Auto-Related Research Benefits NAIAS Vehicles

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LANSING — Around $300 million spent on auto-related research projects over a five-year period by the three top research universities that make up Michigan’s University Research Corridor, has benefited the new vechicles at the 2013 North American International Auto Show. Many of the new vechiles run better, have been proven safer, or get better mileage.

According to the Anderson Ecomonic Group Report, commissioned by the University Research Corridor (http://urcmich.org/news/pdf/auto-sector-report.pdf), 1,400 auto-related research projects were worked on by the faculty and students at Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University from 2007 to 2011. Some was basic research, allowing innovation to happen faster, while other research involved working with specific companies and government sponsors to solve problems and assist in product development. The results made their way into some of the technology improvements on display today at the North American International Auto Show Industry Preview.

“Perhaps in no industry is the University Research Corridor’s collective power to make significant contributions in innovation and talent more evident than in the automotive industry,” said Jeff Mason, executive director. “Those efforts have helped Michigan’s auto industry surge back powerfully in recent years.”

In addition to R&D, the three University Research Corridor universities each year produce more than 3,600 science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates, bringing new talent and energy to the automotive field. Nearly 40 percent of those graduates hold advanced degrees, according to the report.

MICHauto, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s automotive accelerator for Michigan, is partnering with the University Research Corridor to highlight the advantages that the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, Michigan State University’s Composite Vehicle Research Center and Wayne State University’s Electric Drive Vehicle Engineering Labs bring to Michigan’s auto sector.

“The birthplace of the modern automobile is now a pioneer in the research and development of technology defining the 21st-century automobile, like infotainment systems, lightweight composite materials, and fuel cell and plug-in vehicles,” said Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber president and CEO. “The road to automotive innovation and cutting-edge technology runs through the heart of Michigan.”

A recently released MICHauto report, “Michigan is Auto,” points out the assets that make Michigan the nation’s top auto state. Besides the many research projects mentioned in Anderson Economic Group’s May 2012 URC auto sector report, an updated look at the projects URC researchers are tackling include examining seat belt use, how carbon-fiber composite materials hold up in crashes and how corn sugars can be better converted into biofuels.

Rob Luce, project manager of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MICHauto initiative, was part of the North American International Auto Show tours University Research Corridor researchers offered Thursday showing reporters the North American International Auto Show vehicles related to University Research Corridor research projects. The tours were led by Jerry Ku, director of Wayne State University Electric-drive Engineering and co-director of Alternative Energy Technology; Bruce Belzowski, an auto industry expert with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute; and Peter Sweatman, director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and an auto safety expert.

“It’s exciting to see the research we do make a difference,” said Ku. His research focuses on thermal management of electric-drive vehicle battery packs and powertrains, as well as on studying the characteristics of alternative vehicle energy efficiency and emissions.

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