UPDATED, April 24, 2019: Waymo announced it has officially found a facility where it can develop and manufacture level 4 autonomous vehicles (AVs) in Detroit. The company will partner with American Axle & Manufacturing to repurpose an existing factory and "[bring] a workforce back to an area where jobs in the automotive industry were recently lost," according to a blog post.
"To me, this is one of the most important recruitments we've had," Mayor Mike Duggan said at a press conference, highlighting the significance of a high-profile, Silicon Valley-based company selecting Detroit for its reputation in automotive engineering.
Waymo said it intends for the facility to be operational by mid-2019.
- Waymo announced it has received approval from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to open an autonomous vehicle (AV) factory in Michigan. It said this will be the world's first factory solely dedicated to manufacturing level 4 AVs.
- Waymo was vague about specifics in its announcement but MEDC said that the company plans to invest $13.6 million and create 100 jobs over the next several years, with the potential for up to 400 jobs.
- The company has not yet picked a location but is targeting southeast Michigan, which is where Detroit is located. It did not indicate any timeframe for choosing a site.
The auto industry and Detroit both have sustained hardships over the years but they continue to stick together and often are viewed as synonymous. Just as Detroit sought rejuvenation following its bankruptcy in 2013, car manufacturers are looking to pull out of a sales slump with new technologies. Driverless vehicles are leading that charge.
Longtime Michigan-based auto manufacturers including Ford have kept their AV development units in the state. But Waymo is a California-based company, just like its fellow Alphabet subsidiary, Google. It did, however, already establish a 53,000-square-foot AV development center with about 20 employees in a Detroit suburb about three years ago.
Having a presence in Michigan opens up opportunities for more advanced forms of AV testing than the popular testing zones California and Arizona can provide. Warm climates are popular testing areas because of the lack of challenges to new technology, but innovations can only advance to a certain point without those challenges. Waymo started testing its vehicles in Michigan over a year ago just as cold and snowy weather began moving in. Operating in those conditions gives a better sense of how the vehicles would operate in the real world as opposed to a test course and can uncover areas that developers need to work on.
Since Waymo hasn't yet picked a location for its manufacturing facility, mass produced AVs are still a long way off. But if it moves quickly it could end up making good on its claim that it will open the first factory for fully autonomous vehicles.