As self-driving cars and ride-sharing define the future of transportation, Ford has been making efforts to recast itself as a technology company. Now, the company has announced plans to transform its 7.5-million-square-foot headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, into a high-tech campus befitting a startup in Silicon Valley.
The renovated campus will bring over 30,000 employees—who now work in 70 disparate buildings—together into two locations. Donna Inch, chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Land Development Corp., says that the company has been working on the plan in earnest for the better part of three years. The existing headquarters, which haven't had a major renovation since they opened over 60 years ago, are due for a refresh: "Just with the age of the facilities alone we knew we would have to invest a lot in the infrastructure to keep them viable," Inch says. "But they also don't have the connectivity and collaborative environment that we wanted, so we decided to take a very holistic view."
The new headquarters are divided into two main campuses. The Ford World Headquarters Campus will rework 1.3 million square feet of space and will house the Ford Credit subsidiary. The Product Campus, a renovation of the current Ford Research and Engineering Center Campus, will accommodate 24,000 employees up from 12,000. A state-of-the-art Design Center in the middle will house new studio spaces and an outdoor courtyard. It will also serve as testing grounds for the initiatives coming out of Ford Smart Mobility, the company's subsidiary dedicated to experimenting with new technology initiatives—and as such, employees will have the option of being transported by autonomous vehicles, on-demand, app-connected shuttles, and eBikes.
The most important facet of the new offices, says Inch, will be connectivity, both in a digital and physical sense. Open-plan, collaboration-friendly workspaces will replace a corporate layout of narrow hallways and high cubicle walls. The space will also have updated wireless capabilities that allow employees to connect quickly with each other on campus as well as worldwide.
Meanwhile, green areas, bike paths, and covered walkways between buildings promise easier access to all facilities. This is a significant change from the current layout: right now, Inch says, employees frequently have to drive to neighboring buildings just to take a meeting with another division. The new campuses feature a series of office buildings in close proximity alongside massive R&E spaces like the 70,000-square-foot Design Center.
The new offices speak to Ford's larger efforts to expand beyond being just a car manufacturing company to become a technology and information company, too. As tech companies like Apple and Google invest in self-driving cars, Ford has been working to keep up by reframing its business model around user experience. Early UX experiments have ranged from Sync 3, Ford's latest dashboard interface design, to FordPass, a digital platform will let users reserve parking and pay their car bill. In March, the company announced that it's creating the Ford Smart Mobility, LLC, a whole new subsidiary to further these efforts. (Though CEO Mark Field recently said the subsidiary would be based in Silicon Valley, Ford declined to confirm the exact location. The company did confirm it would not be run out of the Dearborn campus.)
Ford's new emphasis on mobility suggests that it will look like a much different company 10 years from now. While it's too early to tell whether their transition into a tech company will be successful, one thing's for sure: with the new campus, it'll certainly look the part.