Ford Builds Mobility Operation in Detroit, Releases New Fleet Tools

When I moved to Detroit about a decade ago, the husk of Michigan Central Station loomed over the Corktown neighborhood as an unrelenting reminder of how far the city had fallen—a symbol of its ruinous post-industrial identity as emblematic as the Sphinx was to Egypt.

The conventional wisdom back then was that the old train station—constructed in 1913 by the same architects that built New York’s Grand Central Station, but unused since the ‘80s—was too big and sturdy to cost-effectively tear down, and too degraded to renovate without spending billions. (The abandoned building had been stripped by scrappers of most of its valuable materials, even the window frames, and was completely without lights when I first saw it. It was so derelict that once the water dripping into the lobby froze during winter, guys would play pick-up hockey games inside.)

So there Central Station sat for decades, slowly falling apart and attracting hordes of urban explorers, photographers, and fans of so-called ruin porn. A few years ago, the windows were repaired and a few lights installed, but there didn’t appear to be any real effort underway to rehab the building.

But then, a few months ago, Corktown residents began hearing rumors that Ford was interested in purchasing Central Station, in part to house its mobility operations. Theoretically, the automaker would also be able to lure more young engineers into the fold with a hipper location than its headquarters in Dearborn, about a dozen miles down Michigan Avenue from the train station.

Last week, Ford finally confirmed its plan to renovate Central Station and relocate roughly 2,500 employees there, including those working on autonomous vehicles and other mobility projects. The announcement event drew thousands and included a brief appearance by hometown rapper Big Sean. Ford kept the building open all weekend for free public tours, which reportedly drew more than 20,000 attendees, and it released renderings of what the space will look like in the future.

Central Station is just one of a handful of properties Ford has purchased in Corktown, increasing the value of an already rapidly gentrifying neighborhood overnight. Ford also plans to build hotel, retail, and residential space in the area surrounding the station. To say the news is causing local excitement is an understatement.

We recently caught up with one Ford mobility division rumored to be relocating to Corktown—a spokesman for the automaker declined to say for sure—called Ford Commercial Solutions. The 110-person division handles the company’s fleet business. Last week, Ford Commercial Solutions introduced two new products to give fleet managers better insights into how their vehicles are performing.

Both new products will be facilitated by Ford’s Transportation Mobility Cloud, an open platform that securely transmits and manages data to and from Ford vehicles.

“It’s a really exciting time,” says Lee Jelenic, CEO of Ford Commercial Solutions. “Fleets are important today, but in five years, when autonomous vehicles scale, they’ll need to develop new capabilities. By the end of 2019, every Ford vehicle will be connected through embedded modems. That gives us the opportunity to streamline fleet management services and help [fleet companies] run their businesses.”

The division’s new data services product is designed to help large corporate fleets, telematics service providers, and fleet management companies to transfer vehicle data … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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