Car maker Ford Motor Co. will open a subsidiary to invest in mobility services in Palo Alto, the company announced on March 11.
Ford Smart Mobility LLC will design, build and invest in new mobility services such as driver assist technologies and autonomous vehicles, and will collaborate with other technology companies and startups to develop new products. Jim Hackett, former Steelcase vice chairman and CEO, will leave Ford's board of directors to become chairman of the new mobility-services subsidiary.
Ford opened a research and development lab, the Ford Palo Alto Research and Innovation Center, in January 2015 at Stanford Research Park. The company announced plans to hire 125 researchers, software engineers and data scientists by the end of 2015.
Ford wants to position itself as a leader in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles and customer experience and data and analytics, the company said. So far, it has made progress in a number of areas. Ford developed a vehicle connectivity entertainment and communications system and SYNC Connect, which lets vehicle owners remotely access automotive features such as a remote start, unlocking doors, checking fuel level or locating a parked vehicle on a smartphone. The product also enables drivers to voice-control smartphone apps from the driver's seat.
Ford has conducted more than 30 global mobility experiments in the past 14 months to gain insight into changing consumer transportation preferences. Pilot programs currently under way include a predictive parking system in London capable of directing drivers to streets where they are most likely to find a space; a car-sharing program in London that provides vehicles with guaranteed parking at busy locations, such as London City Airport; and Dynamic Shuttle, a program at Ford's Dearborn, Michigan, campus that allows employees and visitors to summon point-to-point rides on-demand, the company said.
Ford plans to have the largest test fleet of autonomous vehicles in the country this year, with on-road vehicles in California, Arizona and Michigan. The company will test autonomous vehicles in the snow, officials said.
The company is also tripling its investment in engineering during the next five years in driver-assist and semi-autonomous vehicle technologies, such as adaptive cruise control, active park assist, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping aid, pedestrian detection, Pro Trailer Backup Assist and vehicle-to-vehicle connection technology.
"Ford Smart Mobility and expanding into mobility services are significant growth opportunities. Our plan is to quickly become part of the growing transportation services market, which already accounts for $5.4 trillion in annual revenue. Jim Hackett is the right visionary leader -- with extensive experience in business development and design -- to take us into the mobility services business in the future," Mark Fields, president and CEO, Ford Motor Company, said in the statement.
The subsidiary will also operate in Dearborn, Michigan, as well as Palo Alto, the company said.