Einride Portraits: Michelle, VP Product Strategy & Gov. Affairs
Einride Portraits: Michelle, VP Product Strategy & Gov. Affairs
Michelle Avary is a true champion of community – whether she’s driving technological progress, advocating for social progress, or enjoying a concert alongside fellow fans. The automotive professional of over 20 years shares why she was especially drawn to Einride’s culture of collaboration.
What is your role at Einride?
My role is VP Product Strategy & Government Affairs, and I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was Einride’s 13th employee in the US, having joined the company in October 2021. As part of my role, I do government affairs for the US, at the federal and state level. I also work on global safety for all of our product lines, and I look at the product fit when it comes to the US market.
What was your career like before joining Einride?
I’ve been in automotive for over 20 years. Just prior to joining Einride I was at the World Economic Forum, working to accelerate the transformation of the automotive industry. I’ve also worked at startups and spent more than 10 years in various roles at Toyota.
Throughout my career, I’ve always been in heavily regulated areas – I’m drawn to that intersection where the laws haven’t caught up with technology. So always having to forge new ground with legislators, with regulators, with the public. As well as with the applied technological space.
Another key interest of mine is product strategy, because I’ve always brought products to market – usually advanced technological products that have no regulatory forebearer. So I have a strong interest in defining a path forward. And how to do it in a way that is ethical and business-minded – in a way that makes sense. If it’s never been done, I’m bound to say: “I want to do that. Let’s figure that out.”
Why were you drawn to Einride?
One thing that stood out to me was Einride’s culture. I didn’t want to work somewhere that was rigid – where everything was already known or “set”. I was looking to bring my experience to help create the type of world that I want to live in. The kind of place that I would like to be in. To drive that sort of impact, the culture needed to be accepting and forward-looking. And Einride is exactly that.
When it comes to autonomous vehicles, the economics of the movement of goods is stronger sooner than for the movement of people. So I had an interest in working with autonomous freight. I also knew that I wanted to join a company that was mission-driven. I was not interested in going out and selling more cars for the sake of selling more cars – or making more products for the sake of making products. So that mission-driven aspect of Einride was essential. This applies to sustainability and safety. On the sustainability side, it’s not just that Einride operates electric vehicles, it’s that it operates them intelligently and efficiently – which leads to fewer trucks on the road. Meanwhile, on the safety side, Einride’s aim is to be at the forefront of improving the safety of electric vehicles, autonomous electric vehicles, and charging infrastructure.
What makes Einride’s approach unique?
The way Einride has both the human-driven electric trucks as well as the autonomous vehicles is, in my opinion, brilliant. Build out the infrastructure to support the human-driven trucks, understand the operational excellence, and then start folding in autonomous on the routes with the most suitable use cases. I think this is a very elegant and sensible strategy. And it means that businesses who ship with us get the best of both worlds. Einride ships their goods using full electric trucks, but eventually some of those routes will likely become autonomous, which drives further efficiencies.
What do you enjoy about your role?
The concept of teamwork, it’s natural here. There aren’t many barriers preventing people from being involved. Everyone is invited to contribute, and everyone has a voice – which means you can address a problem from more points of view. There’s a spirit of collaboration at Einride that I just find incredibly refreshing.
And it’s not just within the company. Einride is also in a unique position of being able to help facilitate a lot of collaboration between key stakeholders across the ecosystem – given that we’re at the forefront of deploying and operating electric and autonomous electric vehicles. This is really exciting to me – the fact that we can be bringing people together and saying, “Let’s figure this one out.”
What are some of your highlights so far?
Seeing our autonomous vehicle on the streets of Selmer, Tennessee, during Einride’s historic pilot was a definite highlight. Talking to the mayor of the town, and everyone else who came out – the fire chief, the highway patrol – and showing them the vehicle. This was absolutely exhilarating. To be able to hear the questions from the general public and to be able to answer them. Those are spectacular moments.
But it’s not just our autonomous technology that creates this buzz. There’s nothing like seeing our connected electric trucks in action. Launching those is always exciting. For many people, knowing that it’s electric and not hearing it – I mean, that’s a really big deal. There’s skepticism from some drivers, because it’s just not as common. But once they drive it, they love it. It’s quiet, and it’s easier to drive, and all-around a more pleasant experience. They gush about it.
I’m sure the highlights will keep coming. I’m looking forward to more people getting a glimpse at our technology when our event Einride Mesh gets underway in New York City, this June. I truly encourage people to register to attend if they would like to learn more about our latest technology.
What sparked your interest in automotive technology?
I’m actually an economist by training. I did my Master’s in macroeconomics. And economics, when you think about it, is about studying the allocation of scarce resources. Money is a tool in that respect. As a macroeconomist, I’ve always been dealing with imperfect information. How do you make decisions when you don’t “know”? You try to measure some things, but you don’t have all the data. Which means you have to tell a compelling narrative that makes sense, and then try to figure it out along the way. And as you do that, there are certain tools and analytical methods that you can apply to help shape that picture. The same principles apply to technology. No one “knows” everything, but leveraging data in the most meaningful way can achieve wonders.
What projects have you been involved in outside of your day-to-day work?
In 2012, I started Women in Automotive Technology. You could say it’s an empowerment group. We host events in which women educate women about automotive technology. The aim is to help more women become subject matter experts in public speaking – and to raise their profile. It actually started as a bet. I was bet that I couldn’t find six automotive tech women in Silicon Valley. Today we are more than 120 women!
I’ve also been involved in various LGBTQ initiatives over the years. When I worked at Toyota, I helped with getting the company to join the Human Rights Campaign, which is the largest LGBTQ political lobbying organization in the US.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I see a lot of live music. That is something that I do an obscene amount of. Last year I saw over 80 bands. I recently saw 6 gigs in one week. I love the artistry. I love the crowd. I love sharing the music with the crowd. I love dancing and being surrounded by the live act of music – to me, musicians are extremely generous for sharing their gift. And it means a lot to be there and receive it in the moment – alongside other members of the community.
I’m also a certified yoga teacher – I’ve been doing yoga for some 22 years. I find it immensely therapeutic. And I love cooking – especially potatoes. It’s a running joke in the family that I am a potato whisperer. They tell me I’ve never cooked a bad potato, no matter what the technique may be. I will happily accept the compliment!
You’ve lived in various US states but strongly identify as a Californian – why is that?
There’s a distinct ethos to California that just resonates with me. There’s a real “live and let live” attitude – a real sense of community. And there’s a sincere belief that you can make anything happen. The biggest sin in California is to not try. It’s not that you might fail. Who cares if you fail? That just means you’ve been trying. Don’t tread on others – be part of a community, and keep trying. That spirit is infectious.
Are you optimistic about the future?
I’m an activist at heart. I could never be an activist if I didn’t have hope. I truly believe that we can impact the changes that we want. And I will always believe that.
Want to join Michelle in driving an impact at Einride? We are always on the lookout for ambitious, creative and kind-hearted people with relevant expertise to join the team. Check out the Einride careers page to see our open positions.