The facility is the first of its kind for the automaker, which has mostly relied on partnerships with the likes of Uber and Google subsidiary Waymo to develop the hardware and software used in self-driving vehicles and avoided making large investments itself under former CEO Sergio Marchionne. The company this spring announced plans to deliver as many as 62,000 additional Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo and make Waymo’s tech available in customer vehicles via a licensing deal.
The new facility features a dedicated highway-speed track for testing self-driving cars with obstacles, tunnels and other features, a 35-acre safety feature testing area and a high-tech, 6,500-square-foot command center equipped with computers that can track GPS coordinates and test vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. It will allow FCA to test for different levels of automated driving, automatic electronic braking and automated parking simulations, and test protocols from third parties such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, U.S. New Car Assessment Program and European New Car Assessment Program. Testing starts later this month.
“The all-new facility at Chelsea Proving Grounds will help support and enable the successful rollout of the company’s five-year plan laid out earlier this year,” Mike Manley, FCA’s new CEO and chief operating officer for the NAFTA region, said in a statement. “Our ability to test for autonomous and advanced safety technologies enables FCA to offer our customers the features they want across our brand portfolio.”
The Chelsea Proving Grounds, near Ann Arbor, opened in 1954 and now cover about 4,000 acres. About 900 people work there, the company says.