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September 5, 2018 10:00 AM, EDT

Fiat Chrysler Spends $30 Million on Self-Driving Test Site Near Detroit

Fiat logo on vehicle Gene J. Puskar/AP

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is adding more muscle to its self-driving vehicle testing efforts.

The company will spend more than $30 million at a new testing and development facility at its Chelsea Proving Grounds west of Detroit. Testing begins this month at the facility, which will include a “dedicated autonomous highway-speed track, 35-acre safety-feature evaluation area and a high-tech command center,” according to a company news release.

It’s the second self-driving vehicle-related announcement the company has made in recent weeks. Last month, FCA said its Magneti Marelli components business would acquire a French startup — StartMeUp — focused on self-driving car software, for an undisclosed price.

Waymo Chrysler van

 Fiat Chrysler will supply Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids to Waymo. (Paul Sancya/AP)

The twin announcements follow the release in June of the company’s five-year plan, in which it dedicated a presentation to the company’s self-driving and connected vehicle efforts. That presentation highlighted the company’s focus in developing the technology through partnerships, such as by supplying up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids to Waymo’s self-driving project by 2021.

Former CEO Sergio Marchionne, who died in July, had pushed back against critics for suggesting that the company lagged in the development of self-driving technology, saying last year that FCA’s approach gives the company a chance to get a “technically correct solution at a commercially defensible price.”

New CEO Mike Manley said in the news release that the Chelsea facility would “help support and enable” the rollout of the five-year plan.

“Our ability to test for autonomous and advanced safety technologies enables FCA to offer our customers the features they want across our brand portfolio,” Manley said in the release.

The statement noted that the facility “will allow for testing of various levels of autonomy and enables the company to evaluate FCA vehicles using test protocols from third parties, such the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, U.S. New Car Assessment Program and European New Car Assessment Program, plus additional automatic electronic brake test simulations.”

The test track will provide a range of environments, including obstacles, tunnels, varying road lighting conditions and interstate-style exit and entrance ramps, the release said.

FCA spokeswoman Dianna Gutierrez said the company anticipates that jobs will be created as a result of the facility, but it is not disclosing the numbers or types of positions. The company currently does not test at two other self-driving test facilities in the region — the American Center for Mobility or Mcity.

About 900 people work at the almost 4,000-acre Chelsea Proving Grounds, which opened in 1954, according to the release.

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