Executives tout mobility center for Trump, but not potential funding
DETROIT -- Leaders of the American Center for Mobility bent the ear of President Donald Trump about the mobility project near Detroit in Ypsilanti, but did not discuss federal funding critical to its success.
Trump announced plans Wednesday at the ACM site at Willow Run Airport to re-examine federal fuel economy standards set in place by former President Barack Obama.
Trump detailed the review of the standards to a roundtable of business leaders, including General Motors CEO Marry Barra, Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.
John Maddox, president and CEO of ACM, was also part of the roundtable.
Maddox said the president was informed the planned $80 million site on more than 300 acres at the former GM plant is an infrastructure project -- playing on Trump's call for more infrastructure spending -- but did not discuss funding.
"Today was not the right time to talk about funding," Maddox said. "We were able to talk about what we're doing here in broad terms and about how our automotive needs to stay competitive and to do that we need to build facilities like this ... and others."
The Michigan Economic Development Corp., through the Michigan Strategic Fund, committed $20 million for the first phase of the ACM project, which is expected to break ground in April. The Strategic Fund board also approved a state Renaissance Zone designation that waives property taxes for 15 years, which is worth $1.9 million per year.
But another $60 million in funding is needed to complete the full vision of the self-driving car testing site. Proponents plan to lobby the federal government and the private sector. AT&T is the mobility center's first corporate partner, which will be the sole provider of cell network service through 2020.
While ACM served as the backdrop, it took a backseat to Trump's speech on revitalizing automotive manufacturing. ACM was not mentioned by name during his public comments, which announced the EPA would reopen the midterm review of greenhouse-gas emissions standards.
"We're going to work on the CAFE standards so you can make cars in America again," Trump said. "There is no more beautiful sight than an American-made car."
The reopening of the midterm review does not mean the standards will be weakened, but it does give automakers the opportunity to push for relief by lobbying EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who has downplayed the effect humans have on climate.
The review has been pushed by local automakers, which say the standards aren't in line with consumer demand. Fuel economy hasn't been a priority for consumers, who have favored trucks and SUVs due to low gas prices.
"Whatever the outcome is I'll feel better about the process," Marchionne told reporters after the event. "Somebody actually shortcut the system itself. That was not the intent when the 2025 rules went in place. We all agreed 2017-18 would be used to carry out a thorough midterm review with the full participation of the auto industry. I know for a fact we weren't called in."
Marchionne said FCA is able to achieve the 54.5 mpg by 2025 mandate, but at the risk of out-pricing customers.
"The question is the speed of introduction and the economic impact of the technology," he said at the event. "I think at the end of the day the question is can the consumer afford to pay for all the technology in the car?"
Maddox said the event was a success, even if ACM wasn't directly mentioned during Trump's speech.
"We were not disappointed at all," he said. "(Trump) talked to us during the roundtable. We are happy with the increased level of awareness in the White House."
Automotive News contributed to this report.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.