Bill Ford, executive chairman of US automaker Ford Motor Company, officially opened the Ford Research Center in Tel Aviv on Wednesday to tap into Israel’s vast wealth of innovative mobility startups.
The new center, located in southern Tel Aviv, will serve as a research incubator that will “work with Ford’s research and development teams around the world to enhance the capabilities of Ford’s products by identifying technologies and startups in connectivity, sensors, vehicle interior monitoring and cyber protection,” the company said.
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The center will include a vehicle lab that will support programming tests and be available to Ford’s Israeli subsidiary SAIPS to continue its work in the automotive field.
“Opening the center is really important for us because young companies, young entrepreneurs don’t know how to access a company like Ford,” Ford told the crowd of industry insiders and startups in the research center located at the Adgar 360 tower. “By opening the center, we hope to alleviate those positions and make it easier for Israeli entrepreneurs not only to find us, but also to get to know us.”
Ford noted that it was the Israeli tech community’s ability to adapt to the rapidly changing automotive industry that really sold him on Israel.
“The ecosystem of startups I’ve seen here is just remarkable,” he added.
“No company can do it alone. No company should try to do it alone. We need partnerships,” he continued.
“We recognize the importance of being in one of the world’s leading innovation communities and ecosystems,” said Ford in a statement prior to the event. “This new center is not only an expansion of our existing Research and Innovation centers but provides an opportunity to join a growing innovation community in Israel.”
The center will work closely with SAIPS, the Israel-based computerized computing and vision imaging company, led by CEO and founder Udi Danino, who will also serve as the technical director of the new center. Ford acquired the company in 2016.
“The new research center in Israel will strengthen Ford’s effort to leverage the automotive expertise and technology accumulated in the company to develop solutions to present and future mobility challenges,” Danino said in a statement marking the launch. “Expanding Ford’s presence in Israel will enable us to identify quality technologies and collaborate with leading companies more quickly.”
The research center joins Ford’s other global research centers in Aachen, Germany, Nanjing, capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province, and Dearborn, Michigan.
Ford has operated in Israel for over a decade, working with local tech scouts to identify innovative emerging technologies. In 2015, Ford was among the first major automakers to host a developer challenge in Israel, returning last year to Tel Aviv to host its fourth annual MakeItDriveable event, which began in Israel and expanded to Berlin, Dublin, and Paris.
On Tuesday, Ford kicked the EcoMotion main event in Tel Aviv in a fireside chat with Israeli journalist Dana Weiss.
Ford, on his first visit to Israel, said the Israeli tech ecosystem “is fantastic.”
“The lack of hierarchy makes Israel a really great place to start up and make your voice heard early in the process,” he said in reference to Israeli business culture, which encourages open communication and is less hierarchal than in the US and Europe.
Ford said he was fascinated by “the egalitarian part” of Israel. “I love that, and I really think it sparks innovation,” he said during the chat.
Speaking about the role of more traditional companies in an emerging startup world, Ford said cooperation was key. “We don’t have to be disruptors, we have to encourage disruptors and then partner with them.”
Ford called the ongoing revolution in the automotive industry the most exciting time of his career. “The companies who get it right and integrate all these technologies will change people’s lives,” he said, adding that those that don’t will be “consigned to the dustbin of history.”
EcoMotion is a community of over 600 startups and 8,000 members in the transportation sector. It is a joint venture of the Israeli Innovation Institute, the Alternative Fuels and Smart Transportation Administration in the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Ministry of Economy. EcoMotion says it is building an interdisciplinary community focused on developing smart transportation, stimulating multiple solutions in R&D and entrepreneurship.
The opening of the Ford center comes on the heels of the launch of the Alliance Innovation Lab Tel Aviv by Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi this week. The lab will focus on sensors for autonomous driving, cybersecurity, and Big Data, and will work with over 10 participating Israeli companies to develop proofs-of-concept and prototypes.