Science & Tech

Electric Switch
Alan Taub ’76 hopes to turn Motor City into E-Motor City.

By Michael Blanding / January–March 2024
January 23rd, 2024
Illustration by Adam McCauley of two cars with the earth between them as tires.

Could Detroit become the center of innovation for new transportation technology? “In the early 1900s, southeast Michigan was the Silicon Valley of the U.S.—it was just full of startups,” says Alan Taub ’76, director of the new University of Michigan Electric Vehicle Center in Ann Arbor. “A century later, we’re not just reinventing the vehicle, we’re reinventing the whole idea of mobility.”

A $130 million state grant will allow the center to run a workforce initiative to train and retrain electric vehicle (EV) autoworkers; a research and development program with carmakers; and a $60 million lab to build next-gen batteries. “For a long time in the industry, we’ve known that an electric vehicle is a better vehicle,” says Taub, who spent nearly 20 years with Ford and General Motors—where he was VP of Global R&D—before joining Michigan as an engineering professor in 2012. The challenges: bringing down cost and creating a fast-charging battery that can last the life of the vehicle. “I personally believe that by the end of the decade, we will be at the point where the cost of ownership of an electric vehicle will be less than that of an internal combustion engine vehicle,” he says.

At Brown, Taub was inspired by a class on failure analysis with Professor Sheldon White, an executive at Texas Instruments: “What really impressed me was the combination of an industrial background with a deep-science approach.” After earning a PhD in applied physics at Harvard, he helped create batteries allowing MRIs to be used for surgery at General Electric and took a leadership training course with the legendary Jack Welch.

At GM, he spearheaded development of lighter materials; at Michigan, he led a government-funded center on new materials and worked on carbon-neutral materials using plant fibers. He hopes the new center will not only speed EV development but also spur a new automotive innovation ecosystem: “We’re making the transition from Motor City to E-Motor City.”

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