What a day! It began early one fateful morning as the dynamic crew including myself, Anton, Peter, Kuangdi, and Durkin saddled up in our Chrysler Town and Country to take on the motor city. The nine hours flew by as the town and country glided across highway and state borders alike, suspense building with every mile. We arrived a bit tired at the pink castle that is Best Western Fairfield Inn, and we planted the W&L flag in the ground marking the first of the student armada to arrive in Detroit. We settled in the hotel and waited patiently for the others to arrive, salivating at the chance to dig into some genuine Lebanese delicacies upon our peers arrival. The crew did eventually arrive, and we then left the hotel in search of the lebanese restaurant. We got lost a few times along the way, but much like Lawrence in his Arabian quest, we found the food we so hungrily desired. Some of us early arrivals were anxious to begin chowing down on the platters, notably Anton was shooting off some clever sleights. However, Anton and other miscreants (myself included) were swiftly silenced when the incredible platters of chicken, beef, lamb, rice, hummus, and other such delights were whisked to our table by the friendly waitstaff. It was at this moment that I realized we were in for quite the trip.
The second day began around 7:30 in the morning as I showered and threw on my blazer. The first on site visit was this morning and it was scheduled with some very prominent individuals within Ford. We hopped back in our respective vehicles and started caravanning to the Ford World Headquarters. Once inside we quickly had our visitor badges made, and then proceeded to follow our guide up a few flights of stairs into a large conference room. We then had the pleasure of sitting down with Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, the chief economist for Ford, and Dennis Tosh, Director of Global Trading and Risk Management for Ford. Mrs. Hughes-Cromwick explained a bit about her role within Ford, which involved the oversight of four other chief economists within Ford each of whom were responsible for different geographic regions. The role of all of these economists is to analyze large amounts of data, and then proceed to make models that will help accurately predict the direction of the global market. The market forecasts created by the chief economists serve as a guide to help plants decide on production rates and marketing departments to focus their efforts in areas of growth and concentrated sales. Mr. Tosh gave us some insight into how Ford goes about minimizing institutional risk through hedging metal, fuel, and other commodities in which Ford has significant exposure. Mr. Tosh has worked for Ford for quite a long time, and spoke highly of the organizational structure and employee treatment within Ford itself. I was impressed by the work of both of these incredible individuals, and their commitment to pushing Ford forward. After Ford Headquarters the class turned its attention downstream from OEM, Ford, to a supplier, Federal Mogul. We did not have time to stop for lunch in between our meetings, but fortunately Federal Mogul prepared for this. Federal Mogul provided a nice lunch of various Panera sandwiches, salad, and drinks all of which were graciously and swiftly eaten by our group. Post lunch, we met with Keri Westbrook who gave us a brief summary of the business of Tier 1 suppliers and the innovations that occur in this part of the auto industry. Following the presentation from Mr. Westbrooke, we split into two groups and were given a tour of Federal Mogul’s operations. I was fascinated by the immense amount of technology and manpower that goes into even the smallest seemingly insignificant parts of automobiles. We finished the tour with Federal Mogul impressed but a bit worn out, which lead to our not so swift departure from the parking lot.
I began the third day much like the every other; an early morning alarm, a quick shower, and a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns, and black coffee. Then we were off, heading into the heart of Detroit to visit the Federal Reserve bank of Chicage (in Detroit). As we drove to the Federal Reserve building I could not help but notice the vast amount of desolate and crumbling infrastructure with abandoned warehouses lining the streets and people nowhere to be seen. Eventually we pulled up to the entrance of the Federal Reserve, which for obvious reasons had a large amount of security measure preventing us from immediately entering. Once inside the building we met with a friendly tour guide who showed us the room where the Federal Reserve counts its incoming cash, bundles it, and sends it into the vault. The guide told us that the building houses between 9 and 11 billion dollars at all time (all that security beginning to make some sense). After the tour we went upstairs to a large pristine boardroom and were able to meet with Dr. Paul Traub and Mr. Martin LaVelle. Dr. Traub began the meeting with a very informative power point presentation essentially shows all of the macroeconomic indicators that the Fed uses to decide upon monetary policy. Following our briefing on the macroeconomic indicators, Dr. Traub talked about the organizational structure of the Fed and how community leaders come to discuss the condition of the city with him and help decide on how to administer policy effectively. Mr. Lavelle took over from this point and began to give us an in depth view of how and why Detroit went bankrupt. Interestingly, he said that the collapse of the auto industry was very unrelated to the bankruptcy of Detroit itself. Mr. Lavelle pointed to a number of issues including urban suburban rivalries, race riots, poor political leadership, burdensome pension packages, and a diminishing tax base as key reasons for the bankruptcy of Detroit. We headed downstairs after the informative lesson on chapter 9 bankruptcy in order to grab a quick lunch before we headed to our next destination. The next meeting we had lined up for the day had our armada headed back to the Ford world Headquarters. This time we received the kings treatment, and headed to the infamous Thunderbird room in order to meet with Ford’s HR division. We met with Felicia Fields and Mary to discuss the future of Ford and how it intends to achieve its goals. We learned that Ford is in fact creating a large amount of jobs in the US and abroad each year, but face a problem regarding a lack of supply in US workers with the STEM background needed to fill these job openings. After the meeting with the HR division everyone was ready for the evening icing, a game at Comerica Stadium between the Tigers and the Astros. We arrived and made our way onto the hallowed ground of America’s great pastime, and began cheering for the home team. The game was very entertaining with the Tiger handily beating the Astros, including Miguel Cabrera going yard a time or two. On our way out, there was a friendly competition of who could throw the fastest ball at a game stand, pitting Kuangdi against Mike (if my memory doesn’t fail me). Kuangdi gave it his best shot but in the end lost, but the true winner of the day was Alex who left the game with one more Cabrera jersey in hand than he had when he entered the stadium.
Day 4 found the crew a bit tired and the cold and rain did not help to lift the spirits. We trudged on anyway, and headed into Detroit to get a tour around the Heidelberg Project. I had never heard of the project myself, but I can say that it is unlike any “art” I have ever seen before or likely will see after. The project consists of a neighborhood entirely painted and covered in shoes, crosses, teddy bears, and other various trinkets all tied into infrastructure. There were several houses that had been burned down by former people who had lived in the neighborhood previously. The artist himself came to speak with us, Tyree Guyton, and I must say the interaction was about what I expected given the type of art we viewed in the project. I will preface my review of the project and the artists by saying that I have taken an art history course or two (but in no way have an expertise of art) and I have studied and appreciate modern art and all that it encompasses. That being said, I found the nature of Mr. Guyton and his art to be somewhat farcical, and I find it hard to believe some of the underlying themes and motifs that are claimed to be represented by his art. Furthermore, he said he did this in order to help the neighborhood and Detroit itself, and I do not see his art truly doing this in fact it seems from the arsons that natives agree. Mr. Guyton’s conversation with us was filled with a facade of philosophical depth, which I believe if pressed further would have collapsed unto itself (this would only be true if Mr. Guyton would answer a question with something more concrete than a haphazard metaphysical quandary regarding the true existence of whatever matter a peer was inquiring about). Perhaps I am wrong about the Heidelberg Project, but in my experience with modern art that attempts to change the world and express anger towards wayward social norms, the project falls very short. I simply felt that Mr. Guyton haphazardly threw things on trees and painted circles only to attach “significance” and depth to the piece after the fact. Moving on, we left the rain and cold of the Heidelberg Project to head to one of Detroit’s most famous attractions, the Detroit Institute of Art. We arrived at the DIA around noon and were told we only had forty five minutes to eat lunch and take in the artistic excellence of the building that could take any art fanatic a week to work his way through. I quickly ate a small lunch and headed upstairs to see Diego Rivera’s mural of the auto industry and several pieces by Picasso before looking at several Greek vases. We left the DIA just as swiftly as we had arrived and began our journey to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. UMTRI, as it is called, is national leader in the field of automotive research and is involved in several interesting projects. The visit began with a quick overview of the organization itself, but we then went upstairs to their driving simulator and were able to get behind the wheel. The simulator is equipped with a large number of sensors, cameras, and lasers all designed to collect data that can be used to look at driver awareness and behavior under varying conditions and environments. After playing around with the simulator, we headed back down to the main floor where we learned about the study being done with V2V and V2I technologies. The basic concept involves short wave radios equipped within cars that can “speak” with other equipped vehicles or infrastructure, which can notify drivers when other vehicles are coming at them or if an embankment is very steep etc. UMTRI seemed to believe that the future of automobile revolves around the combination of sensor technologies and the communication technologies in creating autonomous vehicles safe for roads across the globe. Having reached near peak levels of saturation with respect to information intake, the town and country began looking very comfy as an escape to dinner and then a good nights sleep. We decided to blow off some steam and headed to grab dinner with a few gentleman from Automotive News. Following a hearty meal and solid conversation with the men of Automotive News, the generals crew headed back to the Best Western to call it a night.
The last day of the trip we started off the morning by heading to the mecca of the auto industry, the Ford Rouge plant and museum. We arrived on the grounds and waited patiently for the bus to arrive and cart us to the plant itself, where Ford makes its industry leading F-150s. It is amazing to witness the assembly line process still at work nearly a hundred years after the system was coined by Henry Ford (granted the process has undergone evolution and change to adapt to the modern era). We were not allowed to take photos inside of the plant, but the entrance was set with some of Ford’s signatures cars over the years and a new 2013 Ford Raptor SVT. After walking around the Rouge plant, we hopped back on the bus and went to the Ford Museum. The museum was enormous and had much many more items than one could take in in a single day. However, once inside we veered right and took a look at the progression of the automobile from the viewpoint of Ford, and got to see some of the marquee vehicles along the way (including the armored vehicle that was used to escort JFK when he was president). After grabbing a quick lunch at a 50’s style diner in the Ford museum, we headed back to the town and country and set our course for Borg Warner. We arrived at Borg Warner fashionably late, but our contact there was more than gracious and escorted us to a conference room they had set up for us. Borg Warner gave us a brief presentation on who Borg Warner is and how they have come to be a lead Tier 1 supplier in the auto industry. The presentation was very interesting, as we were informed about the many different positions and functions of Borg Warner employees ranging from accountants to marketing and more. After the presentation, they kindly gave us a tour around their offices and facilities. They then told us about their plans on expanding the office building quite substantially and how this is made possible by the increasing business and growth within their company and the industry as a whole. We left Borg Warner shortly after the tour and made the quick trek up the road for a brief meeting at Brose. Brose is also a Tier 1 supplier to the auto industry, but unlike Borg Warner who specialized in drive trains (and other related items), Brose specializes in more technological items like its new kick to open trunk, window systems, our head unit equipment. The meeting as Brose was brief but informative and the day as a whole had been an immense success. I felt that the day had been an excellent way to cap off the week in Detroit.