“Drivers, start your engines!” Racing fans are familiar with the famous call that marks the beginning of the annual Indianapolis 500. Indiana has a long history in the racing and automotive worlds; Indy 500 drivers have been starting their engines since 1911 and, up until the Great Depression, the state was second only to Michigan in auto manufacturing. Fast forward to the present, and Indiana is charting a new history as a dynamic player in the future of mobility and leading the way in the development of electric vehicles and autonomous driving.
David Roberts, EVP of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), points to the development of the nonprofit Battery Innovation Center (BIC) in the town of Newberry as the foundational block for Indiana’s rapid ascension in the EV sector. Built in 2013, the facility—more than 30,000 square feet—draws workers from traditional manufacturers such as Valvoline, researchers from nearby top-tier engineering universities such as Purdue University and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. The BIC is also collaborating with startups such as Ateios—which recently moved its headquarters from California to Indiana—to advance battery technology. “The BIC offers a full suite of services from battery-cell build and cell testing to certification,” Roberts says. “[It] has attracted a lot of battery development business into the state. It also lets that team see a lot of technology trends.” That cooperation is paying off: In May, Samsung SDI and Stellantis announced that they will spend over $2.5 billion to build a battery factory in Kokomo that is expected to create 1,400 jobs with the goal of selling five million electronic vehicles by 2030.
Indiana offers more than just manufacturing prowess; the state has created an entire ecosystem to support electric vehicles. This includes everything from the sourcing of raw materials and development of anodes and cathodes—the electrons that make EV batteries possible—to the refurbishment and recycling (and subsequent second life) of battery technology. “Those are expensive assets when they’re on a vehicle,” says Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that leverages Indiana’s global relationships to help develop integrated energy solutions. “You can’t just throw them away. You’re going to have to figure out how to collect and refurbish them and put them back onto cars.”
Autonomous vehicles are another leading source of innovation in Indiana. Last year, following the template of the BIC, Energy Systems Network and the state invited researchers from around the world to participate in the Indy Autonomous Challenge. Nine different teams representing 21 universities competed in a first-of-its-kind, fully autonomous racing competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to advance high-speed AV technology and, in the process, accelerate the commercialization of advanced driver-assistance systems while improving safety and performance. In keeping with the state’s racing pedigree, during a test run this past April, one team broke the autonomous speed record of 192 miles per hour.
“We know that autonomous technology can work on highway operations,” Mitchell says. “And we know it can work under extreme conditions, high-speed racing. What we’re trying in Indiana, is to find what are those use cases where automation technology can be valuable and pulled forward more quickly, such as on highway logistics facilities, people movers, or certain mass transit applications. There must be a recognition that automation doesn’t necessarily only have to be a passenger car carrying around people.”
THE KEYS TO SUCCESS
Helping Indiana in both mobility sectors is the state’s talented technology workforce as well as traditional manufacturing employees who won’t need to be fully trained to work on electronic vehicles. This “reskilling” provides a huge savings in labor costs as well as allowing the ability to quickly ramp up productions. “The people who are trained in automotive can be retrained to deal with electric drive train. These people would otherwise be displaced from work,” Roberts says. “Frankly, it’s a lot easier to train people who would otherwise become unemployed than go to a place where you’re already at full employment and then try and find new people there.”
In addition to its workforce, Roberts cites the state’s strong industrial partners as another of the keys to Indiana’s success in the field. Five original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) already have plants in Indiana: Stellantis, GM, Honda, Toyota, and Subaru. In a rapidly changing sector, the future requires buy-in from not just those OEMs, but an entire economic support system that is dialed into the same goal. “You’ve got to have an ecosystem that has a flywheel approach, where you are collaborating between industry, academia, government, and the nonprofit sector,” Roberts says. “And that ecosystem cannot be in a bubble; it [must] be global. It needs to pull in expertise and resources beyond the borders of any one state or any one country. And Indiana has built that.”