Hyundai sets a course for new autonomous testing ground
Hyundai aims to ramp up autonomous-driving development in the U.S. by tapping an expansive mobility testing ground being built at an abandoned bomber factory complex outside Detroit, the company’s North American r&d chief said.
The South Korean automaker sees Michigan as fertile ground for working on autonomous cars because of that facility and because looser state regulations make it easier for companies to test autonomous technologies on public roads, said Andy Freels, president of the Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center, headquartered near Ann Arbor.
The defunct Willow Run industrial complex, where Ford Motor Co. built B-24 bombers during World War II and General Motors later ran a powertrain facility, is being transformed into a test bed available for use by automakers and suppliers to work on autonomous and connected-car technologies.
It will complement Hyun-dai’s proving ground in the California desert by being closer to Hyundai’s main tech center and by having a high-speed loop in addition to simulated cityscapes that its own test track lacks, Freels said in an Aug. 9 interview.
“It will make it a lot easier,” Freels said. “It will help us because that infrastructure will already be in place at these facilities. Plus, it will be kind of the latest and greatest.”
The Willow Run site will be operated by the American Center for Mobility, a state government-led initiative to make Michigan a hub of self-driving car development. Last month, developers announced the purchase of 311 acres at the site for $1.2 million.
The target opening date is the winter of 2017.
“Willow Run is going to be a pay per use, which is going to be pretty nice,” Freels said. “It’s 10 minutes from here. We couldn’t have asked for a closer or better facility.”
Hyundai already is introducing semiautonomous technologies. The G90 flagship sedan from its new Genesis luxury brand gets a suite of advanced safety technologies, dubbed Genesis Smart Sense, that bundles adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and technologies to reduce driver fatigue. Standard features also include an automatic emergency braking system with pedestrian detection and active blind-spot detection.
The Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center employs about 400 people at sites in Michigan and California. About 200 people work at the main campus outside Ann Arbor.
Autonomous-driving development will be an area of growing responsibility for the tech center, Freels said.
Advanced evaluation of prototypes likely will be centered at Hyundai’s California proving ground. But development of autonomous-driving electronics and the testing of closer-to-market vehicles likely will gravitate toward Michigan and Willow Run, Freels said.
Hyundai’s North American r&d arm aims to take on other work as well.
The expanding workload likely will include more development of hybrid and other eco-friendly drivetrains and the addition of chassis system development, Freels said.
“There’s a lot of room for facility expansion here,” he said.