Weekly analysis, news and randomness from the future of transportation.
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