In May, Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford publicly remarked that Detroit should be “ground zero” for new mobility innovations, saying: “We have more engineers here than any other state. [Detroit] should be mobility central. Not Silicon Valley.”
Of course, since then, the automaker has come forward with a plan to introduce a new, volume-production self-driving car by 2021 to be used (for now) in taxi and ride-sharing services. With that comes new investments into California’s Silicon Valley, including an expansion of the Ford Research & Innovation Center in Palo Alto, and a doubling of the facility’s staff.
In a recent op-ed penned for The Detroit News, Kaitlyn Buss writes about how that concentration of job-creating capital on Silicon Valley is “a blow to the state and the business leaders who are investing heavily to retain the auto industry.”
It’s no secret that Ford sees autonomous vehicles having as much of an impact on how people move as the birth and explosion of the automotive industry more than 100 years ago, and yet Ford is signaling that in the future, Silicon Valley – not Detroit – might be at the center. “Ford’s choice of Silicon Valley over Detroit symbolically crowns California the winner,” writes Ms. Buss.
Other automaker’s still continue to invest eagerly in Michigan; Toyota and Hyundai both have engineering centers in Ann Arbor, and Google is opening a new vehicle-testing facility in Novi. Yet despite Ford’s $1.6 billion investment in the Livonia Transmission Plant and Ohio Assembly Plant announced last April, it appears to Ms. Buss as though the task of designing the cars of tomorrow could be shifted outside the Midwest.