Willow Run from bomber factory turned self-driving car test site, now has board & CEO

willowrunA nonprofit organization and a board of directors have been formed to handle operations for the new American Center for Mobility at Willow Run.

The center, located in Ypsilanti Township, near Ann Arbor, will help accelerate advanced mobility vehicle development safely while bringing economic opportunity to southeast Michigan and the United States.

The 335-acre Willow Run site, where B-24 bombers were made during World War II in a factory built by Henry Ford, will become a national-scale advanced automotive testing and product development center that can accommodate the broad needs of industry and government, while providing room to grow and adapt as technology dictates. The center will focus on testing, verification and certification of connected and automated vehicles.

The board of directors approved the appointment of John M. Maddox as chief executive officer, effective immediately. Maddox has been serving as assistant director of the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center. MTC operates Mcity, a connected and automated vehicle test facility on U-M’s North Campus. Maddox will retain a partial appointment with MTC.

Maddox has extensive experience with the U.S. Department of Transportation and in the auto industry. He spearheaded the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s connected vehicle, automated vehicle, cybersecurity, and distraction programs. Before working at NHTSA, Maddox was a compliance officer for Volkswagen Group, and a senior research engineer for Ford Motor Co.

Founding board members include Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan; Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK; Jon Kinsey, assistant vice president for research at U-M, and U-M Mobility Transformation Center Director Huei Peng.

Along with Mcity, the American Center for Mobility will be the state’s second facility created expressly for testing advanced mobility vehicles and technologies. Design and operation of the two facilities will be coordinated. Mcity, with simulated urban and suburban roads and supporting infrastructure covering 18 acres of a 32-acre site on U-M’s North Campus Research Complex, has been in high demand. With a focus on research, it provides a safe, controlled environment for testing vehicles and technologies before trying them out in real traffic.

The Willow Run test facility will complement Mcity’s strengths by offering an opportunity for larger-scale research, development, testing and validation due to both the size of the facility and more diverse infrastructure.

Gov. Rick Snyder announced the Willow Run project during his State of the State address in January. The state is expected to provide $20 million in financial support through the Michigan Strategic Fund, with a seed grant to begin operations.

Leaders from major automakers and top suppliers, including Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp., and Robert Bosch GmbH, have expressed support for locating the American Center for Mobility in southeast Michigan, the global center of automotive innovation for more than a century. Industry support is critical to ensuring the center’s success.

The American Center for Mobility is a joint initiative among the State of Michigan – including the Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan Economic Development Corp., the University of Michigan, Business Leaders for Michigan and Ann Arbor SPARK. The board of directors is comprised of representatives from U-M, Business Leaders for Michigan and SPARK, which initiated the project and will play a key role in economic development tied to the center. Automotive industry and community advisory boards will also be established.

The center will also bring job opportunities to a community that is among the most economically depressed in Michigan. In addition to about 15 new jobs created directly by the center, the new facility will underpin the connected and automated vehicle industry in southeast Michigan, ensuring Michigan’s continued leadership in advanced automotive technology.