Recently, Ford Motor Company made a substantial move in Detroit, acquiring Michigan Central Station in Corktown with the intention of making it an innovation hub for future mobility. And the automaker is already making good on that promise with the formation of Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC, an organization focused on accelerating autonomous car growth.
Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC consists of self-driving systems integration, autonomous vehicle research and advanced engineering, autonomous transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, and the business strategy and business development teams. These individual arms represent critical pockets of Ford’s autonomous vehicle platform, now together under one roof as they operate primarily from Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.
“Ford has made tremendous progress across the self-driving value chain – from technology development to business model innovation to user experience,” explained Jim Hackett, President, and CEO, Ford Motor Company. “Now is the right time to consolidate our autonomous driving platform into one team to best position the business for the opportunities ahead.”
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The new LLC, which is structured to take on third-party investment, will hold Ford’s ownership stake in Argo AI, the company’s Pittsburgh-based partner for self-driving system development. Ford expects to invest $4 billion in its autonomous vehicle efforts through 2023, including a $1 billion investment in Argo AI.
“The evolution of computing power and IT have helped bring great products to customers – from cars to tablets,” Hackett said. “We can now harness this technology to unlock a new world of vehicle personalization, supply chain choreography, and inventory leanness that rivals any industrial model in the world.”
Sherif Marakby, currently Ford’s Vice President of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, was appointed CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC. Marakby will report to a board of directors chaired by Marcy Klevorn, Ford Executive Vice President and President, Mobility.
“The closer alignment of the self-driving platform and the mobility solutions teams will allow faster development of businesses that can thrive in the pre-and post-autonomous vehicle worlds,” reads a statement from Ford.
Ford is also developing flexible vehicle architectures with the intention of slicing product development time – from initial sketch to customer delivery – by 20 percent. Ford’s five flexible vehicle architectures – body-on-frame, front-wheel-drive unibody, rear-wheel-drive unibody, commercial van unibody, and BEV – are paired with module “families” that address necessary vehicle configurations.
Ford says 70 percent of each vehicle’s engineering will be derived from this new approach, with 30 percent of content – including grilles, hoods, and doors – customized uniquely for each vehicle.
Ford wants the most efficient product development process among full-line automakers within five years, noting that by 2020, their average “showroom age” will drop from 5.7 to 3.3 years. Ford goes on to say the product teams will put greater emphasis on human-centered designs and customer insights as they look to replace three-quarters of their vehicle lineup.
“We’re looking at every part of our business, making it more fit, and ensuring that every action we take is driven by what will serve our customers in a way that supports our fitness and performance goals,” Hackett said.
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan. He studies mechanical engineering at Wayne State University, serves on the Board of Directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, and is a loyal Detroit Lions fan.