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Fiat Chrysler invests $30M into self-drive test facility at Chelsea Proving Grounds

Breana Noble
The Detroit News


A Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo's suite of sensors and radar is shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said Wednesday it has invested $30 million into a new autonomous driving and advanced testing facility at its Chelsea Proving Grounds.

Fiat Chrysler mostly has relied on partnerships in the self-driving realm, as opposed to the in-house development of autonomous hardware and software that some competitors favor. Wednesday's announcement comes after Fiat Chrysler was in talks earlier this summer with Google parent Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo to use the technology company's self-driving system in autonomous vehicles that Fiat Chrysler would sell.

Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman Dianna Gutierrez would not specify what the automaker will be testing at the new facility, but said "it's definitely for FCA vehicles."

Earlier this year, Fiat Chrysler and Waymo announced the Silicon Valley company had ordered tens of thousands more Chrysler Pacifica minivans to retrofit for self-driving test vehicles in 2019.

“The all-new facility at Chelsea Proving Grounds will help support and enable the successful rollout of the company’s five-year plan laid out earlier this year,” Mike Manley, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and chief operating officer of the NAFTA region, said in a statement. “Our ability to test for autonomous and advanced safety technologies enables FCA to offer our customers the features they want across our brand portfolio.”

The new facility will begin testing sometime this month, though Gutierrez said the company is not specifying exactly when. The addition features a dedicated autonomous highway-speed track, a 35-acre safety-feature evaluation area and a 6,500-square-foot command center that houses computer equipment to help with GPS capability and test vehicle communication.

The facility will allow Fiat Chrysler to test various levels of autonomy and to evaluate its vehicles using test protocols from third parties, such the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the U.S. New Car Assessment Program and the European New Car Assessment Program. Additionally, the facility can simulate automatic electronic brake tests and accommodate tests of advanced driver-assistance systems such as automatic emergency-braking and automated parking technologies.

The track offers Fiat Chrysler the capability to develop autonomous vehicle systems under a wide range of conditions, including obstacles, tunnels, varying road lighting conditions and interstate-style exit and entrance ramps.

Gutierrez said the facility offers the "potential" for new hires, though the company is not saying how many or for what positions.

The Chelsea Proving Grounds opened in 1954 and covers 4,000 acres, including a road-surface total of 100 miles, after numerous expansions. It employs approximately 900 people.