Ford Purchases Michigan's Iconic Central Station for Transportation Hub

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【Summary】Hot on the heels of its 115 th anniversary, Ford purchased one of Detroit’s more iconic buildings, Michigan Central Station, which it wants to use as a transportation hub for the development of driverless technology.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Jul 30, 2018 8:30 AM PT
Ford Purchases Michigan's Iconic Central Station for Transportation Hub

Regardless of where American automakers may be building their cars at the moment, the Detroit Three still call Michigan home. The brands may not build as many cars in the area as they used to, but they're still deeply imbedded in the community. Ford wants the community that has stood behind it for numerous decades to know that it hasn't forgotten about them with a grand gesture. 

The American automaker celebrated its 115th anniversary this week, which it capped off by purchasing one of Detroit's most iconic buildings – Michigan Central Station. The long-abandoned train station will be renovated over the next four years to become Ford's Corktown campus by 2022. 


The History Behind The Station

The massive, 18-story station was opened in 1913. The station was busy from the ‘20s to the ‘50s, as hundreds of trains left Detroit, which was one of the more popular cities in the country during the time. Somewhat ironically, the mass adoption of automobiles drove the station to close its doors for good in 1988 and it's been abandoned ever since. 

Michigan Central, then, has always been one of Detroit's more iconic landmarks. A picture of the rotten, abandoned building has constantly been used for decades by websites, magazines, and newspapers to display Detroit's hardships. But that could change soon after Ford's somewhat brilliant PR move to purchase the building. 

Ford plans to transform the station from its current bleak state to a new centerpiece of the city, claiming its finished state will create 2,500 new careers. Those will mostly deal with electric-vehicle testing and the development of autonomous technology. The automaker wants to add an additional 2,500 jobs later down the road. 

Michigan Central Station 3.jpg

Making Ford A Serious Player

The move is a smart one for a few reasons. One, it shows that Ford hasn't forgotten about the people that live in its backyard. Two, Ford probably got a heck of a good deal on the property, as it was sitting idly by doing nothing for nearly 30 years. Three, it puts Ford in a better position to market itself as a tech company that can keep up with the best from Silicon Valley. 

"Palo Alto is about moving bits. We're about moving people," said Ford's CEO Jim Hackett during a press conference. "This can be our Sand Hill Road." 

In an interview with The New York Times, William C. Ford Jr., Ford's chairman and great-grandson of the brand's founder, shed some more light on the acquisition. "It's so much more than just the restoration of an iconic building," said Ford Jr. "Our goal is to have the autonomous vehicle invented and proved out here, and to attract the entrepreneurs and young businesses that will enable that, so we really will be able to create the mobility corridor of the next 50 years." 

If everything goes smoothly and Ford manages to overhaul the building, it would fit well into the automaker's overall plans for the future. As Wired points out, the updated facility would be the brand's centerpiece in its $1 billion Detroit campus. Reportedly, Ford has been busy of late, buying abandoned factories and empty plots of land around Detroit in an effort to create a 1.2-million-square-foot center. Three hundred thousand square feet will apparently make up community and retail space. 

As Ford Jr. stated in his interview, the move is all about drawing a younger crowd to a growing city. To that end, Ford, as Wired reports, also has plans to move workers that are currently working on future projects, like autonomy and electrified powertrains to Detroit. That, according to officials, will give them a new perspective. 


Is All Of This Coming Too Late For Ford? 

While the thinking behind the station is something everyone can get behind, it comes at an interesting time for Ford. The American automaker is doing a lot of things to make it a player in the autonomous scene, like partnering with startup RideOS and testing an on-demand autonomous delivery service with Postmates in Florida.  

Look beyond its self-driving strides and things get a little cloudy. The automaker recently announced that it would only have a lineup of crossovers and SUVs in the future, as small cars and sedans would get the axe. The brand, which was once the most profitable American automaker, failed to get a clear plan penned for the release of electric vehicles and new tech, claims The New York Times. Not only that, but it was slow to come out with SUVs and crossovers when they started to become popular. Ford's recent moves, then, seem like hasty knee-jerk reactions to play catch up. 

In an attempt to right the ship, Ford got rid of its former chief executive, Mark Fields, in favor of Jim Hackett. Hackett's plan to get Ford back on track includes getting on the EV train, new SUVs, and cutting costs. Purchasing a crumbling building to set up a new mobility headquarter doesn't sound like a cost-cutting measure. Ford didn't state how much it bought the station for or how much it thought the renovation would cost. 

The New York Times states that the decision to buy the old train station came after Ford started building a Team Edison. The group was tasked with keeping Ford's electric-vehicle goals on track. High-up executives wanted the group to have a location that was separate from the brand's Dearborn plant, an urban location to draw professionals from Generation Y in, states the outlet. The train station became a viable choice because it also had a positive impact on Detroit. 

Whether a revitalized train station helps Ford become one of the leaders in the autonomous scene is something that we'll have to wait to answer. How much it helps Detroit is also something that remains to be seen. 

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