the system to warn the driver of stopping vehicles ahead and other dangerous situations such as a vehicle in the driver’s blind spot. This system would potentially be able to interact with infrastructure to be able to warn drivers of sharp turns, and maybe even traffic. Our second speaker explained how this system could potentially be used in automated vehicles instead of a sensor system, allowing manufacturers to significantly cut costs and prices. Our third and final speaker at UMTRI gave us a great presentation on the current struggles in the automotive industry, primarily the CAFE standards.
8 May 2014
This was our final full day. I think by this point we were all pretty exhausted though we had quite the day ahead of us. We started with a tour of the historic Ford Rouge plant, which is still in use today. It was this plant that Bill Ford visited to be with the employees after the historic fire. Today we were able to see the creation of many, many Ford F-series trucks from the classic F-150 to the Raptor. I really enjoyed being able to explore the plant on my own up on the catwalk. It was interesting to see the employees doing their specific tasks and then having the vehicle move down the line to the next stop. I also really enjoyed going back into to the big testing garage and up to the observation deck. From up there one was able to see the living roof! It is made out of plants, which provide heat in the winter and some cooling in the warmer months. It was an interesting idea for sure.
After the Rouge tour we headed back to the Henry Ford Museum, however due to the bus schedule we only had ten minutes to explore. Because I had to change to get ready for our afternoon’s adventures I only had time to see a few of the presidential limousines. I hope to get to go back sometime in the future as it looked like one could spend many many hours looking at all the exhibits.
Straight from the Henry Ford, we drove over to Borg Warner, another tier 1 supplier of powertrain parts. Here we were treated to another presentation and tour. Borg Warner took care to give us the presentation in a little less technical terms, which helped our non-scientific minds digest it a bit. The office of Borg Warner seemed very young and welcoming, which was refreshing. All of the employees seemed to really enjoy working there and to love what they did.
We then crossed the parking lot to make a quick stop over at Brose, a tier 1 supplier of electrical equipment. This is the company that came up with the kick opening back latch and various window, seat, and door appliances. We were given an overview of their products using their example car in the lobby. It was cool to see all of the different innovations on a car to really see their use.
We finished out fourth day with a reception with Washington and Lee alumni at Clark Hill, a law firm on the 35th floor of one of the main downtown Detroit buildings. We first enjoyed a light dinner and then were treated to a discussion of the auto industry from a lawyer’s perspective. This was the perfect capstone to our class’ trip because for the first time I feel that we were able to use all of the knowledge we had gained on our trip to really add to the discussion and not only be question askers. After our talk we all took a tour of the office to enjoy the view of downtown Detroit. I could not have asked for a better ending to such an interesting and enjoyable trip.
9 May 2014
Today we woke up, ate breakfast for the last time at the Pink Palace and all filed into our respective vehicles for the long trip back. After about three hours of driving we pulled off in Ohio for an enjoyable lunch at Worthington Inn with Mr. Toshi Amino and Mr. Scott Whitlock, Honda manufacturing employees. Mr. Amino told us about his journey over from Japan to start a production facility in Ohio. He explained that in Japan, OEMs had outsourced much more of the production than in the United States and that it was difficult to find suppliers of the specific parts that they needed. After our lunch, it was back on the road for the longer stretch to good ol’ Lex. At around 8:30 PM we rolled in and said goodbye. It was definitely quite the adventure, but I was glad to be home and back in my own bed!