Toyota Technical Center launching $50 million safety research center
Japanese automaker Toyota said today that it would spend $50 million over five years to establish an auto safety research center under the umbrella of the Toyota Technical Center, which employs 1,000 workers in York Township and Ann Arbor Township.
Toyota also said the University of Michigan would be one of three "charter partners" in the new Collaborative Safety Research Center, which will involve a collection of universities and outside researchers working together on various safety issues.
It also comes about a year after Toyota came under fire for its handling of a recall crisis in which drivers complained about sudden acceleration issues in some of the automaker's vehicles.
Since the crisis, which Toyota President Akio Toyoda publicly apologized for, the automaker has made a point of highlighting its efforts to emphasize safety in its vehicle development.
The new research center's focus "will include reducing the risk of driver distraction - a growing cause of accidents - and protecting the most vulnerable traffic populations, including children, teens and seniors," Toyota said.
It was not immediately clear how many jobs Toyota plans to add with the new center.
The company also houses at the tech center the $100 million Toyota Research Institute of North America, where scientists and engineers conduct secretive research on advanced automotive technologies. For that project, Toyota said it would hire 65 workers.
The safety research center will also analyze accident data and research on driver behavior to "speed deployment of active safety systems," Toyota said.
"Toyota's new safety research center will work with leading North American universities and other partners on safety projects that benefit the entire industry," Toyoda said in a statement. "Our investment will support collaborative research aiming to reduce driver distraction and increase the safety of vehicles, drivers, passengers and pedestrians."
Chuck Gulash, a senior executive engineer at the Toyota Technical Center, will direct the research center. He said in a statement that Toyota plans to "publish as much of the research as possible" to help improve auto safety overall.
As part of the initiative, Toyota is collaboration with U-M's Transportation Research Institute "to assess the potential benefits of advanced safety systems in a systematic way, combining their expertise in driver behavior, crash data analysis and driver modeling."
"This program will allow leading safety researchers to collaborate on complex issues affecting the most important elements in the automotive safety equation - the drivers and passengers who are also our family, friends and colleagues," UMTRI director Peter Sweatman said in a statement. "With Toyota's continuing support, we will be able to test and disseminate research findings more widely, and to seek a more rapid rate of improvement."