Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, is beefing up its technology staff as more drivers seek to use mobile-phone software applications such as Internet radio and voice commands in their vehicles.
The company has already hired software engineers from Microsoft Corp., Nokia Oyj and Computer Sciences Corp., and is looking for a chief technologist as well as developers who can work on mobile apps, said Doug VanDagens, director of Ford’s connected service solutions. He recently got permission to quadruple the size of his team globally.
“I laid out the product opportunities that we had with our senior management here at Ford, and asked for an even more aggressive growth curve,” VanDagens said in an interview. “After seeing the product plan, everyone was all in.”
Technology expertise is in demand in Motor City, as automakers replace car stereos with Internet radio and gasoline engines with lithium-ion batteries. Detroit was the fastest-expanding region for technology job postings last year, according to website Dice Holdings Inc. Ford is also working to fix software glitches as it integrates new technology, such as touch-screen and voice controls, into its cars.
Ford’s AppLink software, which lets drivers control smartphone apps with the company’s voice-activated communications system, called Sync, will be available on 10 models this year, after debuting on one in December.
In the past six months, the number of app developers that have applied to create programs for Ford’s vehicles has increased by 150 percent to more than 2,500, said Alan Hall, a spokesman for Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford.
“The ability to utilize some of these apps in the car is becoming very desirable by consumers, particularly Internet radio,” said Phil Magney, vice president of automotive research for IHS ISuppli. “Ford is very aggressive -- I would have to give them credit to be first to fully capitalize on the latest trend.”
Yesterday, the automaker said it was addressing complaints about its MyFordTouch and Sync technology and improving the software, after its Explorer sport-utility vehicle this month was ranked 17th out of 19 models in its class reviewed by Consumer Reports, which called the touch-screen controls “complicated and distracting.” J.D. Power & Associates said it had received reports of the screens blanking out.
“We’re largely back on track on some of these early issues,” Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said yesterday.
Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally has worked to improve the automaker’s quality, helping Ford report $9.28 billion in profit the past two years, rebounding from $30.1 billion in losses from 2006 to 2008.