Arguably one of the “winners” of the Great Recession, Ford has managed to reinvent itself as a techie, cutting-edge car brand thanks to features like SYNC and EcoBoost. In order to remain competitive in the technology field, Ford is opening a new R&D facility in Silicon Valley, where an increasing number of automakers (including Tesla Motors) have set up shop.
The Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California, is just three miles from Stanford University and the headquarters of Tesla Motors, a company the Blue Oval has been keeping a close eye on apparently. CEO Mark Fields was quoting as saying Ford wants to build a “Tesla for the masses” even though the Ford Focus Electric has been pretty much neglected since its 2011 launch.
It isn’t just Tesla that calls the Valley home though; Nissan, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz are among the many automakers that have opened new facilities in America’s technology capital. It’s the human capital that draws the automakers here, as well as the prestige of having a facility in an increasingly important part of the country. Silicon Valley is a place where new ideas are created and tested before going mainstream, and Ford already has a few ideas, like wind-powered car dealerships, in the testing phase throughout California.
By the end of 2015, Ford wants to grow its Silicon Valley staff from just ten people in a small office to 125 full-time engineers and researchers at its all-new facility. So what will the facility focus on? According to Fields, “This new research center shows Ford’s commitment to be part of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem – anticipating customers’ wants and needs, especially on connectivity, mobility and autonomous vehicles. We are working to make these new technologies accessible to everyone, not just luxury customers.”
Ford has already trotted out its own autonomous car concept, is getting increasingly involved in car-sharing, and the new SYNC 3 infotainment system is supposed to be head-and-shoulders better than its predecessor. There’s also Ford’s efforts to link plug-in cars with utilities via “the Cloud” in an effort to reduce costs for everyone involved, though to be honest none of these are so-much groundbreaking ideas as slight variations or improvements on existing ideas.
Ford could use a fresh, new idea that no other automaker is pursuing, and perhaps this new R&D facility will deliver just that.