Ford Reorganization Won’t Affect AV, Smart Mobility Units

Ford Motor’s upcoming reorganization to streamline management won’t affect the company’s autonomous vehicle and mobility services subsidiaries, which the company claims are already built to move fast and innovate.

Ford plans to reduce its white-collar workforce and cut out layers of bureaucracy in a bid to become leaner and make decisions more quickly, the Detroit Free Press reported on October 5. Ford is the largest auto manufacturing company in the US, with 85,000 total domestic employees, about 70,000 of them salaried, the paper reported. Its global workforce is over 200,000.

The company hasn’t revealed much about the changes, saying details will be worked out over the coming months. But Ford told TU Automotive that two key businesses involved in developing new technologies, Ford Autonomous Vehicles and Ford Smart Mobility LLC, won’t be included in the changes.

“They are young organizations and growing in a way that already allows and encourages speed, empowerment and innovation,” Ford spokeswoman Karen Hampton wrote in an e-mail message.

Ford Autonomous Vehicles, announced in July, will be based at the parent company’s new Corktown campus in Detroit. It’s part of a $4 billion investment in autonomous technologies through 2023, which also includes a $1 billion investment in Pittsburgh startup Argo AI.

Ford has said it will go to market in 2021 with a vehicle developed from scratch to be self-driving. That’s in line with plans by other automakers, including BMW. Rival General Motors has said it will have a purpose-built AV undergoing road tests next year.

The company’s Smart Mobility division was formed in 2016 to focus on mobility services such as deliveries, ride-sharing and cloud services. In January, it acquired Autonomic, a startup developing a Transportation Mobility Cloud for sharing information about transportation services in cities.

The streamlining initiative comes as Ford revamps its traditional vehicle lineup. Over the next two years, the company plans to eliminate most of its passenger car models in the US and move to a line-up of nearly all trucks, SUVs and crossovers.

Cutting salaried workers is largely an attempt by Ford to improve its profit margin as costs go up, Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey told TU Automotive in an email message.

“I suspect that these actions won’t affect heavily the new areas where Ford is investing, such as in electrification and connectivity, but instead will hit the more traditional engineering, marketing and sales areas that make up the bulk of the workers,” Ramsey said.

In Silicon Valley, where Ford has been partnering with and investing in startups for the past four years, it’s looking for more talent in areas like software, artificial intelligence, machine learning and cybersecurity, said Dragos Maciuca, executive technical director at Ford Research and Innovation Center, in Palo Alto, Calif. The ultimate vision is to develop cars using software and AI engineering first, then begin the mechanical engineering, Maciuca said last week at a conference hosted by Western Automotive Journalists in Mountain View.

“We have plenty of mechanical engineers in Michigan. We need software engineers,” Maciuca said.

Connectivity and automation will touch Ford vehicles in different ways, Maciuca said. The Mustang will always be there as a car designed to be driven for pleasure, but greater intelligence could enhance that experience, he predicted. The F-150 pickup, Ford’s biggest-selling model, will become a better “office on wheels” by getting more connected to things like farms and oil and gas inspection systems, he said.

Ford is clearly coming up with some futuristic ideas, judging from a patent awarded to the company last month. It describes a system that would let a driver take over steering an AV by — among other methods — tilting a smartphone that’s wirelessly connected to the vehicle.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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