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Detroit Hiring Talent in Silicon Valley for Race Against Google

  • Ford announces new partnerships to develop self-driving cars
  • Michigan governor wants to tout education, industrial skills

For the first time in America’s industrial history, the center for automotive technology is drifting away from Detroit.

Ford Motor Co., aiming to put fully autonomous vehicles into the economy by 2021, announced that it’s doubling the size of its office in Silicon Valley to 260 people and investing in four companies that are key to building self-driving cars. The carmaker’s move follows more than $1 billion in investments made by Detroit-based General Motors Co. in a pair of California technology companies earlier this year to keep up with Google’s autonomous-car project and Uber Technologies Inc.’s ride-hailing business.

While the old-school mechanical engineering remains in the Midwest as does low-skilled factory work that hasn’t moved to Southern states, these investments show Detroit carmakers have realized that they must go to the nation’s technology center to find the software expertise needed to make the autos of tomorrow. Traditional automakers now directly employ hundreds in Silicon Valley, which is also home to Palo Alto-based Tesla Motors Inc.

“The shift to California is undeniable,” said Eric Noble, president of the CarLab consulting firm in Orange, California. “The technological development for autonomous vehicles and intelligent cars will continue to be done in Northern California because that’s where the knowledge is.”

Tough Realities

Ford and GM, racing to stay among the technology leaders, face a few tough realities. Companies like Google and Uber threaten to upend the industry by turning car-owners and drivers into passengers who simply pay for a ride. And even though the carmakers and state of Michigan are developing tech talent, Silicon Valley is still ground zero for the people who write code, create driverless algorithms...