Ubimobility helps French startup set up shop in Michigan

Earlier this year, NAVYA, a French company specializing in autonomous electric vehicles, began manufacturing driverless shuttle buses at a plant in Saline, a small town outside of Ann Arbor.

The French company secured the 25,000-square-foot facility last summer, with help from Ann Arbor SPARK and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., but its relationship with the Great Lakes State goes back to 2015.

NAVYA was among the delegation of French startups and entrepreneurs to participate in the 2015 Ubimobility, an annual event that showcases their innovations to prospective American car manufacturers and others. Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automotive and the University of Michigan have been among the American hosts. This year’s mission, which begins in Detroit and wraps up in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, comes to the Motor City on June 3.

NAVYA’s participation in Ubimobility four years ago led to a partnership with the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center, now known as Mcity. Mcity is a U-M-led, public-private R&D center working to advanced connected and automated vehicles. The first NAVYA shuttle was introduced in North America at Mcity, where it is used for research and tours of the Mcity Test Facility. At Mcity, the university used NAVYA’s driverless shuttle buses, capable of carrying up to 15 people, for research and self-guided tours. U-M is expected to use the autonomous buses on North Campus this spring.

“As result of that relationship there became conversation about where to locate a U.S. assembly plant,” said Phil Santer, senior vice president and chief of staff for Ann Arbor SPARK. “They looked at Chicago and other places. We made the pitch for why they should be in Michigan or Ann Arbor.”

The assembly plant, which was awarded a $435,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant, represents a more than $1 million investment by NAVYA. The facility employs about 20 workers now, with an ultimate goal of creating 50 jobs.

“It’s a good location for us,” said Pierre Bourgin, NAVYA general manager. “It’s easy to find supplies and skills in this region. In this field, you either go to California or you go here, to Michigan. Both have research and development but this area also has the skills for assembly because of the auto industry.”

The expanded operations in Michigan are part of the company’s larger goal to grow in the North American market. Other manufacturing operations are in France; NAVYA autonomous shuttle buses are being used around the world.

NAVYA’s location here has been a win-win for both the French startup and southeastern Michigan’s growing mobility operations.

“The fact that we can attract an international startup in the mobility space to not only work with things like Mcity but also locate their initial U.S. assembly operation here, speaks to the strengths we really have,” Santer said.

NAVYA and its presence in southeast Michigan serve as an example of the relationships that Ubimobility can inspire, something that will not be lost on participants at next week’s activities, which include the Ubimobility Tech Showcase, open to anyone interested in learning more about the French companies.

“Ubimobility helped NAVYA understand the U.S. market,’ said Pierre-Eliott Petit, head of the NAVYA branch in the U.S. “It allowed NAVYA to meet with key players in the field of autonomous technologies in two main regions: the greater Detroit area and Silicon Valley … We can see a lot of interest coming from (U.S.) cities and transport authorities.”

The Ubimobility Tech Showcase will be held 5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, at NextEnergy Center in Detroit. To register, click HERE.
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