The University of Michigan has built a 32-acre city where self-driving cars can be tested out to perfect their skills. Now the state is working on developing another driverless car test site at Willow Run, the former GM factory left vacant when the automaker emerged from bankruptcy.
Photograph by Austin Thomason — Michigan Photography
By Kirsten Korosec
July 20, 2016

Willow Run, where Ford built the B-24 Liberator bomber during World War II and General Motors made more than 5 million vehicle transmissions, is now on track to become a test bed for autonomous cars.

A trust responsible for redeveloping former General Motors properties that were excluded from the new company when it emerged from bankruptcy has agreed to sell 311 acres at the Willow Run site for $1.2 million. The trust, known as RACER, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, are selling the property to the Willow Run Arsenal of Democracy Landholdings Limited Partnership, which plans to lease the land to an organization hoping to turn it into an autonomous vehicle research center.

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The 311-acre plot in Ypsilanti Township, Mich. would serve as a national center for connected and automated vehicle research testing, product development, validation, and certification, according to the state. Users would include private industry, academia, and government.

The American Center for Mobility, an organization formed in April, plans to develop and operate the new driverless car testing site. John Maddox, CEO of ACM, is already working with the state, the buyer of the property, and the trust to develop plans for the autonomous testing project.

Meanwhile, the state says it will help support the project and has approved using $3 million from the Michigan Strategic Fund for operational costs and for buying the property.

Self-driving cars are blowing up the auto industry:

Over the past year, Michigan has become a hotbed of autonomous vehicle and connected car testing. A 23 acre mini-city called MCity opened in July 2015 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for researchers to test driverless car technology. Toyota announced in April that it would put 5,000 connected cars that can wirelessly communicate with other vehicles and infrastructure onto the streets of Ann Arbor in a real-world experiment designed to move autonomous driving closer to reality.

And while GM and Ford are leading much of the activity in Michigan, even startups such as NuTonomy, an autonomous vehicle software company spun-out of MIT that raised $16 million in funding in May, are also testing there. Faraday Future, the Chinese-backed electric vehicle startup, also plans to test autonomous vehicle technology on public roads in Michigan.

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