Washtenaw County's mobility economy is expanding again with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' (FCA) $30 million investment in a new self-driving vehicle testing facility at FCA's Chelsea Proving Grounds.
The site off State Road 52 just outside Chelsea in Sylvan Township has been used by automakers for testing conventional vehicles since 1954, but this month marks the first time the proving grounds will host self-driving vehicles. The investment is part of FCA's five-year plan to update its signature vehicles.
The new FCA facility features a dedicated autonomous highway-speed track where automated vehicles can be tested under a wide variety of challenging road and lighting conditions, as well as navigating tunnels and exit and entrance ramps. The facility also includes a 35-acre safety-feature evaluation area and a 6,500-square-foot high-tech command center.
The facility will allow FCA to test autonomous vehicles and advanced safety technologies, as well as evaluate FCA vehicles to make sure they meet third-party safety standards.
Chelsea city manager John Hanifan says he thinks the news means "a nice boost to the region" that already hosts several other autonomous-vehicle related businesses and organizations, including MCity in Ann Arbor, the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township, and autonomous vehicle manufacturer NAVYA in Saline.
"We already have a pretty strong local economy, and to have that kind of investment at our doorstep is great," Hanifan says.
While the proving grounds are just outside Chelsea's city limits, Hanifan says proving grounds employees have been coming to eat and shop in Chelsea's downtown for a long time, and he expects that will increase with the newest facility.
"Between spending at local places and the potential for additional hires and additional investments, I think we'll certainly see an impact" on the local economy, Hanifan says.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of FCA.