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Michigan to Spend $17 Million at Proposed Autonomous, Connected Vehicle Center in Willow Run

The $17 million loan will be used for the design and construction of research facilities at the center.

by Greg Gardner and Matt Dolan, Detroit Free Press / July 27, 2016
The Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak takes itself out for a spin. Flickr/Audi USA

(TNS) -- The state of Michigan will spend a $17 million loan for design and construction of research facilities at the proposed autonomous and connected vehicle center in Willow Run.

The Michigan Strategic Fund approved the investment today, one week after green lighting $1.2 million to purchase 311 acres at the former Willow Run bomber plant. The land and now buildings will house the American Center for Mobility.

Users will include automakers, universities and government. The ACM, formed in April as a nonprofit entity, represents Michigan's effort to position itself as one of the hubs for development of cars that can drive themselves in clearly defined environments and that can communicate with other vehicles to avoid crashes and improve safety.

"Return on this investment is projected primarily to be generated from monthly payments by ACM,'' according to a memo describing the funding. "It is anticipated these returns will be paid over 30 years."

Gov. Rick Snyder and members of the Michigan congressional delegation met last week with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. They asked Foxx to initiate a competitive bid for what would be a nationally certified testing and validation center for autonomous vehicles.

Designation as a national research center brings the possibility of federal funding. The ACM currently is not for federal funding.

“We are on track for federal funding,” Maddox told the Michigan Economic Development Corp. board this morning. “Other countries are moving very, very rapidly.” He added that he met with the federal Secretary of Transportation on Friday to discuss the issue.

“There is some competition, there is no doubt about it,” Maddox said, saying that California, Texas, Virginia and other states could pose a challenge.

Other likely competing bids could come from the Center for Advanced Automotive Research at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.; the Transportation Research Center, a former Honda test track in East Liberty, Ohio, and some comparable locations in northern California.

Development of automated and connected vehicles is accelerating and bringing together major players from the traditional auto industry and Silicon Valley. Google, Tesla Motors and Apple, as well as dozens of software and navigational technology are competing to attract the expertise and capital investment.

The ACM is separate from and much larger than Mcity, the 32-acre simulated village and test track on the University of Michigan North Campus. Mcity, which opened a year ago, cost about $10 million, funded by U-M, $3 million from the Michigan Department of Transportation and $1 million over three years from each of 15 companies known as the Leadership Circle. An additional 32 affiliate companies are each contributing $150,000 over three years.

©2016 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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