As Cleveland Auto Show opens, Ohio looks to stake claim in autonomous future of the auto industry

Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-24 11:28:11-05

As the auto industry continues to transform, so too does the Cleveland Auto Show.

Gone are the days when the first Friday of the show was reserved solely for area’s auto industry workers. Starting in 2016 the show was open to everyone when it kicked off its 10-day run at 5 p.m.

Trade deals, recessions and automation all playing a role in drastically reducing what once was a major economic engine in Ohio.

Cleveland, after all, was Detroit before Detroit was Detroit. By the 1920’s the city was home to 80 car manufacturers, most of those brands though lost to the Great Depression and the impact of Henry Ford’s assembly lines.

Looking forward, though, Ohio is looking to stake its own claim to the automotive future with a just-announced $45 million investment to expand the research abilities of the Transportation Research Center and the work they’re doing with autonomous or driverless vehicles.

Located about an hour Northwest of Columbus in Marysville, Ohio, the TRC is the nation’s largest independent proving ground and automotive test facility, a 4,500-acre site that has been testing all types of vehicles for 40 years.

“Our goal is for Ohio to not be behind the curve,” said Governor John Kasich. “In other words, if you have fiber for smart highways you can put these vehicles on our roads, you can test these vehicles down in Marysville, Ohio using the latest and greatest technology, giving them a real-world opportunity to figure out what works.”

The 241-mile Ohio Turnpike is already equipped with a fiber optic network with additional fiber installed along the U.S. 33 Smart Mobility Corridor and more planned for Interstates like 270 in Columbus and 90 from Cleveland east to the Pennsylvania line.

“We have smart highways, we’re going to be able to have autonomous or self-driving vehicles, connected vehicles where the road will actually talk to the vehicle,” said Kasich.

“We will get to the day when the incidents of death and injuries on the highway, once we have these autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles, will largely be a thing of the past. That’s really exciting to think about.”

Test the vehicles in Ohio, and hopefully build them here too.

“Ford now is going to spend a lot of money on autonomous vehicles which really fits with our strategy here in the state,” said Kasich. “Chrysler is expanding up in Toledo and General Motors still has a strong presence and look at Honda, Honda is moving more and more of its facilities right into Ohio so we don’t want to say if you have an auto job somehow that’s going to go away it just may change a little bit and the workers if you talk to them they’ll tell you they’re seeing technology being implemented in the workplace, higher productivity better quality.

“We don’t need to say the auto industry is gone, thank God they’re here and thank God they see Ohio as a great partner.”