Hyundai gives $5M to Willow Run mobility center

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Hyundai announced Tuesday a $5 million investment in Ypsilanti’s American Center for Mobility. The company is the third automaker to make such a contribution.

The money starts a long-term partnership between the test facility at Willow Run and Hyundai America Technical Center Inc. It brings facility funding up to $101 million, which the center’s President and CEO John Maddox said earlier in October will fund most of the the first two phases of construction.

He expects those phases to cost $130 million, but said that number will always increase as more features are added.

“We have been working closely with Hyundai and are thrilled they have decided to take the next step with this significant investment to further our collaboration,” Maddox said. “The Hyundai team has some unique developments they are working on and we are eager to help them achieve their goals.”

Hyundai’s contribution joins those of the same size from Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor North America, the first auto sponsor to donate. Those companies follow AT&T as corporate sponsors.

Maddox said the first phase of what’s likely to be a multi-phase build-out at the Willow Run site will be ready by December. The build is over half done, and will include a highway loop, bridges, tunnels and a number of other simulations that automakers and suppliers might not have at their disposal. Companies and universities will be able to rent garages and portions of the test facility to privately test machines and systems.

Andy Freels, president of Hyundai America Technical Center, said the partnership will boost safety and mobility research and development, as well as driver assist programs.

Federal and state officials have said that he project is vital to keeping the U.S. competitive in the future of automotive innovation. In April, the Michigan Strategic Fund approved $15 million in state funding. The state of Michigan had previously pledged $20 million in aid.

The U.S. Department of Transportation in January designated 10 proving grounds for developing and testing self-driving cars, including Willow Run — site of the bomber plant Henry Ford built in the early days of World War II that came to symbolize the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

Maddox expects to begin a new round of construction in April. He and his team are also designing phase two, which will replicate a large city with buildings like those found in Manhattan, Washington and Detroit.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau