General Motors
Buick Wildcat EV

So that Happened: Free Tech School Tuition, Charging Station Manufacturing in Michigan, Changes to the IW U.S. 500

June 15, 2022
IndustryWeek editors offer a look into vehicle electrification, broad changes to manufacturing markets and efforts to train workers to fill critical job openings.

Editor’s note: Welcome to So That Happened, our editors’ takes on things going on in the manufacturing world that deserve some extra attention. This will appear regularly in the Member’s Only section of the site.

Buick Going All Electric?

Buick, a General Motors brand that barely survived the culling that killed off Saturn and Pontiac in 2009, has gone from a nameplate that offered huge sedans to very old buyers to one that offers crossovers of different sizes to suburban families. That shift has dramatically lowered the age of the average Buick buyer from nearly 60 to the mid-40s by some estimates. However, the brand hasn’t been seen as cool, young or forward looking in generations.

GM is hoping to change that by making Buick an all-electric brand by 2030.

Buick EVs will all carry the Electra name, a vehicle GM dropped in 1990, the first of which will hit the market in 2024. On the cosmetic side of things, all new Buicks will feature a new logo. Instead of grouping small red, white and blue badges within a circle, GM will place three small badge logos side-by-side on the cars.

The Electra future announcement came with a look at what new Buicks almost certainly won’t look like, the Wildcat EV concept car. First off, Buick hasn’t sold a car of any type since it discontinued the 2020 Regal, an Opel-produced car that it had been importing from Europe (GM’s decision to sell Opel to Peugeot-Citroen, now part of Stellantis, killed off the last vestiges of Buick car production). Even if the company wanted to get back into cars by 2024, it seems unlikely that a two-door sportscar-inspired EV would feel like a good fit in a Buick showroom next to Enclave and Envision crossovers.

Or, could this be a the start of a true renaissance at Buick? Could this be the first step to making the brand cool and relevant to buyers outside of China where it has long been popular? That’s what the company says it’s trying to do with the all-EV approach and new designs.

“Our forthcoming products will adopt a new design language that emphasizes a sleek, dynamic and forward-looking appearance,” said Sharon Gauci, executive director, Global Buick and GMC Design. “Our exteriors will incorporate fluid movements that contrast with tension to convey motion. Interiors will balance modern design, new technologies and attention to detail to evoke warmth and a rich sensory experience.”

Robert Schoenberger

 Turns Out There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Well at least free tuition, but I would argue that free tuition is infinitely better than a free lunch. What’s the old saying about teaching someone to fish rather than giving them a fish?

So, on May 23, the Wayne County Community College District (WCCD) based in Detroit, announced a program called Rocket2Work. This program is aimed at getting more people to work in the skilled trades as unemployment numbers in Southeast Michigan are nearly double the national average of 3.6%, according to the college. The WCCD is very large with nearly 70,000 students annually across 32 cities and townships

“Our Rocket2Work initiative is aimed at removing the friction points in connecting students with the skills and knowledge they need to grow a well-paying career with employers that have open opportunities,” said WCCCD Chancellor Dr. Curtis L. Ivery, in a statement. “We know that if we can make that connection successfully, the student will benefit, the organization will benefit, and our region will benefit and thrive.”

As a recent Deloitte study showed both the perception and the reality of finding financing specifically for skills trade programs and certificates is something that has been holding potential employees back.  So free tuition for a program in advanced manufacturing and mechatronics, as well as other areas, should certainly help change some minds.

“This powerful initiative will encourage more southeast Michigan residents to take the leap and fast-track their start to a new, high paying career, while building the skilled labor force that we have in our own backyard. It is a win-win initiative,” noted Ivery.

Adrienne Selko 

Charging into Michigan

Electric vehicle (EV) charging network operator FLO plans to build an EV charger manufacturing facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan, near automaker Stellantis’ U.S. headquarters. As FLO’s first U.S. manufacturing facility, the $3 million investment is expected to create 133 jobs in 2023.

“As we look toward growing our economy, investing in our workforce, and creating good-paying jobs, we know the importance of leading the transition to electric vehicles. FLO’s presence in Oakland County builds on our tradition of automotive manufacturing with an eye toward our electrified future,” Michigan Gov. Whitmer said. The announcement comes after several other initiatives to advance the state’s mobility ecosystem.

FLO expects to produce 250,000 EV chargers by 2028 for the U.S. market and will receive an $800,000 Michigan Business Development Program grant for the project.

“The opening of this U.S. facility marks a new chapter in FLO’s efforts to support EV adoption across North America,” FLO President and CEO Louis Tremblay said.

Anna Smith 

500 Reasons to Read

IndustryWeek’s annual IW U.S. 500 list of the largest publicly traded manufacturing companies in the country is always a monumental task, but we decided to make it tougher this year by collecting the data and sorting it entirely in-house instead of using partners as we’d done in the past.

On one hand, that gave us the opportunity to comb through the entries and ask whether or not certain companies fit. Video game producers, for example, had been on the list for years as they had traditionally printed manuals, burned CD or DVD discs of the games and distributed those boxed materials to customers, much like other manufacturers. However, for nearly a decade, the overwhelming majority of such games have been distributed digitally, and companies typically outsource the tiny amount of printing and packaging left.

We also included a handful of manufacturing equipment distributors that we’d excluded in the past. Companies such as Applied Industrial Technologies primarily stock and sell items made by manufacturers already on our list, but several have subsidiaries that produce specific components. On a case-by-case basis, we determined if those subsidiary activities were large enough to qualify a distributor as a manufacturer as well.

Click here to read our analysis of the list—big changes this year included a massive increase in petroleum company sales and profitability and strong increases in the metals and wood sectors. Or, click here to examine the list of companies without commentary. Finally, if you just want to download a PDF of the list, you can get that here.

If you feel there are other companies that should be included or think we’ve overstepped and added companies that don’t belong, please drop me a note.

Robert Schoenberger

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