Roush builds Google’s Waymo Firefly, a project that helped bring Roush into the AV development ecosystem. (Waymo)

Roush lands in AV territory

An auto-industry icon for engineering, prototyping, testing and manufacturing services establishes a West Coast presence.

Famous as an engineering-services company, a NASCAR racing icon, and the name behind many high-performance Ford cars and trucks, the Roush brand is a go-to for OEMs and suppliers needing projects executed on schedule with high quality. Engineering, prototyping, testing and manufacturing are the four pillars of “the company that Jack built” in the Detroit suburbs. That reputation is being extended through Roush’s new sales office in San Luis Obispo, on California’s Central Coast.

“We’d been thinking about establishing a West Coast presence for quite a while,” said Jason Furr, executive director of sales at Roush’s Livonia, Michigan, HQ. “There is so much going on there, and our peer-to-peer reputation among OEMs and Tier 1s has brought many Silicon Valley companies to Detroit to find us. But we want to be part of the fabric, energy and pulse of what’s going on in California. We want to be able to connect all the ‘dots’ when companies come to us for solutions,” he explained.

Roush’s relationships with the growing universe of SilV companies are not new. In 2014 the company manufactured a fleet of more than 50 ‘Firefly’ electric minicars for Google’s Waymo self-driving vehicle research program. The cute little autonomous pods were widely publicized. They impressed engineers in the AV ecosystem and increased Roush’s visibility among the investment community. 

“Firefly…got our management, including president of engineering Jim Yagley, thinking about many new opportunities,” Furr said. “For example, there may be companies working on autonomous-driving solutions that don’t know exactly how to integrate it into the vehicle. We have that knowledge—how to integrate it, test it, and we can build it for them as well. We can ‘plug in’ to any area of their development cycle.”

Start-ups have sought Roush’s help on the front end of projects, sometimes to understand if their business model is actually feasible. “We have companies come to us and ask, ‘Look at this sketch of a product we would like to launch, what do you think?’” Furr noted. “Sometimes those turn into big, big projects like the Firefly, and sometimes they don’t work out. But in the process, engineers and investors see our capability as we go through the entire project with them, and then figure out next steps.”

Roush’s deep experience as a full-service engineering solutions provider benefits start-up customers who have moved beyond the prototyping stage and now need specific domain expertise support, whether it be in body, chassis, electrical, or functional safety. “We can jump in and provide those resources immediately focus on executing in their core competence,” Furr said. “We’ve also had companies engage us for full-vehicle manufacturing.” 

With facilities in Michigan and other locations, and the efficiency of a digital CAE network, a brick-and-mortar site in California full of dynamometers or a pilot-build line is not in Roush’s short-term plan, Furr explained. “But in the future, given the proper business case, who knows? Regardless of the development phase a customer is in, we can figure out where we can ‘plug in’ to help move them to the next one.”

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