Purchase of Willow Run a major step toward American Center for Mobility


The transition of a former WW2 bomber factory into the USA’s national advanced automotive testing and product development center has taken another step forward with the purchase of the site.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust have announced a purchase agreement for the acquisition of land at Willow Run, a former WW2 bomber factory near Ann Arbor, Michigan, which will be used for the creation of a connected and automated vehicle (CAV) facility.

First mentioned in Governor Rick Snyder’s State of the State speech in January 2016, the facility in Ypsilanti Township will serve as a national center for CAV research, testing, product development, validation and certification, and will be used by private industry, academia and government. The facility will be developed and operated by the American Center for Mobility (ACM), a non-profit entity formed in April.

Willow Run has historic significance both as an economic hub for the region and as a center of innovation. The site was where Henry Ford applied principles of mass production in support of the Allied effort in World War II, employing more than 40,000 people and producing an average of one B-24 Liberator bomber every 55 minutes. Willow Run also was the iconic birthplace of ‘Rosie the Riveter’, symbolic of the widespread contribution of women to the industrial war effort. Later, General Motors workers produced more than five million transmissions at the Willow Run Powertrain Plant.

The RACER Trust, which was created to prepare for redevelopment properties owned by the former General Motors Corp before its 2009 bankruptcy, took title to the land in 2011. It sold the historic bomber plant portion of the property to Yankee Air Museum, which is converting it to the National Museum of Aviation and Technology, and the majority of the remaining buildings on the site were demolished. RACER Trust has agreed to a purchase price of US$1.2m for the 311-acre property, and will also be making other valuable contributions toward development of the site. John Maddox, who was named president and CEO of ACM in April, has been working with the MEDC, the buyer and RACER Trust on the plans for the project, as well as pursuing concept designs for the facility, and regulatory agreements with local governments and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to create the testing environment needed for interconnected vehicles.

“This is a major milestone for the American Center for Mobility as we continue to lead the effort to create a national center for connected and automated vehicles and emerging mobility technologies,” said Maddox. “The ability to build out Willow Run with its deep historic innovative roots to now create a center to safely validate connected and automated technology is an incredible opportunity for not just the state of Michigan, but also our country. I can’t thank the MEDC, the Michigan Strategic Fund and RACER enough for working together to get this done.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).