Toyota to give $5M to Willow Run automotive test site

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Traverse City — Toyota Motor North America and its Ann Arbor-based research institute are buying in to the American Center for Mobility with a contribution of $5 million, making it the first automaker to sponsor the self-driving research site at Ypsilanti’s Willow Run.

The non-profit American Center for Mobility is an arm of Planet M, the Michigan collaborative established to boost research into self-driving cars and connected-vehicle technologies. The center’s facility being built in Ypsilanti will be a 335-acre testing and development center for work supporting those technologies.

Toyota’s Research and Development Center is located nearby in Ann Arbor, and now, the two entities will be linked by more than geography.

“We are excited to be the first automaker joining this effort to create a test ground for advanced vehicle technologies in our backyard,” Jeff Makarewicz, group vice president for safety and vehicle performance for Toyota’s research and development center, said in a press release. “Together with industry and government partners, we would like to set a direction to realize connected and automated vehicles to help improve safety and mobility.”

The Willow Run facility offers companies the chance to try out their technologies in a closed environment. Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, appearing at a Traverse City gathering of automotive industry officials Monday said the state’s strategy in becoming a focal point for new technologies hinged on making testing easier.

“Testing is the place where we really thought we could make a mark,” he said. And the American Center for Mobility will be a large part of that.

“... Not all test miles are created equal,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota’s research center. “The road to creating a car as safe, or safer, than a human driver will require billions of test miles including simulation, real-world driving on public roads, and closed-course testing where we can expose our systems to extreme circumstances and conditions. The new ACM ... facility is a significant step forward in this journey and will accelerate our ability to help prevent crashes and save lives.”

AT&T was the first corporate sponsor of the American Center for Mobilty. In January, it announced it would contribute an undisclosed amount to the center.

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