Ford Creates New Business Unit Chaired by Ex-Steelcase CEO

March 11, 2016, 7:28 PM UTC
Mayor Boris Johnson Visits The News State Of The Art Ford Production Line
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Ford is creating a new unit tasked with investing in and building out the automaker’s transportation services, a business segment that includes car-sharing and ride-hailing.

The private subsidiary, called Ford Smart Mobility, will be based in Palo Alto, Calif. with offices in Dearborn, Mich., and will be chaired by Jim Hackett, former chief exec at Mich.-based office furniture company Steelcase (SCS), the company said. (No relation to the author.) Hackett, a member of Ford’s board of directors since 2013, stepped down from that role on Friday to lead the new company.

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Mark Fields, CEO of Ford (F), told Fortune on a phone call that the division is more than just venture fund. Rather, it will be “operationally-oriented,” he said. “We’re designing, building growing, and in some cases, investing in mobility services.”

Fields highlighted Hackett’s decade-long experience leading the workspace designer. “He took a traditional office manufacturer and basically transformed it into a company that changes the way people work,” Fields said of the exec’s new appointment. “When we think about who we are as a company,” he continued, drawing an analogy to Ford, “we change the way people move.”

Fields did not disclose how much Ford planned to invest in the new unit. He said the company is “pretty far down the path” in naming a CEO. “Hopefully, in the next couple of months,” he added.

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The transportation services market is presently dominated by traditional taxi cab companies, disruptive multi-billion dollar private firms such as Uber and Lyft, and assorted smaller startups. Traditional automakers are exploring rival ventures, including Ford’s own ZipCar-like test trial in the U.K., called GoDrive, and GM’s car-sharing project in Chicago, New York, and Europe, dubbed Maven.

The race to develop driverless cars is also heating up in the auto world. On Friday, GM (GM) said it is buying Cruise Automation, a three-year-old, 40-person startup known for its autonomous vehicle software. A source with knowledge of the deal told Fortune’s Dan Primack and Kirsten Korosec that the terms of the deal exceeded $1 billion.

Toyota (TM) this week said it is hiring the entirety of the workforce at Jaybridge Robotics, another automation software firm. The Mass.-based business consists of 16 researchers who have been tapped to work on the company’s self-driving vehicle projects.

Read more: “How Ford’s Chief Became a Tech CEO

Ford’s new mobility unit will be based alongside its research labs, also in Palo Alto, Calif. The research team, which has grown to 100 employees from 15 when it was created in 2012, has been developing autonomous driving tech as well.

“We’re very clearly going from an auto company to an auto and mobility company,” Fields told Fortune. “This is just another manifestation of how we’re organizing the company, not only to keep core businesses running and strong, but aggressively to go after these unmet opportunities in the mobility services area.”

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