Waymo to Open a Self-Driving Car Assembly Plant Near Detroit

Waymo to Open a Self-Driving Car Assembly Plant Near Detroit

Author: Eric Walz   

DETROIT — The self-driving car revolution may not come just from Silicon Valley and may be headed back to Detroit, the birthplace of America's auto industry.

Waymo, the self-driving division spun out of Google's early self-driving car program, announced it will open a factory near Detroit to outfit its vehicles for autonomous driving. Waymo will invest $13.6 million to revamp the factory.

Waymo said the facility will be the world's first factory 100 percent dedicated to the mass production of L4 (level-4) autonomous vehicles.

The company said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) voted to approve its manufacturing presence to build self-driving vehicles in the state.

In a blog post, Waymo wrote "Thanks to our collaboration with MEDC, we'll bring new job opportunities to the talented citizens of Southeast Michigan. The Great Lakes State is one we already know and love, with a talented workforce and excellent snowy conditions for our cars to test. Our local engineers are already hard at work outfitting our Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans with Waymo technology, and now we're looking forward to expanding our roots."

Waymo said the factory will employ around 400 people working on autonomous driving technology.

Waymo develops all of their own hardware and software in-house and they said that a vital part of that process is integrating it proprietary self-driving system into the vehicles purchased for its fleet, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Jaguar Land Rover.  

Waymo is using a fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans and announced last year it plans to add the new fully-electric Jaguar I-Pace to its fleet. The vehicles will be outfitted with radar, lidar, cameras and other hardware to convert them into self-driving vehicles.

The company wrote that "it's laying the foundation for a scalable, robust vehicle integration plan, starting with its Michigan factory."

Waymo will first identify a facility in Southeast Michigan and, over the next few years, plans to create hundreds of local jobs in the community. Waymo said they would hire engineers, operations experts, and fleet coordinators to help assemble and deploy its self-driving cars.

Waymo is partnering with Magma, one of world's largest automotive suppliers, to help integrate the self-driving system into its fleet of different vehicles. Magma is also working with ride-hailing company Lyft on a complete autonomous driving software stack.

Waymo is rolling out a commercial autonomous taxi service in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area called Waymo One, with plans to expand to other states, including Georgia and Texas. The service operates much like Uber, except that riders summon a self-driving Waymo vehicle to pick them up.

In May of 2018, Waymo announced it would buy up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans for its self-driving fleet.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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