Skip navigation
Mcity Demo
With American Center for Mobility and Mcity, Michigan has most advanced testing center for autonomous vehicles in world.

PlanetM Focuses on Auto Interiors and UX

Michigan’s PlanetM’s goal is to land new business in the emerging auto-tech industry. The plan is to foster innovation and support companies redefining the in-car experience.

It goes without saying: You must be on the inside to understand interiors.

For companies designing and manufacturing vehicle interiors, where else to see first-hand the future of automotive insides than the renowned place that put the world on wheels.

These days, changes are transforming the automotive industry. With the worldwide emergence of autonomous-vehicle technology, Michigan is recognized globally as a leader in the latest transportation revolution.

Collectively, Michigan’s strategic and entrepreneurial initiatives are referred to as PlanetM. Think of “M” as Michigan, mobility and motivation. Essentially, Michigan not only offers the R&D network and proximity to automakers, PlanetM also reflects the state of mind, strategic initiatives and entrepreneurial promise of the mobility age.

When a business “lands” on PlanetM, they have access to grants, key industry contacts, expert advice and a front-row seat to breakthrough initiatives. Further, as a resident on PlanetM, businesses are near the greatest collection of research and development and autonomous-vehicle testing facilities in the automotive industry.

Indeed, more than three-quarters of all automotive-related research is conducted in Michigan. And, with the American Center for Mobility located at Willow Run and Mcity in Ann Arbor, Michigan has the most advanced testing and certification center for autonomous vehicles in the world.

At Wards conferences, connections are made among automakers, suppliers and entrepreneurs with ideas that are remaking the future of automotive interiors, including those that will augment the autonomous-driving experience. With sales of connected-vehicle technology predicted to increase as much as threefold (to $137 billion) by 2021, there’s a pressing need for businesses to locate strategically and build on relationships that will determine their opportunities in the unfolding automotive market.

In October 2017, PlanetM hosted its first matchmaking session at the Wards User Experience (UX) Conference. The matchmaking provided one-on-one, pre-qualified meetings between major automotive companies and emerging startups with next-generation technologies. Dr. Gerald Cohen from SofTrek, a Michigan company innovating human-machine interface using sense of touch technologies, participated in last fall’s matchmaker event. Cohen had “three good meetings, three good follow-ups. From those meetings, we’re making great contacts, and hearing directly from industry experts has helped us learn and opened doors,” Cohen says.

Endorsements of the matchmaking sessions come from other participants as well:

“During the PlanetM Match Meetings at the Wards UX Conference in 2017, our teams were exposed to a refreshingly talented, local mobility designer and innovator. PlanetM provided a trusting environment for speedy, no-nonsense meetings with tech providers,” says Jing Zhang, Uconnect Human Interface Lead, FCA.

“I participated in the Match Meetings at the 2017 Wards UX Conference as both a tech provider and tech seeker, and the experience was fantastic. Brief, concise meetings allowed me to open doors that I would otherwise not have been exposed to,” says Jeff Kenzie, Business Development Manager USA East, Motherson Innovations.

Another example of collaboration between global automotive pioneers and Michigan startups is the recent partnership between Faurecia and Traverse City-based startup Promethient. Thermavance, the early-stage startups’ new product, advances the science behind heating and cooling vehicle occupants. After making an inroad with France-based Faurecia, the sixth-largest auto supplier in the world, Promethient participated in the PlanetM Match Meetings at Wards UX to accelerate customer connections.

“These meetings provide us the exposure needed to land important partnerships,” says Bill Myers, Promethient’s CEO.

Announced in May, funding from Faurecia allows Promethient to ramp up product development and marketing and provides increased publicity. The partnership also allows Promethient to sell to other automakers and suppliers, which opens more partnership opportunities for the company.

Building on the connections made at the Wards UX Conference in 2017, PlanetM held Match Meetings at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference in May. Ford, GM, Toyota, FCA, Continental, Faurecia, Inteva, Autoliv, Motherson Innovations and other automotive pioneers met with emerging Michigan-based companies focused on the in-car experience and with global startups. In total, about 125 prescheduled meetings were facilitated.

In ongoing transportation transformation, the design and utility of interiors is being reshaped to fit demands of the new driving experience and technological prerequisites. There’s little doubt innovation and collaboration are critical ingredients for automotive interior companies as they navigate through the fast changes ahead.

Charlie Tyson is the Project Manager of PlanetM, a program of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC). PlanetM’s focus is to position Michigan as the global leader in mobility advancements and opportunities through testing and deployment programs, startup and investor support, and asset and partner coordination.To learn more about PlanetM, including pilot and testing grants, PlanetM’s collaborative office space, the Landing Zone, and other opportunities for global mobility companies to tap into, please visit

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.