French self-driving shuttle manufacturer Navya will set up its first U.S. plant in southeast Michigan, with plans to begin producing vehicles before the end of 2017.
The three-year-old company with offices in Lyon and Paris has already developed partnerships in-state, including the Ann Arbor SPARK economic development group and the University of Michigan. Its driverless shuttle began operating at the university’s autonomous testing site — Mcity — in December.
Navya’s plans for Michigan include an assembly plant that will crank out 20 of those shuttles, known as the Arma, by the end of the year. That plant would employ at least 15 people. The exact location of the plant was not released, but a company spokesman said “Southeast Michigan/Ann Arbor” was the target area.
“Thanks to our strong partnerships with Ann Arbor SPARK, the University of Michigan and the State of Michigan, we decided to choose the Ann Arbor area to establish our U.S. headquarters,” said Henri Coron, Navya’s vice president of sales. “The Ann Arbor area offers a lot of possibilities for Navya to work with our suppliers and hire high-level professionals.”
ARMA shuttles are “100 percent autonomous, driverless and electric” vehicles with room for 15. They are designed to supplement public transportation and can reach speeds of 28 mph. It is a basic vehicle with bench seating at the ends, individual seats along one side, standing room in the middle – and no steering wheel. The driverless shuttles are guided by GPS, cameras, Lidar laser sensing and other sensors.
For the past six months, an Arma shuttle has been showing visitors around Mcity’s 32-acres test facility on the university’s north campus. When it was introduced in December, one University of Michigan official said the shuttle could potentially operate on campus to move students around.
“This vehicle was designed for a campus environment,” said Carrie Morton, UM Mobility Transformation Center’s deputy director, said at the time. Navya is already providing driverless shuttles on campuses in Singapore and Lausanne, Switzerland.
Pierre Eliott Petit, head of Navya’s North America operations, said the company hopes to increase its output in 2018.
“We definitely want to stay here long-term and build more shuttles,” he said Monday. “Next year, hopefully, we’ll be able to build more than 100.”
In a released statement, Paul Krutko of the business development group Ann Arbor SPARK said: “Navya is a global leader in autonomous mobility innovations. With its funding and other resources, it could easily locate anywhere in the world.
“With our talent, infrastructure, and established network of mobility technology businesses, it’s a great choice for Navya to call the Ann Arbor region home.”