Months after Waymo announced that it would dedicate a factory in southeast Michigan to the production of level 4 autonomous cars — that is, cars capable of driving without human supervision in most conditions — the Alphabet subsidiary this morning revealed that it has settled on a location in Detroit. Waymo will partner with Detroit-based American Axle & Manufacturing, a manufacturer of automobile driveline and drivetrain components and systems, to repurpose the factory, with the goal of “bringing a workforce back to an area where jobs in the automotive industry were recently lost.”
Waymo also said that it’ll work with a range of automotive partners — including Canadian company Magna — to outfit cars with its driverless system, and it claims the retrofitted factory will be the world’s first of its kind when it kicks off operations in mid-2019. The plan is supported by a $13.6 million investment from Waymo, 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. It could pay the salaries of up to 400 new workers by 2025.
“We wanted this facility to benefit from a location in southeast Michigan — the heart of the American automotive industry — and its strong talent base,” Waymo wrote in a Medium post. “We [looked for a facility that would offer] us the flexibility to continue to grow and expand our operations in Michigan over time and where there was a strong pool of talent across engineering, operations, and fleet coordination.”
According to a deal with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Waymo’s manufacturing plant must be in operation by the end of 2021, with at least 100 new employees. The company currently operates a roughly 20-person, 53,000-square-foot office in Novi, Michigan that opened in 2016.
“Today’s announcement by Waymo shows that the City of Detroit remains at the center of the future of the auto industry. Waymo could have located the world’s first 100% dedicated level 4 autonomous vehicle factory anywhere,” said Detroit mayor Mike Duggan. “We deeply appreciate the confidence John Krafcik and the Waymo team are showing in the Motor City.”
Today’s news follows the expansion last year of Waymo’s full-service center in Chandler — which houses operations and support teams, including fleet technicians, fleet dispatch, fleet response, and rider support — to 60,000 square feet. More recently, the company said it would open an 85,000-square-foot technical service center in the city of Mesa, Arizona, near Phoenix’s East Valley, which it expects will “more than double” its capacity to maintain the fleet of cars in Waymo One, its driverless taxi service in Phoenix.
The developments have come two years after Waymo began building and testing driverless Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans in the Detroit Metro area. The vehicles are produced in Windsor, Canada and shipped to the Novi, Michigan center, where they’re outfitted with hardware and software by Waymo and Chrysler engineers.
Last year, Waymo said it would add up to 62,000 minivans to its fleet, 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. It also became the first company to obtain a fully driverless car permit in California last year, when it got the green light to test its self-driving cars on public roads. And it says its cars have driven 10 million miles autonomously on public roads in 25 states and 7 billion simulated miles.