Waymo will soon ramp up its assembly of self-driving cars in Detroit, Michigan, the company announced today. The Alphabet subsidiary said that it’ll invest $13.6 million to expand its operations in the Great Lakes state, following a vote by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to approve the plans.
Waymo operates a roughly 20-person, 53,000-square-foot office in Novi, Michigan, which opened in 2016. Now the company will seek to retrofit a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing space, where it will work with automotive partners to outfit cars with its driverless system. The plan, which is supported by an $8 million grant from Michigan Strategic Fund and a $25,000 investment from MichAuto, the automotive economic development division of the Detroit Regional Chamber, could pay the salaries of up to 400 new workers by 2025, Waymo says.
Waymo claims this will be the world’s first factory entirely dedicated to the mass production of level 4 autonomous vehicles — that is, cars that can drive without human intervention in most conditions.
“In the U.S., the auto industry is synonymous with Michigan. Auto manufacturing has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state and built an economic engine that helps fuel the entire country,” the company wrote in a Medium post published this morning. “Thanks to our collaboration with MEDC, we’ll bring new job opportunities to the talented citizens of Southeast Michigan.”
According to the deal with the economic development corporation, the manufacturing plant must be in operation by the end of 2021, with at least 100 new employees. Engineers, operations experts, and fleet coordinators will comprise the bulk of the expanded workforce, and Waymo says it’s partnering with Canadian company Magna — which is also working with Lyft on its self-driving project — to accelerate the integration of its self-driving system into fleets of different vehicles.
“Our local engineers are already hard at work outfitting our Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans with Waymo technology, and now we’re looking forward to expanding our roots,” Waymo said. “As we begin to commercialize our business and vehicle supply grows, we’re laying the foundation for a scalable, robust vehicle integration plan, starting in Michigan.”
The announcement comes two years after Waymo began building and testing driverless Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans in the Detroit Metro area. They’re currently produced in Windsor and shipped to the Novi center, where they’re outfitted with hardware and software by Waymo and Chrysler engineers. Waymo sought to begin adding up to 62,000 minivans to its fleet before the end of 2018, and it has signed a deal with Jaguar Land Rover to equip 20,000 of the automaker’s Jaguar i-Pace electric SUVs with its autonomous system by 2020.
Waymo recently launched a commercial driverless car service — Waymo One — in Phoenix, Arizona, and in October 2018 it became the first company to obtain a fully driverless car permit in California, where it got the green light to test its self-driving cars on public roads. Waymo claims its cars have driven 10 million miles autonomously on public roads in 25 states, and 7 billion simulated miles.