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Automotive is rediscovering California

Discounted for decades as an expensive and regulation-ridden location for automotive production and supply chains, Southern California’s auto industry is rebounding as state and local officials parlay the region’s innovation and diverse talent pool.

State, county and local officials are nurturing a new style of transportation manufacturing—lighter, more flexible and smaller-scale – that draws on targeted incentives and a broad talent pool with skills borrowed from aerospace and other industries.

Southern California has become a nexus for all types of electric and autonomous vehicles, says Lawren Markle, spokesman for the Advanced Transportation Center of Southern California.

“It’s a new industry cluster of specialized manufacturers, suppliers and engineering and computer companies,” he says. “If you want electric buses to replace diesels, this is where you come. Same thing for autonomous vehicles.”

Six LA electric bus makers – BYD, EBus, Proterra, U.S. Hybrid, Trams International and Complete Coachworks -- have a large local EV market, but also export to other states and countries.

The state, along with regional air quality management districts, counties and individual cities, are funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in annual assistance to companies as cash awards, grants or funding for job training and infrastructure. The state just awarded $24 million to five air districts for a pilot using 43 zero-emission heavy trucks to haul cargo from ports to warehouses.

“The critical factor was talent,” says Michael Patterson, CEO of Vernon, Calif., startup battery-maker Romeo Power. “We could only get the high-tech skills and personnel we needed here in Southern California.”

You can reach Jesse Snyder at jsnyder@crain.com -- Follow Jesse on Twitter: https://twitter.com/spartyjesse

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