Returning to Detroit to Power Up Our Electrified, Self-Driving Future

By Sherif Marakby, Ford Vice President, Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification

Employees gather for a quick huddle at Ford’s new office space in Detroit’s Corktown district.

All over the world, you hear cities are changing rapidly. Here in Detroit, that’s irrefutable. We’re getting to see it firsthand, with dramatic changes happening right before our eyes.

From a recently developed riverfront to urban farming efforts and new business opportunities, it would be a massive understatement to say the Motor City has been through a lot of changes in recent years. Detroit has seen more than $13 billion in new investments since 2006, according to the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, and its residents are seizing the opportunity to make their city a better place.

Ford’s Pei-Wen Hsu inside Ford’s new office space in Corktown, highlighted by large windows and open floor space.

You can count Ford in that group, too. Just like Detroit, the auto industry is experiencing a massive shift — paving the way for a future of electric and self-driving vehicles. Electric vehicles will play a crucial role in the way we move around in the future, easing pollution in busy cities and offering new capabilities — like an onboard electric generator, or greater torque for better performance. Likewise, self-driving vehicles present opportunities to reduce congestion, improve delivery services and expand transportation access.

The magnitude of these changes means we’re doing everything we can to ensure we’re meeting customer needs. That’s why we’re returning to Detroit ourselves, moving our electric vehicle team– Ford Team Edison — and our self-driving vehicle business team into a historic former factory in Corktown.

Ford’s new office space features an open floor plan and is located in a high-traffic urban district.

Ford is striving to deploy electric and self-driving vehicles in a way that enhances life in urban areas, so it makes sense for our teams doing the work to be located in that same environment. The daily experiences of these groups will help them develop an intimate understanding of how these vehicles will need to operate in cities, what infrastructure is necessary to support them, and ways to effectively manage curb space. Corktown is the perfect place for us to gain critical insight into these areas and kick our efforts into high gear.

Our plan entails preparing for the future by ensuring we create electrified vehicles that truly answer people’s needs and deliver what they want, starting with a Mustang-inspired battery-electric SUV launching in 2020. Our autonomous vehicle business team will be operating right alongside Ford Team Edison, working hard to deliver our first self-driving vehicles as hybrid-electric vehicles in 2021.

Ford’s new office space on Michigan Avenue in Detroit’s Corktown district.

The move is an opportunity for us to think differently, too, by pioneering new ways of working for Ford. With a new layout plus flexible office furniture enabling employees to customize their workspace as needed, our new Corktown offices offer an environment that will foster increased collaboration within and between teams — and will serve as a test case for a work system that can be brought back to company facilities around the world.

That’s a really important part of this whole move, as it’s not just about one or two teams relocating to Detroit — it’s about how we’re going to work closely and collaborate with teams around the world going forward.

The view from the top of Ford’s new office space in Corktown, looking west down Michigan Avenue, just a short drive from Ford’s World Headquarters in Dearborn.

But don’t take my word for it — our excitement is best described by some of our employees now working in Detroit:

“Expanding our presence from Dearborn into the heart of downtown Detroit, while bringing with us the enthusiasm and excitement we share for the new technologies we’re building is incredibly rewarding. By channeling collaboration, energy and unity of purpose — the building’s unique redesign is pushing us even further to elevate our game and the innovative products we’re creating. It’s a very exciting move and I couldn’t be more proud to be back in the neighborhood.” — Thomas Walsh, Ford Autonomous Vehicle Partnerships Lead
“As someone who’s been with Ford for almost 27 years, returning to Detroit brings back a lot of emotions. I was with the company when it was still in downtown, saw it leave in the mid-’90s, and now we’re coming back! It’s great we’re refurbishing a historic building, too, as it’s important we preserve the city’s history even as we prepare it for the future. I’m looking forward to exploring and experiencing Detroit in a more meaningful way and I know the positive vibe will be a contributing factor in the work of my team — being closer to customers is what it’s all about.” — Samantha Hoyt, Ford Manager, Cross-Vehicle Marketing and Strategy
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Corktown on my own and with friends — I’m even thinking about making the move to Detroit myself — and it’s inspiring to see how proud everyone who’s working in the neighborhood is about what they’re doing. Now I get to be a part of that and work in a space that lets me more easily tackle issues face-to-face with my colleagues. To be part of the rebuilding process, to be able to say I work in Detroit gives me a sense of pride, too. I know the urban energy will be inspiring.” — Jarret Zablocki, Ford Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid Strategist