Spinal Column: Michigan now the proud home of premier auto show and automated vehicle testing

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

The future has come to Detroit. Over the next two weeks, the most significant and important automobile trade show in the world, the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), will display a dazzling array of cutting-edge automotive technology downtown at the Cobo Center.

This year, the NAIAS celebrates its 25th anniversary as an international event. For several decades, beginning in the early 20th century, Detroit hosted a regional auto show. In 1989, thanks to a forward-thinking group of auto dealers within the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, the show was opened to an international audience, and the NAIAS was born.

Twenty-five years later, the NAIAS has become the most prestigious auto show in the world, allowing the general public and industry experts alike access to tomorrow’s vehicles, displaying the most innovative automotive technology on the planet.

On Jan. 13 and 14, the preview of the show for the media was held. On Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 15 and 16, the NAIAS will hold the industry preview, followed by the charity preview on Friday, Jan. 17, and Saturday, Jan. 18.

Finally, the show will open to the general public from Saturday, Jan. 18 through Sunday, Jan. 26.

More than 5,000 journalists from around the world are expected to attend the NAIAS this year. The show’s impact will be felt across the globe.

As the state senator for the 15th District, representing thousands of residents who work in the automobile industry as well as countless auto manufacturing and supplier companies, I am eagerly anticipating the auto show.

This year, I have an even keener interest in the show than usual. I sponsored two measures last year to allow the testing of automated motor vehicles on Michigan roadways. Automated vehicles are capable of sensing their surroundings and navigating without human input.

Senate Bill 169 will allow automakers and upfitters to test automated motor vehicles with a human in the driver’s seat to monitor performance and intervene if necessary. SB 663 will protect original manufacturers from civil liability for damages caused by modified autonomous vehicles, unless the defect from which the damages resulted was present in the vehicle when it was manufactured.

In his 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder said he wanted to establish Michigan as a leader in automated vehicle technology to attract jobs stemming from this developing industry. I am happy to say that we are now closer to realizing this goal, as the governor recently signed both of my measures into law, as Public Acts 231 and 251 of 2013.

Last year, an automated vehicle was featured at the NAIAS. I hope to see some more of these vehicles at the show again this year.

Automated vehicles are a remarkable technology that will someday improve the lives of millions of Americans. The technology will also strengthen the economies of the states in which it is based. Michigan is now poised to become a leader among those states.

The NAIAS represents the best the automotive world has to offer. Automated vehicles are part of that cutting-edge technology. I am proud that Michigan is now home to both.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee and vice chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation. He serves the citizens of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.