Huge changes are underway in the automotive industry as autonomous vehicles get closer to becoming reality, forcing manufacturers and suppliers to rethink their growth strategy. Cosworth, a 60-year-old company based in the United Kingdom that has historically made high-performance racing engines, is no exception, says CEO Hal Reisiger.

Late last month, Cosworth unveiled its new advanced manufacturing center in Shelby Township, MI, which will also serve as its North American headquarters. Upon completion, the $50 million facility will focus on electronic and powertrain components, sensors, engineering software, and hybrid engine technologies.

“We have, over the past five years, developed a new strategy aligning our brand and core competencies with innovation,” Reisiger explains. “That led us to technology development and expansion.”

Reisiger says the company, which has 430 employees worldwide, chose to locate its new manufacturing center in metro Detroit because of the region’s deep ties to the auto industry. Cosworth also considered sites in Indiana, Tennessee, and Silicon Valley, he says.

“You need to have some proximity to your customer base,” he says. “You also need high-caliber employees, so we looked at university programs, and quality and cost of living. And we got some support from local and state government on training and recruiting.”

Thirty employees currently work in Shelby Township, and Reisiger expects that number to increase to more than 100 once the facility is running at full speed later this year.

“We’ve invested significantly in automation, so our headcount works differently,” he adds. “In the past, making about 50,000 parts per year required 80-plus employees, but now we can do it with seven people.”

Reisiger says Cosworth is currently putting its attention toward designing and developing sensor software and technologies for “perception modules,” which will only become more important in the age of mobility because self-driving cars need sensors to see. The company is building on AliveDrive, its patent-pending system that synchronizes high definition video and audio with data from the vehicle’s internal operating network.

“Everything that happens in a car today is all about sensors and software,” he points out. “We have decades of experience with motorsports software and sensors, which gives us a strong platform for autonomous vehicles.”

Cosworth has changed owners several times over the decades. It was sold to Ford in 1988, and in 2004, Ford sold it to its current owners, the Cosworth Group. Reisiger says that in the future, Cosworth may cautiously follow in the footsteps of other Tier 1 suppliers by acquiring smaller startups for their technical capabilities.

“We have a couple of different options, and we’ve seen that a lot of those investments don’t produce the intended results, so we want to be careful,” he says. “We have partnerships with sensor companies that don’t require acquisition as well as intellectual property investments [in other companies]. It’s not part of our business practice to pay extraordinary valuations for immature technology.”

Nevertheless, Reisiger says Cosworth sees its future revolving around the new Michigan facility, R&D, and developing its own sensor systems in-house.

“We have goals and plans that we’re executing,” he says. “We want to make sure we’re successful here before the next step of expanding our footprint in Asia.”

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