Toyota pledges $6 million for expansion, testing at mobility center in Mich.

DETROIT — Toyota Motor Corp. has committed to investing $6 million over the next five years to expand vehicle testing at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti.

The Japanese automaker will invest $3.5 million to build out and lease new vehicle labs and office space, as well as $2.5 million in additional usage of the test track, Toyota said Wednesday.

It marks the first new construction at the proving grounds since it opened in 2018. Toyota became a “founder-level sponsor” for the center with a $5 million investment in 2017. Other founding sponsors include AT&T, Ford Motor Co., Hyundai America Technical Center Inc. and Visteon Corp.

Toyota will expand from 7,000 square feet to around 13,000 square feet, with construction expected to be complete by next summer. The automaker, whose North American research and development headquarters is in nearby Saline, plans to station up to a dozen engineers at the center, where they will develop automated and advanced driver-assistance technology.

The automaker said it plans to continue using Mcity, the proving grounds operated by the University of Michigan, as a complementary testing site.

“Toyota will further capitalize on ACM’s unique combination of world-class testing facilities and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) – including customizable low-speed urban environments and a high-speed highway loop — to accelerate our technology development,” said Monte Kaehr, group vice president of advanced mobility research and development for Toyota NA. “… We’ll continue to do our breakthrough work in mobility right here in Michigan.”

As Toyota works on its expansion, ACM officials are looking at the future of the 500-acre site at Willow Run in Ypsilanti, Mich. Its garages have reached capacity, and officials are surveying companies in the industry to determine market needs, spokeswoman Dawn Thompson said.

ACM officials scrapped plans for a separate tech park announced in 2020 in favor of building from its base outward. It’s now trying to gauge how much additional development is needed and whether it should take the form of more garages, event space or other structures.

Reuben Sarkar, who took the reins as president and CEO of ACM in April 2020, told Crain’s in July that the business model was in need of a shakeup and that his goal was financial sustainability. Sarkar indicated in a statement Wednesday that Toyota’s expansion is a step toward that end.

“The expansion of Toyota’s onsite footprint reflects the continued demand for shared infrastructure as part of a neutral platform for companies to use for the accelerated development of mobility technologies, standards and workforce training, and punctuates the permanency of the ACM smart mobility test center and innovation campus, as well as the State of Michigan, as the epicenter for global automotive and mobility technology development,” Sarkar said.

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