Spelling Ford with an ‘E’
Ford Motor Co.’s new Model e team aims to transform the 120-year-old auto giant. Meet some of its new technology leaders.
One year ago, Ford Motor Co. kicked off a new era in its long history when it bifurcated into two strategically interdependent auto businesses. Ford Blue, the “traditional” business, is responsible for the ICE and hybrid vehicles whose profits currently fund development of EV and connected-vehicle technologies. The new Ford Model e aims to provide “start-up speed and unbridled innovation,” asserted Ford CEO Jim Farley. Model e will literally be the “motor” in FoMoCo that delivers the revenue bonanza Ford leadership believes will come from connected vehicle services and, at some point, EV sales.
With Model e, Ford essentially created a new company within the company. It required a team of “the world’s best software, electrical and automotive talent,” Farley said, many of them young engineers from the tech industry and EV startups. Their mission includes design, engineering and development of EV propulsion systems, energy-storage and charging solutions, embedded software and hardware, and UX.
Doug Field, chief officer, EVs and digital systems
The ”watershed moment” for Model e, Farley said at the March 2022 launch, was hiring Doug Field to lead the new organization. The former Tesla VP of engineering and Apple VP of special projects began his engineering career at Ford in 1987. “Doug’s got all the right stuff for where we’re headed,” a Model-e engineer told SAE Media. “And we hope he’s here for the long run.”
Field has kept a low profile since joining Ford, choosing to eschew media interviews. He has spoken of his “deep desire” to help remake the auto industry. “My focus right now is transitioning the company to fully software-defined vehicles and helping our customers get more out of their businesses and lives through new, truly differentiated products and services,” he told a small media event in Dearborn last December, attended by SAE Media, in which he introduced some of the Model e executive team.
Joining Ford EV engineering veterans Chuck Gray and Darren Palmer are these new key players on Field’s team.
Sammy Omari: ADAS guru, Latitude CEO
Omari serves two roles. He’s executive director of Ford’s ADAS technology development and CEO at Latitude AI, the autonomous-tech organization that Ford set up in the wake of Argo AI’s demise. Swiss-born, he comes to Ford from Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai JV focused on commercializing SAE Level 4 vehicles where he was VP of engineering and head of autonomy, systems and mapping.
“What brought me to Ford is the potential to give people their time back,” he said. “The average American spends 20 days, almost 500 hours a year sitting in a car. Just giving a fraction of that time back to our customers would have a massive impact.” He also joined Ford for its massive global scale, strong brands, and the software, machine learning and robotics talent that Ford has onboarded. He said Field is building a unique culture that will enable Ford to “execute on the vision of building cost-effective and powerful ADAS systems.”
The most difficult problem to solve, Omari said, is autonomy. “We have to ensure that when we launch L3 that it’s ready, it’s safe, and it provides an amazing experience.”
Roz Ho: Connected vehicle software
Ho, Model e’s chief connected vehicle software officer, spent more than 30 years working in software and technology for a number of companies, including most recently as VP and global head of software for HP where she led a team of 4,000 engineers. Before that, Ho spent nearly 20 years at Microsoft as a software engineer and eventually corporate VP.
“I believe that technology can really help improve peoples’ lives,” she said. “Ford is working on things that are going to improve the world, starting with making people’s time spent in their vehicles more productive, more entertaining and more enjoyable. And Ford itself is undergoing a cultural change. These sort of translations and the team really attracted me to Ford.”
Ho compares the transformation of vehicles, via software, to that of cell phones over the last 15 to 20 years. “At that time they were just about making calls. Now they’re indispensable to our lives. That’s what we’re going to do with the vehicles,” she said. “First, we have to build a stable, high-quality platform, the right architecture. And in doing that, deliver better quality and solutions that are limited only by our imaginations and the resources we apply..”
Alex Purdy: Digital product domo
The former head of John Deer Laboratories, Purdy, head of digital product Model-e. He’s responsible for planning the digital products for customers, technologies and services for Ford’s embedded software and hardware portfolios. At Deere, he directed the ag equipment giant’s precision agriculture strategy and business development.
Purdy admits to being attracted to “big problems” like the waste he saw in farming that was solved, in many cases, by Deere technology such as the sensor-based Interactive Combine Adjust product. In Ford, he sees a comparatively greater scale yielding similar success.
“I think we’re at an equally impactful transition point here with motor vehicles,” Purdy said. We really need to be rooted in a deep customer understanding: what drives them, what their ecosystems are.” He admits that connecting development teams and enabling them “to speak a common language and use common tools” is no easy feat but he’s optimistic Ford’s institutional knowledge and new culture will prevail.
Rob Bedichek: platform architecture director
Designing, building, verifying and deploying Ford’s next-generation software systems and services is the job of Bedichek, Model-e executive director of platform architecture. He comes to Ford from Intel, Inc., where he served as VP and general manager of system software and simulation engineering across 12 geographic regions. He was also senior director of platform architecture at Apple.
“The hardest thing about the hardware is getting the right combination of programmability, making it sensible to the programmers, something they can write lots of software on and evolve over time, and push that out to customers,” Bedichek said. The vehicle, he explained, with all of its networks, CPUs, and memory is really a “distributed multicomputer that has to be programmed by a team of people that understand it as a computer, with all the reliability and lifetime things.” Optimizing the system and its costs and risks is the challenge.
“You really need to know the details about the software, just what it needs in the computer. Then you know what chip or chips to build. So, you build the hardware to run the software to deliver the experience. That’s the path we’re taking at Ford,” he said, including chip design.
During the global semiconductor supply crisis, Ford went to its suppliers to understand their development paths. That move “is already yielding significant gains and the suppliers want to do a better job,” Bedichek said. “We’re helping them write pieces of software and it’s good for their business. Sometimes it takes a knock on the door until you can talk to the right people; they’re not used to having that conversation.”
Lisa Drake: EV industrialization veteran
“In some ways the most important people in this transformation are the people that have been here, who have built Ford, know Ford and have been waiting for his moment their entire career. That’s Lisa Drake,” Field said. Drake heads Model-e’s EV Industrialization. A former COO for North America and VP global purchasing, with multiple vehicle and systems engineering management experience, she leads Model e’s procurement activities and supplier technical assistance. She “kind of got married into the EV camp” when, as Super Duty assistant chief, she was tapped to join Ford’s nascent hybrid development. “And once you get a little dose of EV in your blood, it stays.”
Drake credits Ford’s EV battery suppliers LG and SKI for being proactive in scaling with the OEM when Mach-e and F-150 Lightning launched. “We have suppliers who have been with us for decades. So, when we call and say ‘we need times four’ on Mach-e production, they’re right there with us.” Ford has its “sights set high” for scaling the new Tennessee battery plant quickly. “Picture [plant] technology at a clock speed of Dearborn Truck. About 65 jobs an hour. It’s going to be a very high-scale, high-tech manufacturing facility to take advantage of everything this team is engineering.”