Joint efforts between the University and alternative energy researchers may be the solution to Michigan’s troubled automobile industry and economy — as evidenced by a recent symposium held at the Ross School of Business.
Nearly 200 students gathered in Blau Auditorium for the sixth annual economic symposium hosted by business fraternity Phi Chi Theta. The event included speeches from Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president for research, Tim Grewe, chief engineer for General Motors’s hybrid powertrain, and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.).
The event, which had the theme “Econ and the Environment,” focused on alternative energy and its implementation to improve Michigan’s economy. Though the topic has only recently gained major prominence in research and politics, according to Forrest, the University has been involved in alternative energy research for decades.
“We were the first University in the United States to have a formal nuclear reactor,” Forrest said, citing the Ford Nuclear Reactor facility that began operating in 1957.
Forrest stressed the importance of University researchers partnering with industry leaders, adding that the North Campus Research Complex — a 28-building complex formerly owned by Pfizer Inc. — is a great starting point.
“The North Campus Research Complex is a place where we can do this combination of research, where we bring University teams together and industry and government partners,” Forrest said.
Stabenow is one of the government officials who is actively making an effort to establish alternative energy in the state, Forrest said.
At the event, Stabenow said Michigan has the tools to take advantage of the green revolution, given the state’s ties with the automobile industry.
“We have some of the very best engineers in the world in Michigan, supported by our wonderful universities,” Stabenow said.
Stabenow said she believes that new alternative energy technology will generate new jobs and industries in the state and will successfully boost Michigan’s economy.
“There are 8,000 parts in a wind turbine,” Stabenow said. “We can manufacture every one of those parts here in Michigan.”
Stabenow also emphasized the importance of producing this technology domestically.
“Creating this wonderful new technology is important, but it’s also important where it’s made,” Stabenow said. “If (this green revolution) happens in America, as it should, we will benefit in Michigan.”
Grewe said his company, General Motors, has realized the importance of getting ahead in the global market when it comes to alternative energy. Its newest electric vehicle — the Chevy Volt — will be revolutionary in the realm of electric cars, he added.
“This is really true. You are living a reality, everything Senator Stabenow said, you are about to see how it was brought to Michigan,” Grewe said.
Grewe said there has been speculation surrounding the efficiency of electric cars, noting that owners who forget to plug in their electric automobile will need to wait four hours until it is completely charged. With the Volt, Grewe said, owners won’t have to wait due to the car’s new on-board generator technology.
“You have 40 or 50 miles of electric and after that, you don’t have to wait for it to recharge,” he said. “You aren’t held hostage by electricity.”
Grewe added that because electricity is less expensive than gasoline, owners of electric cars will end up paying the equivalent of only 2 to 3 cents per mile.
Echoing Stabenow’s sentiments concerning domestic manufacturing, Grewe said the Volt epitomizes Michigan’s ability to sustain its automobile industry and embrace new technology.
“It took so many diverse technologies and diverse trades to make this car happen,” he said. “Very few companies can do it. Michigan can do it.”
Grewe, who brought with him three models of the Volt, said in an interview after the event that feedback surrounding the car has been overwhelmingly positive. In line with Grewe’s statement, audience members raced outside to see the cars after the presentation.
Business School sophomore Simon Qin, who attended the symposium, said he was extremely impressed by the Chevy Volt, adding that he believes it may be one catalyst in improving Michigan’s economy.
“There really aren’t any competitors,” Qin said. “Plus, this car looks better than anything that comes close, hands down.”
At the end of his presentation, Grewe hinted that the Volt is just the beginning of the auto industry taking advantage of alternative energy technology.
“I can’t even tell you what we’re doing next,” Grewe said. “It’s going to be great.”