President Donald Trump didn’t talk about self-driving cars during his Wednesday speech in Ypsilanti Township, but he did promise to help the rapidly evolving industry, said John Maddox, CEO of the American Center for Mobility.
Trump spent much of his 18-minute speech prodding automakers to build new U.S. factories and others to “buy American and hire American” inside the historic Willow Run airport hangar that will soon become a global hub for testing connected and self-driving vehicles as the American Center for Mobility.
The president talked for a few minutes with Maddox and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder before the speech about their plans for the 335-acre site.
“With autonomous cars, it’s going to be very interesting. But we’re going to help you,” Trump told Maddox.
Snyder welcomed the president by introducing the site as what will be “the world’s best test site for autonomous and intelligent vehicles.”
Maddox told Trump and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao about the work he hopes to do and the necessity for facilities such as the $80 million American Center for Mobility, which aims to reshape the market for vehicles and shake up the auto industry.
The governor said Trump’s comments on manufacturing still apply to the new terrain.
“(Manufacturing) is going to be different,” Snyder said. “Obviously, technology has changed...”
And the White House is aware of the significance of the new work at Willow Run, Maddox said.
“I took his remarks around automation that they’re going to support a 50-state approach,” he said. “Bottom line, connected and automated technology are going to transform our industry. If we want to maintain that leadership and maintain the automotive jobs we have now, we have to embrace this technology.”
It is not clear what help the new administration would offer. Having common laws for autonomous cars across the country would boost the field. Michigan is on track to open the new center by the end of the year, though only a quarter of the money needed to run the place has been secured, Maddox said. Those in charge are looking for a mix of public and private funding.
“When most people think of manufacturing jobs, they think of the physical (car),” Maddox said. “But new jobs and new types of jobs will be created by this technology. ... There will be many opportunities.”
Maddox added that though the mobility center will employ around 20 people, there is ample room for auto and technology companies to locate part of their mobility operations in or near Willow Run. He anticipates training and educating college graduates and mid-career automotive employees on the new technology to build a workforce ready for a new wave in the automotive industry.
“If we don’t deploy this technology, we will become increasingly non-competitive,” Maddox said. “We need this facility, and we need facilities like it.”
Melissa Burden of The Detroit News contributed.