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Detroit News: Senator Peters Op-ed: Michigan inventing the future of mobility

Michiganians know something about inventing the future.

We invented the auto industry, large-scale manufacturing, and the American middle class. During World War II, Michigan’s booming automotive factories fueled the Arsenal of Democracy, building the aircraft, munitions and vehicles that powered the Allied forces to victory.

Today, our state is once again poised to lead the world — this time into the next frontier of automotive technology. The automotive industry is undergoing a technological revolution that will reshape the way we get around for decades to come. The cars and trucks manufactured today are not just focused on horsepower and torque — they are highly complex and technologically sophisticated machines.

Over the last century, Michigan innovators have been working to make our automobiles better, safer and more affordable, and now they are leading the way to develop the next big thing in vehicle safety and performance.

Connected and automated vehicle technologies, including crash avoidance, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, and fully autonomous vehicles that drive themselves, will be able to stop accidents before they happen and save thousands of lives. These technologies will also reduce traffic congestion, increase efficiency, and save drivers money at the pump.

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that once fully deployed, these technologies could reduce accidents by up to 80 percent. At a time when Americans spend the equivalent of five vacation days stuck in traffic jams and more than 30,000 Americans are killed in accidents on our roads and highways every year, it is not hard to envision how these powerful technologies have the potential to completely reshape the future of mobility.

We must ensure these technologies are developed, tested and deployed right here in Michigan. Our state is already home to the University of Michigan’s “Mcity,” our country’s most comprehensive real-world testing facility for connected and automated vehicle technologies. But as countries like Sweden, China and Japan are establishing national testing sites, we need to designate our own large-scale dedicated facility to ensure our automotive industry can remain globally competitive.

I am working to support the transformation of the former Willow Run Powertrain facility into the American Center for Mobility. When completed, it will be a world-class center where government, academia and the automotive industry can collaborate to develop and test next-generation vehicle technologies. Known as the “plant that won the war,” , the Willow Run site will offer real-world testing conditions in Michigan’s four seasons of weather, including snow and ice. Additional infrastructure like two double overpasses and a high-speed testing loop make it an ideal place for industry testing before advanced vehicles reach our nation’s roads. Coupled with Michigan’s talented workforce, manufacturers and developers, this facility will ensure Michigan remains a leader in the automotive industry of the future.

Supporting the development of connected and automated vehicle technologies is a top priority for me, and I founded the bipartisan Smart Transportation Caucus with Republican Sen. Cory Gardner to encourage policies that support these emerging technologies. The federal government will play a critical role in efforts to accelerate the development of connected and automated vehicles, but we must also work in coordination with automakers, suppliers, state and local governments and colleges and universities to ensure these technologies can reach their full potential.

That’s why I am pleased that leaders from the automotive industry, the technology sector, and state and federal government will be coming together at the Mackinac Policy Conference to discuss how we can continue to position Michigan at the forefront of advanced automotive technologies. This kind of essential dialogue and collaboration will help ensure Michigan remains a world leader in 21st century transportation.