Spinal Column: Michigan’s auto sector remains strong

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Sen. Mike Kowall

Sen. Mike Kowall

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

A recent economic forecast by the University of Michigan’s Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics provides good news regarding the state of Michigan’s economy. After coming out of the “Lost Decade,” in which jobs plummeted and residents fled, Michigan has had six straight years of economic recovery, averaging more than 74,000 new jobs per year over that span. Michigan remains the Comeback State.

Throughout Michigan’s history, the auto industry has been the leading driver of the economic health of the entire state. The auto sector continues to play a significant role in our recovery.

Here are the highlights of the auto industry for 2016 from my perspective as co-chairman of the Michigan Legislative Automotive Caucus.

North American International Auto Show. The NAIAS is the most significant and important automobile trade show in the world. This year’s show will run from Jan. 9 through Jan. 24.

The show includes the kickoff event known as The Gallery (held on Saturday, Jan. 9 at the MGM Grand Detroit), showcasing a nearly $7 million collection of ultra-luxury automobiles, such as Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and Rolls Royce.

Next come the Press (11th and 12th), Industry (13th and 14th), and Charity (15th) previews. The NAIAS concludes with the Public Show, from Jan. 16 through Jan. 24. This will allow everyone to see up close and personal the future of the industry.

Renewed emphasis on smart automotive technology. Southeast Michigan has been a national leader in intelligent transportation system (ITS) technology development and testing since the 1950s. These systems use state-of-the-art sensing, communications, and data-processing technologies to solve congestion and safety issues by making existing structures more efficient. Senate Resolution 31 urges the adoption of Intelligent Transportation System technologies throughout the state and further research into vehicle communication systems.

The resolution also calls for more testing and operation surrounding another one of the emerging, high-tech segments of the industry: automated vehicles. Automated vehicles are capable of sensing their surroundings and navigating without human input. I sponsored a bill, now law, that puts Michigan in a position to be the leader in this sector. The law will help ensure that research and development expenditures and taxes related to automated vehicles stay in Michigan. It permits these vehicles on public Michigan roadways through the use of a “Manufacturer” license plate. This year I plan to introduce a bill to bring more autonomous vehicles to Michigan.

Alongside the blessings of increased automotive technology are risks associated with that technology. One such threat was exposed when writers of a technology magazine revealed that security experts were able to hack into a vehicle and disable some of its functions. That is why this year I will be introducing legislation that will increase the penalties for maliciously hacking into a vehicle’s computer technology. Under my bill, the penalty for such a crime will be the same as the penalty for carjacking. A serious crime such as hacking into a motor vehicle deserves serious consequences.

My measure also will make a distinction between “critical” and “noncritical” software systems, enable owners of vehicles to terminate the collection and retention of driving data under “Consumer Control” provisions, and put in place other consumer protections.

General Motors and Lyft. The San Francisco company Lyft provides ride sharing through its mobile application. General Motors recently invested a whopping $500 million in Lyft. In addition to making GM a preferred vehicle provider for Lyft, the partnership will result in a network of hubs in the United States where drivers can rent these vehicles. In addition, the companies plan to work together on developing their own autonomous vehicles.

I am encouraged by the latest trends in the automotive industry. Michigan remains at the forefront of this economy. With a continued emphasis on technology development and an economic environment supportive of the industry, Michigan’s future is bright.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column newsweekly. Michigan Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is co-chairman of the Michigan Legislative Automotive Caucus. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.