Ford’s $1.2B Better Idea to Take on Silicon Valley

  • Ford has launched a 10-year, $1.2-billion plan to transform its Dearborn HQ campus;
  • Centralized, green campus will support Ford’s plan to be an auto and mobility company;
  • Construction has begun on new walkable, bikeable campus, including new Design Center;
  • New facilities will cut energy use by 50%, save water, and include new zero-waste, zero-energy, zero-water Sustainability Showcase building.

If you don’t really think our world is changing all that much, ponder this: automobile pioneer Ford Motor Company no longer wants to be considered just a car company.

Earlier this month, the Dearborn MI-based manufacturing giant officially announced plans to transform its headquarters and surrounding environs into a modern, greener, and sustainable high-tech campus that will “foster innovation and help drive Ford’s transition into an auto and mobility company,” the firm said in its release. Hired in March 2015, Detroit-based AEP firm SmithGroup JJR spent considerable time developing the master plan now being implemented.

Last week, SmithGroup Principal Carl Roehling told Crain’s Detroit Business that over the last year, his firm had conducted face-to-face interviews with more than 200 Ford employees to inform its design. “It’s been a mile a minute,” Roehling said. Of note, SmithGroup has designed offices for Google, Microsoft, Tesla, and General Motors. Last May, GM launched its own $1-billion, four-year plan to renovate and expand its Warren (MI) Tech Center.

Ford’s 10-year transformation of the company’s more than 60-year-old Dearborn facilities will co-locate 30,000 employees from 70 buildings into two central locations — a product campus and a world headquarters campus. More than 7.5 million sq ft of work space will be rebuilt and upgraded into even more tech-enabled and connected facilities.

“A walkable community with paths, trails, and covered walkways, the product campus will include a new design center, autonomous vehicles, on-demand shuttles, eBikes… wireless connectivity speeds up to 10X faster… and more green spaces”

— Ford Motor Company

“As we transition to an auto and a mobility company, we’re investing in our people and the tools they use to deliver our vision,” said Ford President and CEO Mark Fields. “Bringing our teams together in an open, collaborative environment will make our employees’ lives better, speed decision-making and deliver results for both our core and emerging businesses.”

The new Sustainability Showcase will aim to meet Living Building Challenge standards, the highest level of sustainability possible today. The net zero-waste, net zero-energy, net zero-water facility will include geothermal heating and cooling, and generate renewable solar energy.

While the automaker will continue to make cars, trucks, SUVs, and electric vehicles, it is also aggressively pursuing opportunities through Ford Smart Mobility. Unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Jan. 2015, the innovation hub aims to be a vehicle leadership in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience, and data analytics.

Construction of the new product campus is now under way, aiming to finish by 2023. Meanwhile, major work on the new HQ will not begin until 2021. Ford expects to finish that project in 2026.

According to Crain’s, GM and now Ford have both thrown down the gauntlet, directly challenging Silicon Valley to keep tech talent in Michigan. “This is a war,” said Michael Cooper, managing principal of Southfield MI-based AEP firm Harley Ellis Devereaux.

As it turns out, consumers and the environment may end up the true winners.