Willow Run Vehicle Tech Center Names Board, CEO

ANN ARBOR — A nonprofit organization and a board of directors have been formed to handle operations for the new American Center for Mobility.

The center, located in Ypsilanti Township, is intended to help accelerate the development of autonomous and connected vehicles, as well as lead to economic development in Michigan.

The board of directors approved the appointment of John M. Maddox as CEO, 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 center on UM’s North Campus. Maddox will retain a partial appointment with MTC.

Maddox has experience with the U.S. Department of Transportation and in the auto industry. Working for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 2008 to 2012, Maddox served as associate administrator for vehicle safety research. Before working at NHTSA, Maddox supervised compliance with U.S. and Canaadian vehicle safety standards at Volkswagen Group. Prior to that he spent 14 years at Ford Motor Co. as a senior research engineer with assignments in product development, engineering design, and vehicle safety.

“The American Center for Mobility’s mission is to collaborate with industry and government to accelerate the development of voluntary standards for connected and automated vehicles,” Maddox said. “We need standards before we’ll see widespread deployment of these vehicles, and the benefits they are expected to provide in terms of safety, energy use and mobility.”

The American Center for Mobility is a joint initiative among several state agencies, including the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. It’s also backed by UM, the statewide CEO group Business Leaders for Michigan, and Ann Arbor Spark, the economic development agency for Washtenaw and Livingston counties. The board of directors is comprised of representatives from UM, BLM 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.

Founding board members include Doug Rothwell, BLM president and CEO; Paul Krutko, Spark’s president and CEO; Jon Kinsey, assistant vice president for research at UM; and UM Mobility Transformation Center Director Huei Peng.

“John is a great asset to the success of this project,” said Steve Arwood, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. “His experience at Mcity is exactly what is needed at the American Center for Mobility to take the project from an exciting vision to an even more exciting reality.”

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 an 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.

“For decades, Willow Run supported our freedom as a nation and as travelers seeking choices,” said Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. “MDOT officials are proud to play a role in reinvigorating this iconic site to ensure that Michigan remains the world’s mobility leader.”

Along with Mcity, the American Center for Mobility will be the state’s second institution created expressly for testing advanced mobility vehicles and technologies. Design and operation of the two centers will be coordinated. Mcity, with simulated urban and suburban roads and supporting infrastructure covering 18 acres of a 32-acre site on UM’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 center will complement Mcity’s strengths by offering an opportunity for larger-scale research, development, testing and validation due to both the size of the property and more diverse infrastructure.

“The university is working closely with the state to strengthen the region’s leadership in advancing mobility technologies,” said S. Jack Hu, vice president for research for UM. “Together, Mcity and Willow Run offer an unparalleled combination of resources and capabilities in Michigan for accelerating the research, development and deployment of connected and automated vehicles worldwide.”

The state is expected to provide $20 million in financial support to the center 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 solidifies Michigan as the premiere place in the world to develop and implement transportation mobility solutions,” Rothwell said. “Now that we’ve hired a great leader to run it, we can focus on lining up tenants and moving dirt.”

The center will also bring job opportunities to a community that is among the most economically depressed in Michigan.

“The rebirth of Willow Run into a global center for new mobility technologies has been a centerpiece of Ann Arbor Spark’s strategic plan for the economic development of our region,” Krutko. “Spark will now laser focus its efforts on maximizing the number and variety of businesses locating and creating jobs at the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run.”

For more on the MEDC and its initiatives, visit michiganbusiness.org. For Michigan travel news, updates and information, visit michigan.org. Michigan residents interested in seeking employment with any of Michigan’s growing companies should check mitalent.org, where more than 100,000 jobs are currently available in a variety of industries.

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