Peters: Willow Run should be ‘national testing center’

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

U.S. Senator Gary Peters wants to turn the proposed autonomous car test site at the former Willow Run bomber plant into a national testing center that would pull companies from around the country to southeast Michigan.

Peters, speaking Friday to media before a panel at a cybersecurity conference at Cobo Center, said he’s aggressively pitching the Department of Transportation to set up a competition to designate a single national center by the end of the year.

“We really need one central place,” he said. “In the past, every company had their own test track. With autonomous, everybody has to be at the same place; a Toyota has to talk to a Ford, a Ford has to talk to a Nissan. You need to have one place where all that happens, and in my mind Willow Run is the absolute best place in the country.”

Michigan currently competes against California and a growing number of other cities and states building autonomous car infrastructure and test sites. Peters said a national designation for a single site needs to happen quickly to help the country maintain a competitive advantage over places like China, Japan and European countries, who are rolling out their own sites.

The American Center for Mobility hopes to turn the former Willow Run bomber plant into a 335-acre autonomous car test site that includes urban and rural test scenarios. The state has already pledged $3 million, and the group expects an additional $17 million will be approved later this month.

The site still needs about $60 million, and Peters said if it receives a national designation, the money would flow in from private companies looking to test there.

“I’m confident we’ll win,” he said. “We’re at the center of the automotive universe. And one more advantage we have over California: we have snow and ice.”

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