Does Ford want new AV operation to function like a tech startup?

Ford's decision to makes its autonomous-driving business a semi-autonomous operation in downtown Detroit, separate from corporate HQ in Dearborn, is because the automaker hopes Ford Autonomous Vehicles may function more like a tech startup than an automaker, and be especially rewarding to shareholders and employees, extremetech.com said. Ford could establish a tracking stock and/or spin off the company, it added.

The article said that, by some accounts, Ford will have to invest more than the US$4bn it plans to spend on its AV efforts to the end of 2023, including its $1bn investment in Argo AI, to get self-driving cars to market. The recent fatal Uber crash (nothing to do with Ford) showed there was "lots more development and testing needed".

According to extremetech.com, the lower levels of autonomous driving (1 and 2) are "doable" because it requires the driver to pay attention, and that level 3 is "iffy" because it's fully autonomous on some roads but the driver must be able to take over quickly. "The hard part remains in creating a vehicle that can be fully autonomous on many roads such as interstates (level 4) or every road (level 5)".

The article said Ford may believe that getting creative types away from HQ makes them more creative. It noted the HQ for GM's crown jewel, Cadillac, was moved from Michigan to downtown Manhattan: "It's the only automaker HQ where you wander in off the street for a very good cup of coffee and see a gallery of (non-automotive) artistry by a New York designer or artist".

The article noted Detroit – the city as a whole – is so blighted that it has lost almost two thirds of the residents it had at its peak of 1.9m, back in 1950.

"It's now barely 700,000. Some parts of the city have been razed and housing was torn down because public safety teams cannot cover Detroit's 140 square miles, seven times as much as Manhattan, which swells to 4m residents and workers on weekdays.

"But there has been regrowth in the core downtown led by Quicken Loans and 17,000 Detroit employees. Detroit's professional baseball, basketball, football, and hockey teams play in three modern arenas only a few blocks apart, leading to the growth of bars and restaurants in the triangle. The Ford family owns the Detroit Lions football team, which is wisely installed inside roofed-in Ford Field with plenty of side glass for day games. The city's museums are gems, also reflections of the Detroit's grandeur in the middle of the 20th century. Detroit's North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is finally moving dates from frigid January to June and creating more outdoor exhibits and driving opportunities.

According to extremetech.com, Ford's new tech campus will only help Detroit. The city had hoped to be one of the finalists for Amazon's second headquarters, but that didn't happen as the online shopping company wanted a metro area with 1m-plus population, a friendly business environment, affordable housing, good mass transit, and higher-education institutions nearby to further employee education and do research.

"Ford Autonomous Vehicles represents a big plus for downtown Detroit. With Ford, Quicken Loans, and GM HQ people who live in town, there may be a critical mass for young professionals who want to live in vibrant cities, holding off moving to the 'burbs until they have children. Once Ford starts cranking out self-driving cars, it'll soothe their daily commutes to and from Corktown."

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