Ride to Detroit
10 hours in a Hyundai Sonata has its pros and cons. As far as pros go it’s equipped with easy to use cruise control, XM radio, and a relatively smooth ride. But, try sitting in the back and your pants will be drenched in sweat within 10 minutes. Anyway, that 10 hours was time well spent as it brought us to the beautiful, thriving, and well-protected city of Detroit. Well, not quite, but if Detroit has got anything to offer, it’s the auto-industry. With PACE judge Mike Smitka alongside, the experience was enhanced ten-fold.
After settling in at the Best Western Greenfield in Dearborn in Michigan the night before, we arose the next morning with our sights set on Ford Headquarters. This was serious business; no pictures were allowed, we were escorted to the fourth floor, and each student was required to take a picture as a form of identification to place on their name tag.
Upon our arrival at the fourth floor, we were greeted by chief economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwich, and director of global trading and automotive risk management, Dennis Tosh. Fortunately, we remembered to bring our nameplates increasing our credibility. Needless to say, they were impressed.
Dennis Tosh is responsible for all the money that circulates in and out of Ford. In our meeting the two economists focused on the future plans for Ford and how Ford is becoming more involved globally. Most notably, China is becoming a larger player for Ford. There has already been tremendous growth in the past 2 years with Ford’s percent of the market share growing to 4 percent from what was practically zero. Our time at Ford HQ ended with an offering of our Lebanese pastries. This was our way of expressing our gratitude throughout the trip.
In the afternoon, we made our way over to Federal Mogul, a nearby Tier 1 supplier. The Plymouth Technical Center was mainly responsible for the production of small parts in the interior of the engine. Some examples include pistons, rings and bearings. The tour of the facility was very impressive. Some of the smaller parts required less than a 2-micron difference from the original otherwise they would be scrapped. To get an idea of how small 2 microns is consider this, the thickness of one piece of hair is 70 microns.
One of the overarching themes from the suppliers and manufacturers we visited was how to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions. Federal Moguls’ plan to achieve this was centered on reducing the weight of the vehicle. Although the products they produce are a small part of the whole car, they can have a chain reaction and help to reduce the weight in other parts of the car. Additionally, the smallest change in weight can dramatically help gas mileage and emissions. For me, the technology that “struck” me was the Asics Corona, an ignition technology that can improve gas mileage by up to 20%. The Asics Corona replaces the spark plug ignition that is currently in most vehicles. This plasma technology allows fro more air to get to the engine, facilitating a better process of ionization. The technology is currently being tested in many areas in Europe, but it is not expected to hit the market until about 2019.
The day ended with a visit to The University of Michigan. Because it was Cinco de Mayo, there was a street party that featured Mexican music and food. The wait was very long for the food so Joe Kimbell and I decided to eat at Five Guys instead. Inside the burger place, I met Karis LeVert, a freshman standout for the basketball team at the University of Michigan.
On this day, I became 364 dollars richer! (I still need to piece the money back together but that shouldn’t take too long.) It was truly spectacular to witness billions of dollars being transferred from one vault to another behind the explosion-proof glass at the Federal Reserve in Detroit.
While we were there, we also got the chance to meet with Dr. Paul Traub and Martin Lavelle. We were given more insight about the US economy and its recovery and also learned about the economy of Detroit and what led them to bankruptcy. Lavelle pointed out a few major reasons why Detroit went bankrupt including, terrible leadership and the competition between the suburbs and the city. In less than 2 years, Detroit’s population dropped from 1.2 million to 700,000. At one point in 2013, there were only 10 police officers patrolling the streets. To make things worse, the average response time from 911 was 1 hour!
That afternoon, we made our way back over to Ford Headquarters. This time, we were able to hear a presentation in the Thunderbird room. This room is at the top (11th floor) of the building [just below Bill Ford’s office] and where the top Ford executives have made the most critical decisions that Ford has faced the past 50 years. Felicia Fields, the Vice President of human resources and corporate services and Mary Anderson, the director of HR strategy and organization development, took us through the executive plan that Ford follows to be successful, titled ONE FORD. The plan is a guide to the goals for Ford and provides ways to attack their obstacles.
The day finished with a trip to the Detroit Tigers game where they played the Houston Astros. By the eight inning, Mike Barry and I threw out our arms at the fastest pitch competition. In a fierce battle, I pulled out the win with a pitch coming in at 69mph. Mike wasn’t far behind with a top speed of 67mph. The Tigers would eventually win the game 11-4.
Rain can virtually put a damper on any outdoor experience, but on this day, it intensified the emotions. What kind of experience can be improved by rain? The Heidelberg Project, an outdoor Art Museum that exemplifies the city of Detroit. A mixture of all kinds of material items, including bowling pins, stuffed animals, glass bottles, and religious symbols make up the exhibit. The rain provided us with a gloomy feel that added to the comparisons between the project and the despondent city of Detroit.
We later made our way over to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The city of Detroit has plans to sell the contents of the Art Museum for about 1 billion dollars to try to help the city. That price tag gives you an idea of what wonderful pieces of artwork the museum has to offer. Diego Rivera painted some of the more incredible work with his murals that feature scenes from the auto industry.
The day then “shifted gear” when we rolled over to the University Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). The folks at UMTRI are mainly focused on improving safety aspects of vehicles. Their long-term goal is to have autonomous vehicles, which they believe will require vehicle-to-vehicle connection. UMTRI has been involved in multiple tests including testing the V2V technology in 2,500 cars. They are also involved in running tests for teenagers that measures where their eyes are looking while driving, when they would stop at a yellow light, and how long they would wait to make a turn with oncoming cars. This is all measured through the computer-generated simulator that attaches a real-sized car to an imaginary world.
That night we ate dinner at a car-themed restaurant with three employees from Automotive News. We chatted about the potential of companies like Tesla and where the future of the auto industry is headed.
The day began at the Ford Rouge plant where Bill Ford famously visited after an accident that injured many Ford employees. The Rouge is home to the production of Ford trucks. The most incredible part of the assembly line was the insertion of the moon roof. The precision and accuracy had to have been impeccable otherwise the whole line would need to be stopped. With trucks of all shapes and sizes that all have different locations for their moon roofs, the ability of the robots to place the glass into the trucks perfectly was a real spectacle.
The museum right across the way was the next stop. A collection of cars, trains, and planes were shown in the museum. The highlight was the 1931 Bugatti.
The day had much more to offer, as we were able to see two more Tier 1 suppliers. First we visited BorgWarner, a manufacturer of small parts for automobiles as well as
superturbochargers. Some of their products are tested at -40 degrees Celsius and 150 degrees Celsius.
We drove down the road a short way to experience some more futuristic technologies that Brose is working on. One of the top-hits from Brose is the kick to open back door. The company is working towards implementing this same technology on minivan side doors.
The night ended on the 35th floor of a downtown Detroit building where we got to meet some Washington and Lee alumni!
An early morning departure from the hotel brought us to the Worthington Inn in Columbus, Ohio by midday. Here we ate lunch with Toshi Amino and Scott Whitlock, PACE award judges and Honda manufacturing employees in the U.S.
We finally made it back to Lexington, Va around 8:30 PM. What a trip!