5:00 pm EST – Bridging the 2,400 Mile Divide

They’re 2,400 miles apart but now in the same world: developing the future of the automobile industry. That opens up opportunities for both competition and cooperation between Silicon Valley with its tech giants and Detroit’s automotive titans that were explored by AutoMobili-D panelists at the 2017 North American International Auto Show today.

The current contrast between the go-go entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley and the more traditional industrial base of the Motor City is illustrated, said Doug Neal, director of eLab, by the number and types of jobs that were advertised during the first three days of 2017. They included 511 software engineering jobs posted in San Francisco and just 197 such jobs in Detroit, as well as 31 automotive-engineering jobs in Detroit.

Jim Fish, chief innovation officer for Bosch North America, noted that “there are cultural differences” between Silicon Valley and Detroit that “have to do with the speed of change in various industries.”

Joshua Carter, co-founder and CEO of Aperia Technologies, developer of the Halo tire inflator, is based in Silcon Valley, and Aperia even does its manufacturing there.

“We’ve tried to make a bridge between Silicon Valley an Detroit,” he said, tapping into the “deep automotive expertise and hardware proficiency” in the Motor City. “That’s been crucial for us.”

For Chris Thomas, founder of Fontinalis Partners, a venture capital company that is investing in mobility companies in Michigan and elsewhere, the notion of bridging the divide between his hometown and Silicon Valley for the purposes of cooperation and for advancing the self-driving paradigm is a good idea.

But, Thomas said, “the direction [of traffic] on this bridge is very important. It’s not about geography but about talent, about manufacturing prowess versus technology and software expertise. Which one of those is easier to move?”