The Ford design center in Dearborn, Michigan was dedicated by President Eisenhower in May, 1953. Think about that for a moment. Commercial airliners still had propellers. We all waited until after 7 pm to call long distance because that’s when the rates went down. The Red Sox were still more than 60 years away from their next World Series victory.
Today, the Ford design center is a warren of antiquated buildings laid out in hodgepodge fashion. In the meantime, Silicon Valley happened. Bright people with engineering degrees have found that living in the snowless California is more attractive that living in frigid Michigan, even if a one bedroom house in a bad neighborhood costs a half million dollars or more. By contrast, they are giving houses away in Detroit to anyone who wants one.
Ford CEO Mark Fields and his senior advisers have decided what Ford needs is an all new, up to date, thoroughly modern new Design Center, one that promotes collaborative thinking, freedom of expression, and overall bonhomie amongst its employees. A bright, airy, inviting place where people will look forward to coming to work in the morning.
On Monday, Fields announced that work would begin soon on the new Design Center and surrounding buildings. “As we transition to an auto and a mobility company, we’re investing in our people and the tools they use to deliver our vision,” Fields said. “Bringing our teams together in an open, collaborative environment will make our employees’ lives better, speed decision making, and deliver results for both our core and emerging businesses.”
Executive chairman Bill Ford added some happy talk of his own. “Just as the Rouge manufacturing renovation completed in 2003 set a new standard for sustainability, we expect to do the same as we transform our campuses into a modern, efficient complex that enhances the environment. This project incorporates thoughtful ways to improve the environmental footprint of our facilities, while creating a vibrant workplace that inspires our employees.”
The work will take a decade to complete. When it is done, it will have 7.5 million square feet of space, anchored by the 700,000 square foot Design Center. AutoBlog says employees will work in new, open work spaces that Ford believes will foster collaboration and innovation. They will move around on eBikes, on-demand shuttles and autonomous vehicles. The buildings themselves will be designed to minimize their carbon footprint. They will contain dining rooms that resemble restaurants, fitness centers, and open areas where people can come together and exchange ideas.
In short, the billion dollar plan will create a virtual utopia where bright, happy people will be at liberty to imagine the future of mobility and devise ways to make it a reality. In all, about 24,000 people will be employed at the new campus. Ford believes it will attract the best minds in the industry to come work there and make Ford a global leader in the mobility industry.
Is it rude to mention that none of those people will actually build anything? Ford seems to think in order to compete with the high flying tech companies it has to reinvent itself as one. Certainly people prefer to work in clean, modern environments, but somewhere, somehow, Ford has to show it has an answer to the environmental challenges of today and tomorrow. It could start by actually building what Elon Musk calls “compelling cars.” We shall see.