In July, Toyota Research Institute (TRI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota Motor North America, announced an investment of $5 million in the American Center for Mobility (ACM) for a new driverless vehicle testing facility in Washtenaw County, Michigan. The new facility is designed to help automakers and tech companies test self-driving vehicles under real world but controlled conditions in the hopes of building a safer and more efficient transportation system. Auto companies are especially enthusiastic to test their autonomous vehicles on the highway-style testing tracks, expected to open at the end of this year.
Toyota has an extensive history of investment in Michigan. In 2015, Toyota Motor North America invested $1 billion to launch TRI, and opened its Ann Arbor office in 2016, next to the University of Michigan. Last year, TRI announced an initial $22 million investment in the University of Michigan to cooperate on the research into artificial intelligence, robotics, and autonomous driving. With another $2.4 million commitment to the university, TRI is also partnering with researchers on an automotive battery project.
Michigan, with a rich heritage in the auto industry, is being transformed into a global center for mobility. In March, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a landmark legislation to allow the operation of self-driving vehicles on the state’s roads and initiated the Michigan Council on Future Mobility. The Governor further appointed TRI’s vice president of autonomous driving Ryan Eustice to the advisory board of the council, with the hope that Toyota will contribute to the improvement of the state’s auto policy.
With a total direct investment of $23.4 billion, Toyota has deep economic ties with the United States, creating more than 470,100 jobs in the country. In 2016, more than 2.4 million Toyota vehicles were sold in the United States, and approximately 136,000 US workers were employed by Toyota. In January, Toyota announced a $10 billion investment plan for the next five years in the United States.
Xinxin Zhang is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student in public policy at the University of Chicago.