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Detroit 'cannot coexist with Silicon Valley'

Detroit

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The auto industry has come a long way in its relationship with Silicon Valley. In the past few years, Detroit has gone from struggling to understand app stores to striking partnerships with tech companies. Our former staff reporter in Silicon Valley, Gabe Nelson, described the evolved relationship as "frenemies."

But Matt Simoncini, CEO of Lear Corp., still has his gripes.

"We cannot coexist with Silicon Valley," said Simoncini Wednesday at the Technology in Motion conference, sponsored in part by Automotive News publisher Crain Communications Inc., in Detroit. "This is our birthright, and we cannot let other countries, cities, states take away what is rightfully ours."

Fiery words from the chief executive of a seating manufacturer with big connected ambitions. What's strange is his tone seemed at odds with his comments last month at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich. I chatted with Simoncini after his talk to understand the disconnect.

"I think there's going to be collaboration with tech firms," Simoncini told me. "But what I don't like to see is automotive companies automatically defaulting and setting up bases in Silicon Valley to get access to engineers. I think the engineers should come here, and I think we have the capability to bring them here."

Of course, Simoncini is using "Silicon Valley" symbolically, but he earlier pointed out that carmakers are setting up labs in tech hubs such as Tel Aviv as well.

Simoncini's stance is clearly rooted in a pride and love for his hometown. And back when the auto industry was one of the dominant industries in the nation, Detroit had the power to make companies come to Michigan to set up offices here.

But the world has changed. Software and coding have globalized innovation in a way that is distinctly different from the auto industry of the past.

Executives concerned about the best minds in the industry choosing to reside elsewhere should perhaps consider structures that allow more flexibility, not less. Exchange programs, location-specific r&d, and multidisciplinary, collaborative work groups would go a long way to breaking down silos and stereotypes.

It might be a stretch to ask Palo Alto natives to embrace Michigan winters permanently, but offering opportunities to enjoy the state's craft beer, explore the state's factories and understand the long history of autos here might help them appreciate the Mitten better, and strengthen company culture in the process.

— Shiraz Ahmed

What you need to know

Self-driving vehicles are having a big week in Washington. The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill Wednesday intended to accelerate deployment of autonomous vehicles. The legislation, which must now pass the Senate, allows manufacturers to operate up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting safety standards in the first year it is enacted. The limit rises to 100,000 vehicles each year for the next three years. The bill also requires automakers to report vehicle safety assessments to regulators, though no premarket approval of vehicle technology would be required.

The pending legislation, which does not include large trucks, faces challenges from consumer advocacy groups that contend that it does not include enough consumer protections. A group of senators has been drafting competing legislation, which Reuters reports could be released this week. The new bill is also reported to include requirements for autonomous trucking.

Reuters also reported that U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will announce revised guidelines for autonomous vehicles on Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Lyft and Drive.ai, a startup developing artificial intelligence for self-driving vehicles, said Thursday they are partnering on an autonomous ride-hailing pilot in the Bay Area. The announcement adds Drive.ai to a long list of Lyft partners, which includes NuTonomy, Waymo and General Motors.

Daimler is investing in mobility services like they're going out of style. The German automaker led a $250 million funding round for Israeli carpooling startup Via and led a $92 million investment round in peer-to-peer car-sharing startup Turo. Also, flying cars are still hot.

A look at the Chinese wunderkind behind on-demand van hire venture GoGoVan, Hong Kong's first $1 billion startup. The founders of the now defunct food delivery startup Take Eat Easy announced their foray into mobility with Cowboy, an electric bike company.

Let's get ready to rumble.

One San Francisco official is pushing back on the city's rush to automation, proposing a statewide tax on robots that would replace human workers. On the other side of the country, Uber and Lyft drivers in Philadelphia called for stricter ride-hailing regulations, claiming growing competition is leading to shrinking wages.

AI can't be so bad if this is the face behind it. Photo credit: Screen grab

Fragments

When you're a beauty who works with artificial brains

Firefox cofounder takes a part-time job at Uber.

In case you weren't already confused by the Alphabet/Google naming structure, it just became more complex.

Larry Page has a sweet side hustle.

Self-driving vehicles find a new home in California's old military facilities.

Break open your piggy bank. Tesla discounted its top-line Model S and Model X vehicles.

Photo credit: Via Twitter user

Example 678 showing the ways humans will mess with self-driving cars

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You can reach Shiraz Ahmed at sahmed@crain.com

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