Battery giant finds talent, resources in Metro Detroit for planned expansion

German battery system manufacturer AKASOL took a deep dive into 300 potential communities across the United States for its new manufacturing facility, only to settle down right in Roy M. Schulde’s hometown state.

Schulde, the president of AKASOL’s North American subsidiary, grew up downriver, attended Michigan universities and worked for automotive and manufacturing companies, including Ford Motor Company, before joining AKASOL in October 2018. One of his first tasks was helped the battery tech giant decide where to open its North American operations.

As part of the vetting process, Schule set out to find a coworking space where he could meet people and “get plugged in” to Michigan’s e-mobility ecosystem, Schulde said. His research led him to the PlanetM Landing Zone, a coworking space for mobility startups and a partnership between the Detroit Regional Chamber and Michigan Economic Development Corp., in downtown Detroit.

Working alongside major stakeholders in automotive technology, autonomous vehicles, and other startups at the PlanetM Landing Zone gave Schulde a sense of what AKASOL could expect if it found a home in Michigan. AKASOL develops and manufactures high-performance lithium-ion battery systems for buses, commercial vehicles, trains, industrial vehicles, and the marine sector.

“We have ambitious growth plans for the region,” Schulde said. “Our unrivaled battery expertise from cell to module to system levels, coupled with our experience positions AKASOL as a market leader in commercial vehicle battery systems. The Michigan site will help accelerate our dynamic expansion strategy.”

After working with a consultant and reviewing more than 300 possibilities, four finalists stood out, Schulde said. Michigan and Metro Detroit ultimately won for not only its access to Tier One suppliers, OEMs, and manufacturing might, but also for its employee talent pool, welcoming atmosphere and connections within the mobility space, Schule said.

“The main reason to select Michigan is the talent here,” Schulde said. “No other area of the country has the concentration of employees who are involved in the automotive and manufacturing industries like Metro Detroit.… the level of expertise and access to a quality local workforce is second to none.”

AKASOL will open its new Hazel Park location in early 2020 with plans on production and delivery of battery systems by mid-year, Schule said. The facility will create an estimated 200 jobs over the next five years as AKASOL pursues “ambitious growth plans” for the region, he added.

Having the support of organizations including the Detroit Regional Partnership, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the state of Michigan in working with AKASOL to select the state as its new North American home was essential, Schulde added. 

“There’s been a lot of activity (in Michigan) specifically centered on e-mobility – there is ongoing investment from companies such as Ford and Waymo as well as other startups in the area like Rivian,” Schulde said. “These are companies really geared toward the future and the industries we also are interested in as a business. … It’s a great fit.”

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