Ford hasn’t been shy about poaching talent from Silicon Valley and it’s gone on another raid, this time hiring Peter Stern, a former Apple vice president to run its new Ford Integrated Services unit to take a lead role in software development and related functions.
Stern will “lead customer experiences powered by software and services,” the automaker said in a statement. Like key rivals such as General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis, Ford is looking to a future in which “software-defined vehicles” can generate significant revenue long after they’ve rolled off the dealer lot.
In its statement, Ford said Stern will “build a world-class team to create and market innovative customer experiences by integrating hardware, software and services” across its three primary business operations: the traditionally focused Ford Blue, EV-oriented Model e, and Ford Pro, the latter focusing on commercial EV products.
Computers on wheels
Today’s vehicles have become computers on wheels and, as more and more become connected to the cloud, that will open up significant new opportunities for a manufacturer like Ford. It is already using smartphone-style over-the-air update capabilities to fix defective vehicle software, improve the function of battery-electric vehicles like the Mustang Mach-E SUV and F-150 Lightning and add new features — some of which Ford will be able to charge customers for.
Among the projects Stern will oversee: upgrades to the semi-autonomous BlueCruise system which is now offered on a number of Ford products, including the Mach-E and Lightning. Ford is planning a series of upgrades that will expand both the features of BlueCruise, as well as the number of roads on which it will be able to operate.
Ford CEO Jim Farley has listed software and related services as a high priority, one that could generate substantial revenues going forward. Key competitors have similar aspirations. In an interview with TheDetroitBureau.com at the Consumer Electronics Show last January, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares estimated his company could generate revenue of in excess of $20 billion annually from connected vehicles. Tesla has shown the potential of the technology, using it not only to remotely make recall repairs but by downloading features such as the ability for owners to play fart sounds while driving.
A “transformational” move
“This is transformational because the cornerstone of our Ford+ plan is creating incredible customer services and experiences enabled by great hardware and software,” Farley said in the statement announcing Stern’s hiring. The Ford CEO said there is “simply no one in the world better” to take over the new business unit.
In his new role, Stern effectively will take over for Frank Louis-Victor, who has been serving as CEO of Ford Next. His future with the automaker is uncertain. He was charged with a felony following a domestic incident in July. Those charges were dropped but it is not clear if he will now return to work.
For his part, Stern said in the release, “I love creating new services businesses and this is the perfect chance to do just that.” He added, “This is really where I belong.”
Raiding the tech giants
Stern earned a law degree at Yale and was registered with the bar in both New York and Connecticut.
He shifted gears, joining the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. before being named executive vice president and chief product, people and strategy officer at Time Warner Cable. He then moved to Apple in 2016.
As EVs, autonomous and connected vehicles become more important to its future, Ford has recruited a number of senior executives from Silicon Valley. That includes Doug Field, a former Apple and Tesla exec who moved to Dearborn, Michigan in 2021.
He started out in a key role with Ford Model e. But, a year ago, he added a number of new responsibilities and is serving as chief advanced product development and technology officer. Among his added duties, Field is overseeing design and vehicle hardware engineering.