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Michigan creates office to attract auto investment

DETROIT (Reuters) - Michigan's Economic Development Corp has created an Automotive Industry Office to help coordinate the state's auto business development initiatives and strategy and attract more investment, a top state official said Tuesday.

"We need to do a better job of telling our story . . . how we're getting more competitive as a location (for new investment) vis a vis Europe, Mexico and Asia," said Steve Hilfinger, MEDC executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The move comes as Detroit-area automakers General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group are recovering from a 2008-2009 downturn during which they shed thousands of jobs and shuttered dozens of plants, many of them in Michigan.

The companies' economic challenges in the state have also been compounded by the city of Detroit's bankruptcy filing on July 18, the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy.

MEDC, a quasi-public agency, appointed Nigel Francis, an industry veteran, to serve as the state's automotive adviser. Francis will work with executives at existing Michigan-based automakers and suppliers, as well as other U.S. and overseas companies, Hilfinger said.

"Until now, we lacked a senior person with deep automotive experience," Hilfinger said. "We wanted to have a more focused and dedicated effort to recognize the importance of the industry."

Francis previously held executive positions with Germany's Daimler AG and India's Tata Group, and was executive vice president of Bright Automotive, an Indiana-based electric-vehicle startup that folded in 2012 after receiving initial funding from General Motors and other sources.

Francis also was chief operating officer and chief technology officer for Trexa LLC, a California-based startup that developed a modular chassis, propulsion system and battery pack for electric vehicles.

In a statement released Tuesday, Francis said his focus was to "ensure that our state increases its share of the global automotive business."

(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Ken Wills)

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