Shifting Gears
Global Traveler|December 2020
Detroit pivots to next-generation mobility and other new industries.
TERESA BITLER

When Detroit filed the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in 2013, many speculated it might never recover. After all, the wealthiest city per capita in the United States in the 1950s had already lost many of its jobs when the auto industry relocated to the suburbs decades earlier, and its population dropped from 1.8 million at its peak to roughly 667,000 today.

The 11 counties of the Detroit Region have had a bumpy ride, too, in recent decades. NAFTA drove many of the region’s manufacturing jobs out of the country while automation eliminated others altogether. Then the Great Recession hit, and demand for new cars flatlined.

By the time the economy began to recover, the auto industry faced a new challenge: Technology was already starting to make traditional cars, trucks and SUVs obsolete. Additionally, many consumers in high-density cities didn’t want to own a vehicle at all, and those who did increasingly wanted electric vehicles.

Detroit and the surrounding region saw an opportunity, though, and pivoted their focus to next-generation mobility in a move that just may put the Detroit region back on top.

Next-generation mobility uses autonomous, connected, electrified and shared vehicles to move people and goods. The ultimate goal? Reduce pollution and congestion while making driving safer. For example, in the future a self-driving electric car might take you to the airport, or your car, connected to the cloud, might warn you it’s unsafe to enter an intersection.

“The auto industry is going through a significant transformation,” said Glenn Stevens, Jr., executive director, MICHauto, and vice president, automotive and mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber. “It’s transitioning from automobile companies to technology companies.”

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