Michigan’s Driverless Car Project gets a CEO and a Board of Directors
A nonprofit organization and board of directors have been formed to handle the $80 million development of the Willow Run autonomous car testing site.
The American Center for Mobility, located at the former General Motors Willow Run Powertrain Plant in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., will be headed by John Maddox, who will serve as CEO, effective immediately.
Maddox previously served as the assistant director of University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center and its own test site, Mcity. He will train a partial appointment at UM, the organization said in a news release.
John Maddox Board members for the center include Doug Rothwell, CEO of the Business Leaders for Michigan; Paul Krutko, CEO of Ann Arbor Spark; Jon Kinsey, assistance vice president for research at UM; and Huei Peng, director of University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
The center, announced by Gov. Rick Snyder during his Jan. 19 State of the State address, is expected to become a national testing site and product development for self-driving and connected cars.
The 335-acre site, where Ford Motor Co. made B-24 bombers during World War II, is owned by Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust. The nonprofit is working to take ownership of the property with the expectation of opening in early 2018, Maddox said.
The state of Michigan is expected to provide $20 million in funding toward the project, which is a joint initiative between the Michigan Department of Transportation, Michigan Economic Development Corp., UM, BLM and Ann Arbor Spark.
Maddox said the organization is working to secure the remaining $60 million for the build-out of the center. The design is nearly completed.
The center will feature a 2.5-mile loop that will serve as a simulated highway with ramps, bridges, merge lanes, signs, changes in elevation and potentially a curved tunnel, Maddox said. Vehicles will be able to travel at highway speeds up to 80 mph.
It will also feature a large configurable intersection and areas to simulate urban, suburban and commercial area (a mall or freight center) as well as an off-road section for possible military vehicle use, he said.
“MDOT is our partner here, so we’re relying heavily on them to bring clients something very realistic,” Maddox said.
The organization also plans to work with the Society of Automotive Engineers to establish voluntary standards for the testing of autonomous vehicles with hopes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will look to the center for guidance.
“Our prime mission of creating and accelerating those standards will naturally fit with what NHTSA wants to do in the future,” Maddox said. “If the tech is as valuable as we think it is for mobility, safety and energy, we want to expedite those standards.”
In May, Ann Arbor Spark was awarded a nearly $250,000 grant to develop a plan for the center at Willow Run. The grant was awarded as part of a program by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The plan is to expand on the efforts by UM, which opened its $6.5 million Mcity connected and autonomous vehicle testing grounds in Ann Arbor last year.
“We see an opportunity to really advance what Mcity has started and take that work to a much larger level,” Steve Arwood, CEO of the MEDC, told Crain’s Detroit Business in February. “It’s an out-of-the-box idea, and it’s very compelling when you look at where we believe the industry is going.”
Prior to joining UM, Maddox served as the associate administrator for vehicle safety research at the NHTSA and before that was a compliance officer at Volkswagen AG.