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January 21, 2009 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-01-21

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GREASINGTHE WHEELS
The Detroit Three used to be big-time benefactors to the University. But needing a technological edge in the face of
economic uncertainty, automakers are looking to the school for more than good will.

As difficult as it might be
to imagine today, there was a
time when people worried the
domestic auto industry was giv-
ing the University of Michigan
too much money.
It was 1923, less than two
decades after the founding of the
Ford Motor Company, and the
pioneers of Michigan's booming
automotive industry had already
begun pouring money into their
state's flagship university.
Upton Sinclair, an eminent
muckraking journalist of the
day, nicknamed the University
of Michigan "the University of
Automobiles" - suggesting that
the influence of the auto indus-
try could corrupt the academic
independence of the University.
"The University of Michigan
is another of these huge educa-
tional department stores," he
wrote, "a by-product of the sud-
den prosperity of the automobile
business."
Indeed, two of Ford's initial
shareholders, James Couzens
and Horace Rackham, were two
of the University's biggest bene-
factors.
Couzens gave the Univer-
sity $600,000 in 1923 for the
construction of a dormitory -
Couzens Residence Hall - on
what was then the campus's
northeastern fringe. A decade
later, Rackham's wife Mary gave

the University $2.5 million for
the constructionofthe Rackham
Building and another $4 million
for graduate-level research, pro-
viding the foundation for the
University's Rackham School of
Graduate Studies.
Auto industry money helped
grow the University to its cur-
rent size and prominence. The
University's Dearborn campus
was created in 1956 after the
Ford Motor Company donated
Henry Ford's 210-acre estate and
$6.5 million to the University,
and a donation from CS. Mott,
an auto industry pioneer who
was once GM's largest share-
holder, helped turn Flint Junior
College into a four-year program
administered by the University.
"The legacy of Ford is evident
in almost this whole campus,"
said Mary Lynn Heininger,
director of corporate relations
at the Dearborn campus. "They
have contributed to who we
are."
And yet, as much as the wealth
of the auto industry shaped the
University through the last cen-
tury,therelationship rarelywent
beyond philanthropy. Despite
their close proximity, the auto
industry and the University of
Michigan typically struggled to
establish lasting research rela-
tionships.
But the University's relation-

ship with the auto industry has MISSED
undergone a fundamental shift OPPORTUNITIES
in the past decade. Michigan's
struggling carmakers have reset University professors and stu-
their priorities, spending mil- dents have conducted research
lions of dollars on new collabor- on automobiles since the early
ative research institutions while days of Michigan's auto industry
cutting back long-standing phil- - although not always with the
anthropic support. level of productivity that could
While philanthropy from have been hoped on either side.
the three companies averaged a "In the past, the Univer-
combined $4.8 million per year sity was not always easy to
between the 2003 and 2008 fis- work with," said John LaFond,
cal years, donations to the Uni- a retired Ford engineer who
versity are on pace dropby about served as the company's devel-
60 percent during the current opment director at the Univer-
fiscal year. sity. "There was a lack of proper
Meanwhile, the Detroit communication. It was difficult
Three gave the University about for the University to see the
$5 million for research last year needs of Ford, for one, and it was
- about 90 percent of all auto difficult for Ford as an automo-
industry research funding. The tive company to get the respon-
trend has continued this year, siveness of the University."
with GM investing heavily in
University research to develop In the late 1920s, the Uni-
electric vehicles like the hotly- versity's automotive engineers
anticipated Chevrolet Volt. worked in a leaky annex to the
Industry-funded research engineering lab - a wooden
continues to makes up a small shed. For much of the century,
fraction of the University's total research projects were scattered
research budget - last year, it among
was $876 million, with the fed- I
eral government footing most of
the bill - but both the Detroit
Three and the University have
discovered that the partner-
Ship's value goes beyond money,
offering the opportunity to
exchange ideas, technology and
talent.
DaryiWeinert, directorofthe
University's Business Engage-
ment Center, said the Michigan
auto industry's philanthropy
over the past century. helped
transform the University into a
"reservoir of interesting ideas"
and one that can now help
Detroit's automakers solve their
long-term challenges.
"This is a place where new
ideas get formed, and the auto
industry right now, they need
that," Weinert said. "If they're
going to find a way out of the
current situation,it'llbe through
innovation, and therefore, our
research interactions are
really a win-win for
both sides." ,

faculty and departments, with
fewlong-term projects and little
central coordination.
Examples of the divide
between academia and indus-
try can be found in the dusty
archives of the University's
now-defunct Engineering
Research Institute, formed in
1948 to coordinate externally
funded research.
In 1955, Mechanical Engi-
neering Prof. R.G Folsom and
GM engineers developed a plan
to build a cutting-edge wind
tunnel where Folsom and col-
leagues could perform research
on vehicle aerodynamics.
GM's budget committee
had already approved the proj-
ect, but in June 1955, a letter
arrived from an attorney in the
company's patent division. The
research proposal had been
rejected.
The attorney cited a clause
in the contract that allowed the
University to publish research
without explicit permission
from GM. The research was of
a sensitive nature, he wrote,

By Gabe Nelson Daily Staff Writer

and the company didn't want
University faculty spilling trade
secrets.
Folsom, also the director of
the Engineering Research Insti-
tute, suggested that the contract
be changed so GM would have
the authority to reject the pub-
lication of research.
He met opposition from
administrators, including Col-
lege of Engineering Dean G.G.
Brown and University President
Harlan Hatcher, who acknowl-
edged that taking a hard line on
contracts would hinder indus-
try relationships but said the
University shouldn't allow a
sponsor to censor the publica-
tion of research for the benefit
of science.
Negotiations stalled, and
General Motors moved on.
Folsom continued to seek an
explanation from GM, and in
early 1957, one of the company's
researchers sent him a friendly
letter explaining what had gone

wrong. Disappointed, but with-
out a hint of bitterness, Folsom
wrote back.
"I believe this is very regret-
table, in view of our close geo-
graphical location and a desire
on both our parts to cooperate
for our mutual advantage," he
wrote. "I hope this unfortunate
experience will not deter either
of us from exploring possibili-
ties of mutual research activi-
ties in the near future. Thank
you for your continued interest
in the University."
By the next year, Folsom had
accepted an appointment at
Rensselaer Polytechnic Insti-
tute in Troy, N.Y., which had a
more flexible research relation-
ship with the auto industry.
"I was very happy to hear that
there are excellent relationships
between Rensselaer and Gener-
al Motors and it is my hope that
this cooperation will continue
to grow and prove of mutual
benefit," he wrote.

At the time, schools like INVESTING NOW TO to develop engine technologies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Insti- SURVIVE TOMORROW that increase fuel economy and
tute and Cornell University did reduce emissions - innovations
more to placate corporations. Assanis called "the new DNA of
GM had signed a contract for On a snowy afternoon last the automobile."
the wind tunnel with Cornell, week, dozens of students fiddled The engine systemslab, one of
which agreed not to publish the at computer consoles as engines 12 GM-sponsored Collaborative
research for five years after the hummed behind closed doors Research Laboratories (CRLs)
end of the contract without per- at the University of Michigan's worldwide, grew out of the GM/
mission. Walter E. Lay Automotive Labo- UM Satellite Research Labora-
Michigan's automakers ratory. tory, created in 1998 to oversee
poured their wealth into the In this industrial hallway are joint research between the two
University's buildings, schools the innovative young engineers institutions.
and symphonies, but when it who will develop the technolo- Ford followed suit in 2006,
came to research, they largely gies of tomorrow - or so com- creating a partnership called the
sought. more flexible partners panies like Ford and GM hope. Ford-UM Innovation Alliance.
elsewhere: The University was Within the past decade, both The company has given the Uni-
content, thriving on the robust companies have begun funding versity $5 million for ongoing
appropriations made possible by long-term collaborative research research since the start of the
the state's strong economy. projects, spending more than partnership.
All that has changed in the $20 million combined since Todd Fansler, a group man-
past few decades, LaFond said. 1998. ager at GM's combustion sys-
"It wasn't the highest priority Many of the students on the tems research laboratory and
for the administrations of the Lay Laboratory's first floor work co-director of the University's
University and the Ford Motor for the University's Collab- GM-sponsored engine systems
Company to grow these relation- orative Research Laboratory in lab, said the close proxim-
ships," LaFond said. "But over Engine Systems Research.Fund- ity between the University and
the years at the University and ed by GM and led by Mechani- GM's headquarters hasfostered
Ford, the people who controlled cal Engineering Prof. Dennis a strong research relationship
these organizationsbegan to see Assanis, the laboratory aims between them.
the value of them." He said GM engineers try to
meet with their project groups
at least once a month, but
because Ann Arbor is less than
an hour away, researchers can
get together to discuss projects
more frequently.
"Internet meetings and tele-
conferencesaregreat,butthere's
nothing like sitting around the
table in one conference room
and seeing one another face to
face on a regular basis," Fansler
said.
Last year, the three CRLs
based at the University received
about $2.5 million, up from the
$1.1 million originally allocated
for the original satellite labora-
tory ten years earlier. Because
the CRLs are meant to func-
tion as partnerships, about half
of GM's money goes toward
research suggested by GM and
the rest funds research pro-
posed by University faculty and
students, Assanis said.
"The students have the best
ideas," he said.
Assanis's lab has used its

CHARITY ON THE DECLINE
Philanthropy from GM, Ford and Chrysler (combined)
6.0
5.0
4.0
3.0
2.0
1.0
0
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Year
*The three companies gave more than $1 million in the period from July 1, 2008
through January 7, 2009. If they continue giving money at the same ratethrough
the end of June, this would be the total for the 2009 fiscal year.

RESEARCH FUNDING ON THE RISE
Annual basefundinglfor General Motors/University of Michigan collaborative
research projects over the past 11 years
3.0 r

expertise in engine modeling
and simulation to help develop
GM's homogeneous-charge
compression ignition engine
(HCCI), a fusion of diesel and
gasoline engine technology that
increases fuel economy by about
15 percent and reduces emis-
sions.
But because the engine is
highly sensitive to tempera-
ture and pressure, it only works
under a very specific set of cir-
cumstances.
Last week in Assanis's lab,
four engineering graduate stu-
dents crowded around a con-
trol panel to monitor an HCCI
engine running in the next
room. GM provided the engine
and the funding for the research
project, an effort to devise valve-
timing schemes that expand the
range of conditions in which the
engine works.
GM demonstrated the tech-
nology last summer using a
Saturn Aura concept car. Sev-
eral carmakers are developing
the engine, but none have yet
announced plans to market it in
a vehicle.
Despite the strain of grow-

ing debt, GM recently renewed
contracts with two of the labs,
promising $6 million over the
next five years. This year, the
company must decide whether
to extend its contract with the
third laboratory, which studies
smart materials.
Fansler said GM's decision to
continue the partnership despite
the company's financial duress
shows faith that the University
will help the company attain
the technology necessary to stay
competitive.
"That we renewed the two
CRLs late last year, at a time
when our finances were not
looking very good and when we
were under a lot of public scruti-
ny, is a mark of how much value
we place on the research rela-
tionship with the University of
Michigan," he said.
STUDENTS OF
INDUSTRY
Askanyonewholivedthrough
the Great Depression - when
times get tough, people squeeze
See DETROIT THREE, Page 6B

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