Ford to set up research facility near Stanford

January 6, 2012 6:12:03 PM PST
Ford is turning to Silicon Valley to develop new technology for its cars. The Detroit automaker says it will open an office and lab in the Valley this spring.

Valley engineers have already helped build better batteries to give electric cars better range. Ford moving to Silicon Valley will only foster more innovation and change how cars work. Today's car has a lot in common with laptops and smartphones. It has become a platform for technology and that means a need for software and applications.

Ford will have 15 engineers working at its new lab, some newly hired, others moving from world headquarters in Detroit. It is a move that excites dealers who want to see even more cutting-edge technology in vehicles.

"Before, all you had to have was an engine and a steering wheel. Now, really, you have to have navigation. You have to have other technologies to make life easy," explained Sunnyvale Ford Sales Manager Barry Johnson.

Ford is already bringing sophisticated technology to the mass market. The $26,000 all-new Focus for 2012 offers touch-screen navigation and voice commands, plus the ability to do parallel parking by itself, hands-off the steering wheel. Ford hopes its lab in the Valley might lead the way for autonomous cars, cars that drive themselves. When ABC7 spoke to Ford's Executive Chairman Bill Ford a few months ago, he indicated he had his eyes on Silicon Valley.

"I'm out in the Valley all the time and I make a point of getting out and seeing companies, and finding out what the latest and greatest is," he said.

However, Ford is coming late to the Valley. GM opened its Advanced Technology Lab in Palo Alto more than five years ago. BMW moved to the Valley in 1998.

"As electronics content and software content in a vehicle has risen in the past few years, the value added of electronics is usually about a third of the value of the vehicle. More of the Silicon Valley type technologies are even more important," said GM Ventures Managing Director Byron Shaw, the engineer who launched both facilities.

Calling GM's facility a "lab" may be a misnomer. While it has work benches, empty desks indicate the engineers are out in the field. They are forging partnerships with companies large and small, looking for ways to incorporate applications into cars.

Ford says it will open its new office in the spring, but it has not indicated exactly where it will be located.