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May 4, 2018 12:15 PM, EDT

Toyota to Build Autonomous Vehicle Testing Site in Michigan

Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg News

Toyota announced plans May 3 to build its own autonomous vehicle testing site within the Michigan Technical Resource Park, a privately operated automotive proving grounds.

Toyota officials said the new facility will include areas that simulate driving in congested urban environments and on slick surfaces that mimic ice and snow. The automaker also will have access to the park’s 1.75-mile oval track.

“This new site will give us the flexibility to customize driving scenarios that will push the limits of our technology and move us closer to conceiving a human-driven vehicle that is incapable of causing a crash,” said Ryan Eustice, the senior vice president of automated driving for the Toyota Research Institute.

Construction on the 60-acre testing site is expected to begin soon and should be complete by October.

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The Toyota Research Institute already has contracts with three other testing grounds, including Michigan sites in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Officials said the company will continue using those, as well as the new location in Monroe County.

“Essentially, this facility down in Ottawa Lake is an extension of that, expanding our closed-course bandwidth,” Toyota spokesman Rick Bourgoise said.

For Toyota, leasing the site at the Michigan Technical Resource Park presents two key benefits — the ability to design a course to its specific needs and the opportunity for high-speed exercises that aren’t possible at Toyota’s other testing grounds. Toyota’s site is located within the grass infield of the high-speed oval, and Bourgoise said the automaker will construct a four-lane divided highway that will include on and off ramps to the oval.

Officials declined to say how much Toyota was spending on the facility or detail the terms of its lease with Michigan Technical Resource Park.

The Toyota Research Institute has about 300 employees, split among its offices in Ann Arbor, Los Altos, Calif., and Cambridge, Mass. Bourgoise said no new permanent jobs would be created as a result of the new facility.

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The 336-acre Michigan Technical Resource Park originally was built by Dana Inc. in 1968. The site went on the market after Dana’s 2006 bankruptcy and ultimately was bought by Michael Jones and Roland Brodbeck, who reopened it as an automotive proving ground.

“We’ve been testing for the OEMs as well as all the parts and components suppliers ever since I bought it nine years ago,” Jones said. “It’s been the last three years, really, that we’ve been working with several high-tech companies doing autonomous vehicle testing. That’s kind of where Toyota approached us.”

Besides leasing 60 of the 85 acres inside the track, Jones said Toyota would rent office and garage space at the facility.

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Like most other automakers, Toyota has devoted significant resources toward developing a suite of semi- and fully autonomous technologies. In January, the Toyota Research Institute debuted what it calls the Platform 3.0, a Lexus-based car meant for testing much of the company’s automated driving technologies.

At the time, officials said the vehicle’s lidar system was able to track 360 degrees around the vehicle at a range of up to 200 meters.

While the new additions at Michigan Technical Resource Park will be exclusively used by Toyota, Jones said the rest of the facility still will be available to other customers.

“Primarily, in the past we’ve tested steering, suspension, driveline, normal structural testing, noise and vibration,” he said. “Now we’re getting into this high-tech testing with driverless vehicles and safety systems. It’s just a new world of testing.”

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