Steven G. Zylstra | president + CEO of the Arizona Technology Council
I’d been down this road before.
This thought crossed my mind as I recently made my way to Casa Grande. For one, the city was the long-time home of my two children’s grandmother, so I was more than a little familiar with the route along Interstate 10.
But as I drove to the location where a cotton field is making way for the new Lucid Motors factory that will produce electric vehicles, I also headed down memory lane to recall how my career began a little more than four decades ago in the auto industry. My first job out of college was as a design engineer in Ford Motor Company’s advanced vehicle development unit.
It was a memorable ride for someone fresh out of college. I was in the Dearborn, Mich., assembly plant for the launch of the ‘79 Mustang. We also were working on lots of futuristic stuff, including an electric Ford Fiesta. Of course, the big issue then was the massive size and weight of the batteries to power the relatively small passenger vehicle.
My love affair with cars began as a kid. I used to build all kinds of models. Before I had a driver’s license, I turned a ‘55 Chevy into a race car. And I’m still interested in all things fast on four wheels. I made the drive to the Casa Grande groundbreaking in my 2014 C7 Corvette as I count the days until my 2020 Stingray comes off the assembly line.
I was glad to see Gov. Doug Ducey and Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority, on hand for the ceremony since they and their teams have been credited with signaling the start of this new type of manufacturing era in our state, including attracting Lucid Motors. Add to that a supply chain stretching south to the maquiladoras and you can understand why Claudia Pavlovich Arellano, governor of Sonora, also was part of the celebration.
The numbers tell the story behind the celebration:
- More than 60 sites in 13 states were considered before Casa Grande was picked
- More than $700 million in capital investment by Lucid Motors expected by the mid-2020s
- Approximately 4,800 direct and indirect jobs expected by 2029
- Estimated $32 billion revenue impact for the city and county over a two-decade period
Put it all together and this equals an exciting opportunity for the state to become a premier automotive manufacturing provider using leading edge technology. In addition to Lucid Motors’ plans to start production with the luxury Lucid Air, for example, Nikola Motor Company has established its headquarters and R&D facility here in preparation to break ground for a hydrogen-electric truck manufacturing plant in Coolidge.
You don’t have to be a gearhead like me to know we’re at the front end of the trend moving the state into this new vehicle arena. For those wondering whether an electric car is for them, know that over time Lucid Motors will offer a range of vehicles at different price points as they build on their successes. And that’s just one auto maker.
For technology companies, this activity will be accompanied by increasing opportunities. For example, all kinds of software programs will be needed. All this activity—particularly in Casa Grande—begins bringing to fruition community leaders’ vision of the Sun Corridor uniting Tucson and Phoenix by filling in the geographic gap with opportunity.
So, can a gas-engine aficionado like me go electric? Well, the 400-mile range of the Lucid Aid is pretty significant. And I’ve definitely taken notice of the news from Ford that it has decided not to spend one more nickel on further development of internal combustion engines as it shifts its focus to research and resources on electric. I’d say it’s a good bet there’s an electric vehicle in my future.