Toyota Motor Corp. will invest $50 million in a safety research center in Michigan with a goal of reducing traffic deaths and injuries as the world’s largest automaker works to regain buyers’ trust after record recalls.
The Collaborative Safety Research Center will operate at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, the company said today in a statement. Along with Toyota engineers from the U.S. and Japan, researchers from the University of Michigan, Virginia Tech and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will work on studies with the carmaker, said Chuck Gulash, a senior engineer at Toyota who will be the center’s director.
“We’re going to reach out to other safety experts across the country,” Gulash said in a phone interview. “Traffic safety isn’t only the vehicle. It’s the infrastructure, it’s the driver.”
The center’s creation comes as the Toyota City, Japan-based company works to polish an image for safe, high-quality vehicles that was tarnished by recalls of millions of cars and light trucks in the U.S. last year, most for flaws linked to unintended acceleration. Toyota paid a record $48.8 million in recall-related fines and still faces about 400 lawsuits alleging lost vehicle value, injury or death resulting from the flaws.
The company’s investment will be for studies over the next five years focused on reducing harm to children, teenagers and seniors, Toyota said. Research will be done using existing staff and facilities in Michigan, Gulash said.
Initial work begins within the next two months, and participants in future projects with the center will include federal agencies and other safety groups, he said.
“Our investment will support collaborative research aiming to reduce driver distraction and increase the safety of vehicles, drivers, passengers and pedestrians,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in the statement. Toyoda, grandson of the automaker’s founder, will discuss the safety center tomorrow at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Toyota’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, California.