Mobility Moments Podcast: Sen. Mallory McMorrow, Michigan Automotive Caucus

Driven - Mobility Moments Podcast: Senator Mallory McMorrow

Welcome to Driven's Mobility Moments podcast, where we talk with the people building and supporting the mobility ecosystem in the Detroit region.

Today, I'm talking with Michigan Senator Mallory McMorrow about her role in the Michigan Automotive Caucus, what she's learned as the owner of a plug-in electric vehicle, and how she's working to blanket the state with a robust EV charging infrastructure to make Michigan the first fully-networked state in the nation. I'm your host, Claire Charlton.

Michigan Senator Mallory McMorrow, welcome to Driven's Mobility Moments podcast. I'm so glad that you could join me today.

Thank you so much for having me.

Now, Senator, you are the co-chair of the Michigan Automotive Caucus. What is that? Let's talk about it and what it achieves.

Yeah, so the Automotive Caucus, it's a bipartisan, bicameral group, so there's a Democratic and Republican member in both the House and the Senate who co-chair it. We're really focused on anything related to the auto industry. It is our signature industry as a state, so we get together to talk about the industry, to have events, to go on tours, and to focus on legislation that will continue our industry moving forward.

You are the champion of a four-bill package that's specifically related to electric vehicles, and vehicle charging, that's going through state legislature right now. Can we talk about what those are and what they intend to achieve?

Absolutely. I will say, I've been in the legislature now for six months, but I've got more than a decade-long career in and around the auto industry, so I started as a car designer, was a writer for Road & Track for some time, was a creative director over at Jalopnik and the Gawker Media Network and have owned consultancy that consulted with OEMs around design trends, advanced technology, and alternative propulsion systems. So this was really in my wheelhouse and something that I wanted to tackle if I were to be elected. So knowing that, I bought an all-electric Chevy Bolt a year and a half ago, to be the guinea pig of it. I am somebody, I'm an industrial designer, I believe you've got to test something out. It's not just looking at where chargers are on paper.

So for the past year and a half, just about every week I've run into an issue. I don't have a level two charger at home, so I drive back and forth to Lansing and rely very heavily on our public vehicle charging infrastructure. Chargers are mismarked, chargers are not where they say they are, chargers are broken. There was an incident where I tend to stay at a hotel in Lansing when I'm there that does have a charger, but their charger broke, and the company that owns and operates it went out of business.

Yeah, the hotel let me know, "Oh, don't worry about it. There's chargers out in the parking lot." So I drive out there, only to see 10 Tesla chargers, which uses a different connector than the rest of the industry.

It's a lot of trial and error. I really look at this is as, this is our signature industry and to your point, it is changing more rapidly than ever before. If we are going to continue to compete ... I mean, we know we can engineer, design, and build the next generation of vehicles, but if we don't have the infrastructure in place to get around with them, we're not going to attract the talent, and we're not going to be able to sell these vehicles. I think, if we don't do it we're going to get left behind by Silicon Valley, by China. So it was really important to me that we have the infrastructure in place, because I firmly believe if you build it, they will come.

So that's what these particular bills are aimed at increasing, is the infrastructure of chargers.

Exactly. Yeah, so it's a four bill package. The grand idea being, I would love to see Michigan as the first fully networked state in the country. States like California have done some good work, Maryland has a pretty aggressive electric vehicle charging piece of legislature to install 5,000 new chargers. But, it's really, how do we make sure that the network is robust? When you hop into your normal gas-powered car, you're not worried about if you're going to make it. You know there's going to be a gas station where you can stop. So we want to make sure that the chargers are placed strategically, and this four bill package does a number of things.

Number one, it creates an electric vehicle council that would be tasked with coming up with that plan, so that it is a cohesive plan, it's not ad hoc like it is now. There is a bill that would allow state parks to install and lease out a space for chargers and collect that revenue to go back into state parks. Another similar bill for park and rides, and finally an incentive bill to allow small businesses, think restaurants, retail, hotels, really family-owned businesses, to be able to install a charger. And, for multi-family dwellings as well. So that it's not just the early adopters, the people who are living in apartments can take a look at electric vehicles as well.

So is there a timeframe that you would like to see, if you could wave the magic wand, is there a timeframe that you'd like to see a robust infrastructure across the state of Michigan?

Yeah, I mean, the ideal timeline, we introduce these bills, I'd love for them to move through committee in the fall. Then, we've got to get going on it, because the rest of the industry and the rest of the world is not waiting for us, and I would like to see some form of a fully networked state by 2025.

Oh, wow. Okay. Let's talk about the focus, any other additional focus that the Caucus, and other work that you do individually, to help elevate Michigan as a leader in next generation auto mobility, what else is in the pipeline?

I think a lot of it is education too. It was interesting, I've been traveling quite a bit for some legislative programs and was talking to somebody from out of state who said they had visited Michigan once and said that they were really surprised that we have a lot of engineering talent there. I think that's a misconception that the rest of the country has about us. We are the home of the auto industry, we had people flock to Michigan from all over the world to take part in our initial boom, kind of in the post-war era. But, since then, I think there is that misconception that we're not innovative, and I think that has to change. We have so much design and engineering talent, and we have so much creativity, and we can build it.

I mean, we have the entire lifecycle of a product design through shipping all over the world. That happens here. So a huge part of my focus, and the focus of the Caucus is how do we take that brand back and continue to attract that talent. I'm the youngest member of the Senate, and I'm also somebody not originally from Michigan. I moved here by choice after living and working all over the country. I think that's crucial, that when we've got young talent who are looking at where they want to be, we're not only keeping Michiganders, we're attracting people from all over the world to take part in this industry.

Let's talk a little bit about what message you think Michigan needs to send, or continue sending, to help mobility companies recognize our state as really a great choice for their mobility businesses, or talent.

It's exactly to your point. I think from the outside world, I think Detroit and metro Detroit is still kind of holed up in what the auto industry used to be. That we're really good at making pickup trucks, we're really good at making SUVs. But, when you think about who's leading in the mobility space, people often default to the Silicon Valleys of the world.

So I think really reframing that and sharing everything that's here, and I think, as we've seen from some of the companies who maybe aren't based in Michigan, they're learning how hard it is to make a car. So the fact that we can do all of it, we know how to build a car better than anybody else. But, we do have that design and innovation and engineering talent here as well, so I think making sure we message out that we are pivoting along with the industry, we're keeping up.

It's not the auto industry as it used to be, and I think you see all of our major automakers investing in what the future of mobility looks like, between autonomous vehicles, bike sharing, scooter sharing, all these things are happening. It's just how do we message that out to the rest of the country. I've been talking to some people from around the country who look at Pure Michigan as the best tourism campaign, I think, nationwide. What is the equivalent of that for us on the talent end of this in innovation?

Oh yeah, oh, so many possibilities.


Is there anything else that you'd like people to know about the work that you are doing to help project Michigan forward in that next wave of automobility?

Yeah, I think that from a legislative standpoint, part of the reason that I ran, and I was a first-time candidate and I'm a new legislator, I think trying to change how we communicate with the public and making it a more creative and collaborative process. I think people get very, very frustrated with politics. I had a lot of friends asking me, "How could you possibly want to get in to this space when we're more divided than ever?" But, we leverage social media, we leverage a lot of live events, video, and try to make it more interactive, which is something that, we as industrial designers in my old career do. That it's centered on focus groups, on surveys, on collaborative teamwork where you feel like you're creating something together. So that's what I'm hoping to do in the legislature and through this Caucus as well, so that the more people we bring in on the conversation, the more creative ideas we're going to have that brings everybody along together. So I think it's a really exciting time, and I'm excited to be a part of it.

Senator McMorrow, I'm really glad to have had the opportunity to speak with you today. So thank you so much for talking with me, and I'm really excited to see that creativity moving forward.

Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity.


Thanks so much for joining us for this episode of Driven's Mobility Moments Podcast. Interested in learning more about mobility entrepreneurs in the Detroit region? Check out Driven's Startup Spotlight Podcast, and all the news about how the Detroit region leads in next generation mobility. You'll find this and a lot more at Driven, Sign up for Driven's newsletter and it will all come directly to you.

I'm Claire Charlton, talk to you soon.

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