DETROIT -- Less than two years ago, the American Center for Mobility — hailed as the world's preeminent proving ground for advanced safety and automated vehicle technologies — opened in Ypsilanti Township.
The center was touted as an example of how public-private partnerships can solve tomorrow's challenges. It's run by a nonprofit in conjunction with the state's Department of Transportation, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor's Spark business accelerator and Ypsilanti Township. The goal was to ensure that the 70 percent of all U.S. automotive research and development work stays in Michigan as the industry moves toward driverless cars.
The state approved $35 million for the nonprofit that controls the joint partnership for the completed first phase of construction, with the total cost of the center to cost at least $135 million.
So far, the road has been bumpy. The timeline for widespread autonomous vehicle deployment continues to be pushed back. Many executives believed driverless vehicles would be widely available by 2025, but most experts believe now it will be 2030 or later. The center also competes against Michigan's public roadways, which are open and free to autonomous vehicle testing thanks to legislation signed into law by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2016.
Only six months after it opened, much of its top leadership was terminated, including founding CEO John Maddox, who was let go in August 2018 with a $200,000 severance, according to court records. The center's board wanted to "go another direction," Maddox told the Washtenaw County court during his divorce proceedings last year. In February, the board hired Michael Noblett, global segment lead of automotive industry sales for Santa Clara, California-based semiconductor manufacturer Intel Corp., to replace Maddox.
Several sources, including those interviewed here, declined to discuss why Maddox and the other officials were terminated.