Ford Wants Tech-Savvy Engineers and Here's How It Will Recruit Them

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ford (F), saddled with a research and development campus in Dearborn, Mich., that dates to the 1950s, is preparing to spend $1 billion over the next several years to renovate the facility.

A main goal of the project is to create an up-to-date environment that will help to recruit and retain young, tech-savvy engineers and computer scientists who now look mainly to the West Coast and, specifically, to the Silicon Valley campuses of Google  (GOOG), Facebook  (FB) and Amazon (AMZN) for employment. 

Old-line industrial companies have struggled to create working spaces that are as attractive to recent college graduates as those offered by startups or high-tech firms. Modular steel cubicles, which have been satirized in motion pictures, are giving way to lounges, comfortable seating, bike paths, workout facilities, kitchens stocked with snacks and recreational gear, such as foosball tables. 

General Motors  (GMin May announced a similar $1 billion investment in its R&D Tech Center in Warren, Mich. Ford is declining to comment on the project, though a request for proposal has been circulating among architects and construction companies and was reported in Automotive News, a trade publication. 

Investments designed to attract high-tech talent to the automotive industry highlight the extent to which modern automobiles must rely on computing and software for advanced safety, autonomous and infotainment features, as well as the car's basic operation. BMW's latest 7 Series sedan, currently being tested by journalists in Miramas, France, and going on sale later this year, will offer several advanced features, including a key fob that will let a driver park the car while standing outside the vehicle. 

Ford's troubles with its in-dash Sync system were the reason that the company's vehicles suffered in quality ratings from Consumer Reports. Ford has since replaced and improved the system. But lowered quality ratings could be a reason why Ford's pricing and profitability have struggled to reach standards set by Toyota (TM) and Volkswagen (VLKAY). 

Lately, Apple  (AAPL) and Google have been gaining importance as suppliers to the automakers with products for dashboards that are meant to connect with Smartphone formats and emulate them. 

Since the global financial crisis, Ford shares have gained 30.5%, lagging the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which has gained 76.5%. Unlike its two Detroit-based competitors, Ford -- after massive losses -- managed to avoid a bankruptcy filing in 2009. 

Analysts' opinions of Ford stock are divided: Seven equity analysts rate common shares a buy or strong buy, down from eight analysts three months ago. Twelve analysts say the shares are a hold, up from 11 three months ago. One analyst rates the stock underperform or sell. The automaker is controlled by a trust representing the Ford family, which holds a super-voting class of stock that represents 40% of shareholder votes and 3% of the company's equity.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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