Following a March 2015 investment of $2.9 million, the state of Michigan has announced that it will be putting a further $17 million into the initiative to transform an old GM facility into an autonomous driving technology testing facility, according to recent reports.
The exact plans call for the closed General Motors Willow Run powertrain plant near Ypsilanti to be transformed into “the American Center for Mobility.” The aim, of course, is to revitalize the area by making it the (or a) center of autonomous driving technology research.
With the new investment funds, the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) had now invested right around $20 million into the initiative. These funds will reportedly be used for land acquisition, the design process for the facility, and construction.
Forbes provides more, noting that land is “currently owned by RACER Trust, an entity set up in 2009 during GM’s bankruptcy to sell vacant property. An entity called the Willow Run Arsenal of Democracy (after the nickname for the plant when it produced B-24 bombers during WWII) will purchase the land from RACER Trust, according to The Detroit News.”
The planned facility would likely end up cooperating to some degree or another with the recently established 18-acre University of Michigan MCity — an autonomous vehicle testing facility featuring realistic streets, signs, and traffic infrastructure, as well as fake building fronts. The planned American Center for Mobility will be much larger, at around 335 acres.
“We’re getting a lot of attention around the nation and really around the world and that’s really because the state of Michigan is investing in this,” stated John Maddox, president and CEO of the American Center for Mobility.
The president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and chairman of the Strategic Fund board, Steve Arwood, commented as well: “Ultimately it’s in the best interest of the state to preserve the future of our automotive industry.”
That’s an understandable sentiment, but whether or not the recent investments will lead to that outcome is an open question.
It should be noted here that the $20 million in investment accrued so far is only around ¼ of the initiative’s goals. An additional $60 million is “needed,” according to those involved — if the facility’s full collection of streets, drives, tunnels, cul-de-sacs, etc., is going to be built, that is.
A proponent of the initiative, Michigan Senators Gary Peters, commented recently that: “We know we need a national testing and validation site. We need one in place where all the auto companies can come together.”
Images via Michigan state government