Willow Run sold for $1.2M for driverless testing site

The Detroit News

Ypsilanti Township — A historic World War II bomber factory has moved a step closer to becoming a testing site for driverless cars.

Willow Run, which also was a General Motors powertrain plant, has been bought by developers of the proposed American Center for Mobility for $1.2 million, announced Michigan officials.

The long-anticipated purchase allows American Center for Mobility to proceed with plans to turn the 335-acre site in Ypsilanti Township into a state-of-the-art testing facility for automated vehicles.

The center has already finalized conceptual plan designs and hopes to begin construction later this year, according to state officials. The company anticipates opening for business in December 2017.

“The American Center for Mobility will be the most advanced connected and automated vehicle proving ground in the world,” said John Maddox, president and CEO.

Gov. Rick Snyder said the facility will allow Michigan to remain a vital part of the automobile industry as it evolves with technological advances.

The Michigan Strategic Fund invested $20 million in the proposed overhaul of the site. The project, estimated to cost $80 million, still needs to secure more funding.

“This is all part of our state’s commitment to redefine Michigan’s legendary leadership and history of innovation in the automotive industry,” said Snyder.

Willow Run Arsenal of Democracy Landholdings LLP, which is the center’s property acquisition arm, bought the site from Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust.

The trust was established after GM’s bankruptcy in 2009 to sell off land left vacant by shuttered auto plants.

The proposed high-speed, loop test track will feature tunnels, bridges, traffic stops, suburban cul-de-sacs and city streets, said officials.

The site would be available for use by private industry, government and academia. It will be a technology hub, allowing companies to lease office space, garages and other amenities.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. said the site will be a catalyst for new investment by automakers, suppliers and technology companies.

“This additional investment will continue to reflect our state’s ability to attract top-tier engineering talent and uphold our reputation as the center for the automotive industry,” said Steve Arwood, CEO of the MEDC.

He said the facility will allow Michigan to remain competitive with California and other countries as they all seek to develop the technology behind driverless cars.