In the driver’s seat: UM-Dearborn partners with DENSO for car-sharing study

Car-sharing study

Chris Josebalan, Gar Risal and Matt Felice prepare to hit the road in a Ford Focus Electric as participants in a car-sharing study for DENSO International, Inc.

When Matt Felice was 13 years old, he attended the Michigan International Auto Show in Grand Rapids. He remembers walking down row after row of cars, marveling at the vehicles and the futuristic technologies equipping many of them.

He’s been hooked on cars—and auto shows—ever since.

“When all the cars are on display, you really get a feel for what’s going on in the industry,” he said, pointing out the surge in interest in electric vehicles in recent years. “It was interesting to me to see how much things are changing and how quickly things are changing.”

When he learned that he could influence that change, then, he jumped at the opportunity.

Felice is one of 30 UM-Dearborn students participating in a car-sharing study for DENSO International American, Inc., an automotive supplier headquartered in Southfield, Mich. The project is also supported by NextEnergy.

The students—all of whom live at The Union at Dearborn—have 24/7 access to three Ford Focus Electric cars and can take them wherever they’d like within the U.S. They reserve, share and use the vehicles regularly, submit feedback after each use and give further feedback on online discussion boards.

That feedback is critical as companies study the technology needs of car-sharing drivers, according to DENSO’s Michael Bima.

“DENSO is helping drive the future of mobility solutions through this research and testing in a real-world environment,” said Bima, a lead engineer in the North American Research and Engineering Center at DENSO International America. “Our goal is to learn more about what technologies are most needed in car share vehicles of the future. And this will help us collect user feedback to design products for the car-sharing market.”

Felice has taken the cars out regularly since the program launched in November, picking up groceries, meeting friends for dinner and heading into the city for events. He says the perks of having a car provided are great—but the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at automotive research is even better.

“I came to UM-Dearborn to get my engineering degree, knowing that the university partners with organizations in the area. But this is more than I even expected,” said Felice, who would like to work in the automotive industry after graduation. “Knowing that I’m one of just 30 people helping major companies like DENSO and Ford gather information is a really neat opportunity.”

DENSO plans to present its findings at the 2017 SAE World Congress—and Felice hopes to be right there with them.

“If we provide good feedback, DENSO will invite us to attend with them,” he said. “That’s not something that a lot of undergrads get to do, so I’m excited for the chance to learn as much as I can throughout the process.”

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