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Historic Willow Run Facility to Become Hub for Autonomous Testing in Michigan

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【Summary】Willow Run, which is located in Ypsilanti Charter Township, Mich., was once a site for the development of airplanes, but will soon become the go-to location for driverless car testing in December.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Aug 27, 2017 9:15 AM PT
Historic Willow Run Facility to Become Hub for Autonomous Testing in Michigan

Michigan is home to numerous automotive and technology-related buildings that aren't being used anymore. The Willow Run plant near Ypsilanti, Mich. is a prime example of an old automotive plant that's out of commission and it's tragic when you hear about the plant's history. 

Henry Ford, as History points out, cleared out hundreds of acres of land 30 miles west of Detroit to begin building the company's Willow Run Plant. The plant also doubled as an area for B-24 bomber development for World War II. After running into a labor-shortage issue, Willow Run eventually had 42,000 individuals working inside of it, which resulted in the manufacturing of one plane per hour, claims the outlet.

After the war, independent automaker Kaiser-Frazer utilized the plant until General Motors bought the factory in 1953 and used it to make transmissions. In 2003, GM, as the outlet reports, spent $600 million to renovate the Willow Run plant in order for the automaker to produce a new six-speed rear-wheel-drive automatic gearbox for its vehicles. By 2008, GM had suffered massive losses after the global economic crisis and by 2009, the automaker announced plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and shut down the Willow Run plant, claims History

A New Beginning For An Old Facility

Since then, Willow Run has sat idly by, waiting for a company to find a reason to use its five-million-square-foot, 335-acre facility. According to a report by The Detroit News, the American Center for Mobility (ACM) has plans to put the Willow Run plant to good use by making the facility the center for driverless-car testing. 

As the outlet reports, the facility is being renovated to provide companies, automakers, and Tier One suppliers with an area where they can develop technology before unleashing it on the masses. Construction, as The Detroit News reports, for the nonprofit operation began back in June. 

"It's pretty amazing to think about it – that this whole place was built in 18 months…conceived, designed, and outfitted…the first modern airport in the United States…," said ACM president and CEO John Maddox. "We're trying to channel some of that speed…" 

Things Are Looking Up For Willow Run

In a hosted event that The Detroit News recently attended, ACM claimed that Willow Run's test tracks would become available on December 1, while other facilities, like a simulated downtown area and offices, will come after. 

Getting the old plant ready to switch gears and accommodate for the development of autonomous technology isn't exactly cheap, as The Detroit News reports that the new project has an estimated price tag of $100 million. The good news, though, is that ACM officials claim that $90 million of the total has already been secured, with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation providing the majority of the funds. 

Willow Run already has automakers lining up to use its new facilities, as The Detroit News claims that Toyota Motor North America became ACM's first automotive partner, as the Japanese automaker put down a $5 million commitment to use the plant for a testing ground. 

Hopefully, other companies will get on board and help bring the old, unloved plant back to its glory days, while perfecting their technology before putting driverless cars out on the road and making Michigan a focal point for driverless tech

via: History, The Detroit News

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