Ford Discovers Silicon Valley (at last!)

Ford Motor Company recently announced  the opening of a new R&D department in Silicon Valley, tapping former Apple engineer Dragos Maciuca to head the department. CTO and VP for global product development, Raj Nair, says that the company is “[…] increasingly seeing the car being the biggest consumer electronics device you can have.”

Ford says the plan is to have a team of approximately 125 software and user experience engineers in the department by the end of the year. This should give Ford the biggest automotive center in the valley, with employees primarily lured by the “very competitive” pay and the opportunity to build products that change the way people live.

The new department is also strategically located to place Ford’s cutting edge R&D closer to potential partners.  With more young software engineers likely to be in Silicon Valley than in Detroit, the location makes the department the perfect place to source emerging talent.

While some might say Ford is late to the Silicon Valley “party,” CEO Mark Fields disagrees. According to him, having the right business acumen and trend-watching is enough to match the head start other companies have. Looking at the current trends, it’s probable that Ford will try just about anything, up to and including 4G remote-controlled cars.

Fields says they have the opportunity to solve transportation, as well as to grow the business beyond the traditional scope.

While he’s probably right, it’s difficult to tell how Ford’s touted projects could be particularly vital to consumers, or where it could take future research. More importantly, Ford is lagging in the ‘Infotainment’ arena, losing the edge it had in 2007 with Sync. The current work hasn’t been promising, even though Ford says it’s working on autonomous driving.

Ford has the right idea in being in Silicon Valley, but the company has some catching up to do.

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