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What drew San Francisco's SF Motors to Pittsfield Township?

San Francisco-based SF Motors, a subsidiary of Chinese auto manufacturer and supplier Sokon Industry Group, has announced plans to invest in a $10.7-million research and development facility in Pittsfield Township.
 
The facility is expected to create around 150 jobs. It will focus on product, powertrain, and new battery development in order to create the next generation of electric vehicles, according to Yong Yang, the company's VP for strategy, planning, and PR.
 
Yang cites the Ann Arbor area's reputation as a driver in automotive technology, and success with engineering and research and development centers, as key factors in the company's decision to move here. He is hopeful that proximity to the University of Michigan will give SF Motors access to the engineering talent the company will need to support its long-term goals of automotive innovation.
 
The company conducted a multi-state selection process that weighed such factors as business environment, incentives, location, talent pool, and resources. Yang says the "confluence of automotive and mobility experience and expertise" in Michigan ultimately proved the deciding factor in the company's plan to expand here.  
 
Additionally, the facility provided to the company by Pittsfield Township proved a perfect match for the company's growing needs.
 
"Advanced automotive technologies such as connected and automated vehicle research and implementation will be an important feature that our team will be working on," Yang says. "Our manufacturing team on site will be working on building a world-class manufacturing facility using best practices in the industry."
 
The SF Motors facility is only the most recent major development in next-generation automotive research in Washtenaw County. The 23-acre Mcity automated vehicle test facility has been in operation at the University of Michigan in operation since July of 2015, and another such site is set to open next year at the site of the former Willow Run bomber plant.

Jason Buchanan is a writer, father, and film fanatic living and working in Ann Arbor.
 

Spanish auto parts supplier to create nearly 200 jobs in Chelsea

Gestamp, an international supplier of metal parts and assemblies for auto manufacturers, will expand its North American operations into Chelsea, investing $68 million and creating 195 new jobs over the next four years.
 
The Madrid, Spain-based company specializes in products for developing lighter, safer, more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. In Chelsea, Gestamp will build a chassis assembly line, an electronic coat paint line, and a remote laser-welding 3D technology line.
 
The location is Gestamp's fourth in Michigan and its first in Washtenaw County. The company currently has plants in Lapeer and Mason, and offices in Troy. Ann Arbor SPARK helped Gestamp choose Chelsea by providing demographics and economic statistics, as well as information on available incentive programs, says Jennifer Olmstead, senior manager of business development at SPARK.
 
Working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, city of Chelsea, and Michigan Works, Olmstead says SPARK put together a proposal that convinced the company to locate in Chelsea.
 
"This project is a great example of the power of collaboration," she says.
 
Another determining factor was Gestamp's timeline, which called for operations to begin by early 2018. By purchasing an existing and vacant 190,000-square-foot production facility previously occupied by Jaytec on Sibley Road, Olmstead says the company can "hit the ground running."
 
Renovations on the property will start next year, with hiring to follow in 2018.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

A closer look at U-M's new driverless vehicle startup tenants

Peter Brink has thought a lot about cars that drive you places instead of the other way around.

"The day of the truly automated vehicle where you get in and say, 'take me to this location,' ... might be 10 years off, but it's probably not as far as off we think it is," says Brink, director of engineering at the driverless vehicle startup PolySync.

Starting next week, University of Michigan students will begin working with Brink and other developers and engineers in the driverless vehicle field on research that could help make that forecast a reality.

The joint incubator program by U-M's Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) and Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) is bringing three West Coast startups in to work with 11 engineering students for the fall semester. Portland, Ore.-based PolySync and San Francisco-based Zendrive and CivilMaps will move resources into the TechLab incubator at U-M's Mcity autonomous vehicle test facility. The initiative aims to help develop both students' careers and the startups' own new technologies.

Jay Ellis, director of the CFE's Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization program, and MTC deputy director Carrie Morton led the yearlong search for partner companies, narrowing over 30 candidates down to three. Candidates had to do work that either transfers drivership from humans to machines, or makes vehicles and infrastructure more connected. More importantly, they needed a program that put student development first.

"All three of these companies got that right away," Ellis says.

In the case of CivilMaps, students will help map and then localize the Mcity environment for a car's robot "driver" to read. The 3-D mapping company's focus is on making self-driving cars enjoyable and trustworthy for passengers, says Sravan Puttagunta, CEO & Co-Founder. Maps generated by sensor data and CivilMaps' technology are meant to replicate the human experience of navigating the physical world autonomously.

"Mcity is a great test bench for our technology stack," Puttagunta says. "A controlled environment lets us create very specific scenarios to stress-test our technology stack while having a captive audience that comes from the automotive industry."

Zendrive returns to Mcity this fall after a successful pilot run with the TechLab program back in February that led to summer internships for two students. The mobile technology company was founded by Google and Facebook veterans, and specializes in data and analytics for improving road safety.

Ellis says students will help identify and validate vehicle maneuvers using smartphone data and use that to quantify drivers' risk. They will also compare vehicle and phone data to confirm that they correlate – for instance, noting how a phone registers a hard right turn when a vehicle makes one on the road.

A driverless tech company for other driverless tech companies, PolySync's middleware platform collects and presents data from a variety of vehicle sensors. The software is meant to help developers easily obtain data useful for writing code for new autonomous vehicle applications.

Brink and the team at PolySync will work with students to produce an autonomous vehicle that can get to a predetermined destination. Part of the process will involve watching their calculations fail, which is harder to do in the real world.

"When you're driving out on the streets of Portland or Chicago or Ann Arbor, you don't want to drive the wrong direction on a one-way street, or constantly be crossing lane lines," Brink says. "Mcity provides us a captured enviroment where we can collect a lot of this 'driving badly' data, because that allows us to test the automatic drive algorithms."

Brink's initial interest in the program was to get involved with what students were doing while also exposing them to the work going on at PolySync. The research potential became apparent as something of a bonus.

"I realized after the fact what a great opportunity it was to do all this other stuff," he says. "I hesitate to use the term, but it really is synergy."

Photo by Doug Coombe.



 

First electric scooters roll off GenZe's Ann Arbor assembly line

Michigan is famous for putting the world on four wheels in the 20th Century. Now Ann Arbor is making its mark in the world of two wheel vehicles. The first electric scooters are rolling off Ann Arbor-based GenZe production lines this month. Although the first order is just a few scooters, the company expects to hit its production goal of 3,000 scooters by next year.

"We're going to ramp up pretty quickly," says Yesim Erez, head of marketing for GenZe.

GenZe makes an electric scooter and an electric bike. The GenZe 2.0 electric scooter aims to make urban commuting more convenient by combining smart design with new technology. For instance, the scooter can recharge by plugging into a normal outlet but is equipped with a touch pad control center in the handlebars and mobile app so users can monitor power levels and travel plans through GPS. It has enough cargo to carry small loads, like groceries, but is small enough to fit in an elevator.

Check out a video on it here.

"They have the built-in capacity for urban commuting," Erez says. "It can satisfy the urban commuters needs throughout the day."

GenZe plans to start retailing its electric scooters for $2,999. It's targeting markets in Portland, San Francisco and Michigan to start, but plans to expand in urban areas across North America over the next couple of years.

GenZe, formerly Mahindra GenZe, opened a tech center in Ann Arbor in 2014. It has since expanded that presence to include a manufacturing facility. It currently employs 36 people, including 10 new hires. The number of staff is expected to increase with sales over the next year.

"We have been hiring as we ramp up production," Erez says. "We plan to continue to build out our staff."

Source: Yesim Erez, head of marketing for GenZe
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

First scooters set to roll off Mahindra GenZe’s line this year

Ann Arbor's Mahindra GenZe is gearing up to produce its first scooters this year.

Mahindra GenZe is a division of an Indian-based scooter manufacturer, Mahindra and Mahindra. It opened a regional technical center in Ann Arbor to design scooters to sell in North America three years ago. Its manufacturing facility followed a little more than a year ago. The first scooters are set to roll off the assembly line later this summer.

"We are kicking out our last pre-production prototypes," says Terence Duncan, head of product management at Mahindra GenZe. "All of the engineering work is done."

The electric scooter is sleek and simple, focused on the needs of urban commuters looking for a convenient transportation option that works well in densely populated areas. The scooter comes with a 7-inch touchscreen monitor built into the handlebars and plugs into normal electric outlets to charge its lithium-ion battery. Check out a video on it here.

"Our monthly numbers will be very low at the start," Duncan says. "We will increase our output gradually. By the end of the year we hope to be at 3,000."

Mahindra GenZe currently employs a staff of 35 people in Ann Arbor. It has hired a dozen people over the last year in mostly white collar positions. It is also looking to hire another six people who specialize in assembly, electrical engineering, and project management.

That staff is not only working on the company's scooter but widening its product portfolio. The company is currently experimenting with electric bicycles that it is looking to produce in Ann Arbor, too.

"We are building prototypes for them," Duncan says.

Source: Terence Duncan, head of product management at Mahindra GenZe
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Intertwine Corp's software streamlines product design, development

Todd Norwood spent 20 years in the automotive industry, working at five companies across Metro Detroit. He noticed one consistently missed opportunity at all of the places he worked: information was plentiful and shared, but rarely absorbed.

"People largely moved Excel spreadsheets from one person to another and never collaborated with the data," Norwood says.

So he decided to do something about it launched his own company, Intertwine Corp. The Ann Arbor firm produces a cloud-based program called Q-It that acts as a business process optimization management software. It primarily serves the automotive industry but can work for any company that deals with product development and bill of materials management, enabling them to effectively leverage their data collection.

"It gives the customer the opportunity to dig into the granular level of data," Norwood says.

Intertwine Corp recently made the finals of the Global Automotive Innovation Challenge. It is looking to roll out the platform across the U.S. this year periodically updating it and enhancing it for its customers.

The 6-year-old company employs a staff of 11 employees and one intern. It has hired two people over the last year (a sales professional and a training-and-development coordinator) and it looking to add more interns this summer.

Source: Todd Norwood, president of Intertwine Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Sakti3 leverages $20M Series C, including $15M from Dyson

Sakti3 has closed on a eight-figure Series C round of seed capital to help develop and commercialize its lithium ion battery technology.

The Ann Arbor-based startup closed on a $20 million Series C earlier this month. That investment includes a $15 million investment from Dyson, the vacuum cleaner company. Sakti3 now has a broad range of investors including General Motors and Khosla Ventures.

"We think this is a huge development for Sakti3," says Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Sakti3. "The Dyson partnership is critically important for our growth and first entry into the market."

Sakti3 spun out of the University of Michigan seven years ago looking to help lithium ion battery technology take a big step forward. Sakti3's technology claims to offer double the energy density of today’s commercial cells at half the price. It has been targeted for the automotive industry but Dyson sees potential in it for its handheld vacuum cleaners.

Sastry says her startup employs less than two dozen people and is hiring. She declined to say how many jobs it has open or how many people it has hired over the last year.

Source: Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Sakti3
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

IncWell invests in automotive cyber security startup TowerSec

Cyber-security startup TowerSec has landed an investment from venture capital firm IncWell, helping bring its technology to the automotive industry.

"It's something we see scaling very quickly," Sophia Kahn, project manager for IncWell.

The Ann Arbor-based startup specializes in beefing up cyber security for automobiles. The idea is that as cars are becoming bigger targets for hackers now with the advent of infotainment and driverless automotive technologies. So not only could hackers steal a motorist’s identity while driving but even take control of the car.

"It's a growing concern with cars becoming more connected," Kahn says.

IncWell is a Birmingham-based venture capital firm that invests in technology startups. Some of its other investments include CureLauncher (a Bloomfield Hills-based startup that refers to itself as the Wikipedia of clinical trials) and iRule, a downtown Detroit-based home entertainment startup.

IncWell's investment in TowerSec was part of seed round for the startup. Kahn declined to say who led the seed round, who else participated in it, the total amount raised in the round, or the size of IncWell's investment.

Kahn also declined to detail much about TowerSec’s platform besides that it is designed as a business-to-business play aimed at commercial and fleet vehicles. She adds that TowerSec's platform is "integration ready" in its development but wouldn't explain further what that specifically meant.

Source: Sophia Kahn, project manager for IncWell
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

TLS Productions grows beyond core auto show biz

TLS Productions has been around 60 years, spending most of that time making a name for itself as the go-to firm for auto show lighting. Today it's working to be more than just that.

"We want to continue to serve the auto industry but we want to do more corporate events," says Carl Kedzierski, marketing manager for TLS Productions. "We recently did a gig with ESPN."

The Ann Arbor-based firm provides sales, rental, and production for the stage part of special events. It does this for all of the major auto shows, such as the North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit, and smaller events, such as theater productions.

An ownership change two years ago moved TLS Production's focus from auto show all the time to an effort to diversifying its clientele. The lion’s share of the company’s revenue still comes from auto shows, but its non-auto-show work has grown significantly over the last two years. It’s a trend the company hopes to expand over the next year.

"If lighting and audio can be applied to the event then we’re going for it," Kedzierski says.

TLS Production's employs a core staff of 17 employees and the occasional intern. It also has a stable of 30-45 freelancers it consistently leans on during its busy times. It is currently looking to hire 10 account executives across the U.S., including one in each the Ann Arbor-area and Metro Detroit markets.

Source: Carl Kedzierski, marketing manager for TLS Productions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Ann Arbor’s picoSpray locks down $1M Series A

PicoSpray, a startup creating technology to make small engines more energy efficient, has locked down a Series A worth $1 million, money the company plans to reinvest into its tech development.

"We are going to continue working with customers so we can adopt the technology to their needs and expand into new markets," says Lihang Nong, CEO and CTO of picoSpray.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up's technology aims to replace the carburetor in small engines with a low-cost electronic fuel injection system. Small engines for things like motorcycles, mopeds, and generators have a lot of room to create energy efficiency gains and cut pollution.

Automotive engines have already done this with fuel-injection technology but bringing that to small engines has proven cost-prohibitive. PicoSpray is completely redesign this part of the small engine with a fuel-injection system that can reduce fuel consumption by 10-15 percent and be installed at half the cost of current options. Check out a video on the technology here.

Nong declined to name the investors in the Series A but said the money is going toward the final development of the technology. It has also enabled picoSpray to hire two people (a technician and an engineer), expanding its staff to six employees. That team is currently testing its technology out with engine and motorcycle manufacturers.

"We're looking at how we can mass produce it," Nong says.

Source: Lihang Nong, CEO and CTO of picoSpray
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

New Eagle expands staff at new facility in Ann Arbor

New Eagle moved into a new office in Ann Arbor last year and has been growing its staff and bottom line since.

The automotive, energy-efficiency company took over a 21,000-square-foot space on the city's western outskirts. It has spent equal parts of the last few months working on its hybrid technology and modernizing its new home.

"We took it from an old, dingy commercial space to a collaborative office," says Rich Swortzel, president of New Eagle. "It's open. It’s a fun environment."

The 6-year-old company specializes in hybrid technology for the automotive sector. Its recently released Raptor platform helps create fuel-savings for heavy vehicles like garbage trucks. It accomplishes that with a connected and distributed control system that is advanced, scalable, self-diagnosing, and remotely controllable.

"The goal is to mature it and grow it," Swortzel says.

New Eagle has enjoyed growing sales of technology both domestically and internationally recently. International sales accounted for half of the company’s revenue over the last year. That has allowed the company hire a handful of people over the last year.

Source: Rich Swortzel, president of New Eagle
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Civionics brings wireless sensors to manufacturing

Civionics got its start spinning out of the University of Michigan in 2009 by commercializing wireless sensor technology. The platform was primarily used to measure the strength of large-scale infrastructure, such as bridge supports.

That's changing now. The startup is pivoting from its previous work, which mostly generated revenue from government grants, to a product platform.

"We have a new product we began selling at the end of last year," says Andy Zimmerman, CEO of Civionics. "We hope it will help us enter some new verticals."

That new product is called Constellation. It is based on Civionics original technology but applies it to manufacturing equipment in factories. The idea is to monitor the strength of those machines and avoid breakdowns with well-timed maintenance. The company is aiming to focus on Michigan’s automotive market as a start.

To help make that happen, Civionics has joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program. The program helps small businesses leverage cutting edge manufacturing technology, opening the door for them to go to the next level of production.

"Automation Alley clearly has the connections in the area that we lack," Zimmerman says.

The Ann Arbor-based company currently employs a core team of a handful of people after adding one over the last year. Zimmerman expects to grow that team later this year as it lines up the first customers for Constellation.

Source: Andy Zimmerman, CEO of Civionics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Current Motor launches new product line, Mini-fleets-in-a-Box

Current Motor Co is launching a new product line this winter, expanding on its core offering of electric scooters.

The Ann Arbor-based company's Mini-fleet-in-a-Box product consists of four Current Motor Co’s new Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycles inside a shipping container that also acts as a solar charging station. That way the patent-pending product can be transported to remote locations with everything from a train to a helicopter. The standard Mini-fleet-in-a-Box comes in a standard 20-foot shipping container but can be made to fit a larger container as necessary.

"We can do a large one as well," says Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of Current Motor Co. "It's not a problem. I like to say they work outside of the box."

Current Motor Co is targeting customers that need self-supportive transportation options in remote locations, such as international mining and manufacturing companies. The 5-year-old firm has completely redesigned its electric scooter to create the Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycle, a 100-percent electric vehicle.

The Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycle is advertised as very low maintenance requirements because it has no belts, chains or gears. It has a top speed of 70 mph, and can go up to 50 miles per charge. The motorcycle’s frame has been made stronger to carry more cargo (a driver and substantial cargo or two passengers and light cargo) through the use of high-strength Niobium (Nb) micro-alloyed steel.

Current Motor Co's Nb Solar Charging Station can easily fit in a standard shipping container, allowing it to house four Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycles. The station can charge the bikes in five hours with its solar-powered 22-kilowatt-hour battery. The whole package starts retailing at $130,000 and can reach as much as $300,000 depending on the extras.

"It really depends on what you put on it," Flanagan says. She adds, "We build it out to fit that need."

Current Motor Co has hired five people over the last year. Those new jobs include business development professionals, technicians, engineers, and skilled labor. The company currently has a staff of 17 employees. That team is looking to start shipping the first orders of the firm’s Mini-fleet-in-a-Box this month.

"I think we’re going to have a very good year," Flanagan says.

Source: Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of Current Motor Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Edmunds acquires Tech Brewery’s Carcode SMS

Automotive website Edmunds has acquired Ann Arbor-based Carcode SMS, making the mobile startup the firm's first acquisition.

Carcode SMS created a website plugin that allows consumers to text automotive dealership staff and inquire about a specific car. The software assigns local cell phone numbers to dealerships so mobile shoppers can text them and provides the dealership with an app that allows staff to respond and manage conversations in a compliant environment. Edmunds plans to launch this technology across its dealership network, providing CarCode SMS for free to both dealers and consumers.

"More and more traffic is going through the dealerships mobile websites," says Steve Schwartz, co-founder of Carcode SMS.

The Tech Brewery-based got its starts a couple of years ago creating mobile technology for automotive dealerships that leveraged QR codes. The three-person team pivoted a year ago to focus on the text-message conversations platform. It won the 2014 Edmund Hackomotive contest last spring.

That was the first contact Carcode SMS had with Edmunds, which led to an invitation to participate in the company’s newly formed startup accelerator program last summer. It also led to a spike in the startup’s revenues thanks to dozens of new dealerships signing up for its .

"We ended up generating revenue very quickly after the hackomotive competition," Schwartz says.

It ended with the acquisition. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Schwartz and one of the other co-founders are leaving the company while Carcode SMS' CEO takes on a role with Edmunds.

Source: Steve Schwartz, co-founder of Carcode SMS
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

ISSYS wins patent for sensor tech in Ypsilanti, adding positions

Integrated Sensing Systems, AKA ISSYS, recently received a patent for one of its minimally-invasive procedures used to insert its sensing technology,

The Ypsilanti-based tech firm designs and develops microelectromechanical systems for medical and scientific sensors. Its technology (miniature, wireless, batteryless, sensing implants) can be used in a variety of ways, such as wirelessly monitoring a heart or as fluid sensors in industrial manufacturing. The new patent is part of Integrated Sensing Systems’ sensor implementation as part of a minimally-invasive procedure, such as arthroscopic surgery.

"The patent covers how you do the actual implementation," says Nader Najafi, president & CEO of Integrated Sensing Systems.

The 19-year-old company has hired four people over the last year, including three engineers and an administrative person. It now has a staff of close to 30 people and is looking to hire another three people in engineering and quality control.

Integrated Sensing Systems has experienced incremental growth over the last year, but Najafi is optimistic that 2015 should bring double-digit revenue gains. He points out that Integrated Sensing Systems technology has received government approval for a few countries in Europe, which should clear the way for more sales.

"The potential for expansion has improved dramatically for 2015," Najafi says.

Source: Nader Najafi, president & CEO of Integrated Sensing Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.
51 Automotive Articles | Page: | Show All