Before self-driving came along, just driving was thrilling enough. Before autonomous arrived, automobiles sufficed. So it only makes sense that Ford’s work of the future will breathe new life into what came before.
In mid-December, Ford announced it would move its key autonomous vehicle (AV) and electric vehicle (EV) business and strategy teams to the city where the company got its start, relocating the teams to The Factory — a recently refurbished industrial complex with 110 years of history — in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.
It’s one of many neighborhoods where AVs and the R&D behind them are impacting economies, Silicon Valley, Phoenix and Pittsburgh among them.
“Returning to Detroit is particularly meaningful, because it is where my great-grandfather originally set out to pursue his passion and where we have always called our home,” said Executive Chairman Bill Ford. “We are planting a special piece of our company’s future in one of the city’s great neighborhoods, because we believe in Detroit, its people and what we can build together.”
“This move and our exciting Dearborn campus transformation are important steps as we move toward our aspiration to become the world’s most trusted mobility company — designing smart vehicles for a smart world,” said Jim Hackett, Ford president and CEO.”
More than 220 employees will see the mobility challenges and opportunities of a re-emerging neighborhood every day — a lab of the future, in a sense, nestled in a piece of the past.
“Having these teams together in a dedicated facility in the heart of Detroit is truly a full-circle moment for Ford,” said Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president and president, global markets. “It’s such a conducive environment for sharing ideas, for collaboration, and for accelerating our electric vehicle efforts.”
The EV efforts are led by research from Ford’s Team Edison, which among other initiatives recently created an EV partnership with Zotye, creating Zotye Ford Automobile Co., a 50-50 joint venture that will offer EVs in China. With Ford’s $1 billion investment in Argo AI, the company is combining its AV expertise with Argo AI’s robotics experience and startup speed on AI software.
Planned for production beginning in 2021, Ford’s first AV will be a hybrid-electric model. Ford’s AV business is “built around deploying self-driving vehicles in partnership with leading companies that serve the movement of both people and goods,” said the company.
“Working with these partners, such as Lyft and Domino’s Pizza, Ford is conducting research and building out the infrastructure that will help in determining the design of the self-driving vehicle and the customer experience it will enable.”