DEARBORN, Mich. — Here at Ford Motor Co.’s (F) headquarters, Doug VanDagens is preparing to rapidly expand the size of his connected services team over the next three to four years. The global director of the connected services group at Ford recently got the go ahead to double the size of his U.S. team over the next three years and quadruple the size of his global team over the next four years. “It is by far the fastest growing arena in Ford that I am aware of,” he told RCR Wireless News during a recent visit. A team of 40 people people work directly with VanDagens on connected services today and there are still hundreds more that contribute from IT and hardware development.
"Our mission in life is really to bring data services and content from outside the vehicle into the vehicle,” he said. "There’s a real need and it’s a real differentiator in the car to be able to bring your connected lifestyle with you into the vehicle and we try to compliment that lifestyle, and because of that I think everybody is kind of after Ford.” VanDagens said Ford has been able to attract top talent because the products his team works on are so up-front and connected to the car. “We’ve long had a history of technical talent in the automotive industry. People don’t realize how much technology there is in a car. A computer processor in the car is four- to five-times greater than even the most sophisticated smartphone. We have to deliver this technology in an environment that’s harsh in terms of temperature, vibration, all of these things. It’s really amazing, you know, the lines of code that we produce and the processing power in the vehicle is incredible. People kind think of Detroit as old and stodgy, and it’s really just the opposite,” VanDagens said. "We certainly were hurt from the recession but things are building up quickly and this is a great base from which to recruit.” There hasn’t been a step-function difference in how Ford embraces technology, but rather an ongoing evolution, he said. “In the car itself we’ve been replacing mechanical functions with electronic functions and software,” he said. "The amount of software’s that’s in the car has been transitioning … very steadily over time and what’s happened is in addition to that now with our desire to bring in services, content and data from outside of the vehicle, the combination of those two have really moved us to a very heavily oriented software and electrical engineering company.” There has been a lot of talk in recent years about Ford’s plan or goal to emulate Apple Inc. (AAPL) with a great user interface. As VanDagens pointed out, “every feature on the original iPhone was available on another phone. It just delivered it in a way that was compelling and that’s what we’ve tried to do with MyTouch,” he said. By that same token, Ford doesn’t want to try to keep up with the likes of Apple on content development on its own. “Those engines and those companies are investing in that content much faster than we can. So we view ourselves as a pipe, a smart pipe, that delivers that to a great UI. What that does is keep the cost for our customer much lower than any of our competitors. Because we use the cellphone that you bring into the vehicle and we pipe data though that. We don’t bolt a phone into the car. We don’t charge you an incremental monthly service fee,” VanDagens said. "We want to be an affordable gateway to allow you to access data, content and services that you have other places.” Elizabeth Halash, product development engineer for AppLink at Ford, demonstrates voice command services on Ford vehicles to operate Pandora: