World’s automakers race to Israel as Bill Ford praises innovative culture

Ford, Renault and Nissan are the latest carmakers to enter the Israeli market in quest for the best tech. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News 

Ford, Renault and Nissan are the latest carmakers to open up innovation centers in Israel in order to take advantage of the Start-Up Nation’s technology prowess. Autonomous vehicles is one of the big drivers.

On June 10, Renault and Nissan inaugurated a joint innovation lab in Tel Aviv. Ford opened its innovation center on Wednesday.

Car company representatives were in Tel Aviv this week to attend the EcoMotion conference, which ran from Monday to Thursday.

“Through collaborations with promising local start-ups with cutting-edge technologies, we aim to develop a variety of key technologies that will be essential for the future of mobility,” said Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, executive vice president of engineering for the Renault-Nissan alliance, which also includes Mitsubishi.

The alliance typically invests $10 million per start-up and is looking at several candidates in Israel, Reuters reports.

Bill Ford, the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, also attended the Ecomotion conference. It was his first visit to Israel. He said a “revolution” is underway in the industry.

“Everything about our business is changing, and it is driven by the usual things: artificial intelligence, 3D printing and autonomous driving. All these things are ultimately changing what we think of as mobility,” the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford told the conference on Tuesday.

He credited Israel’s unique lack of hierarchy, born out of Israel’s military service, that sparks innovation. “A lot of Western companies, which tend to be more hierarchical, can unknowingly stifle innovation,” he said.

In August 2016, Ford made its first entry into the Israeli market, acquiring a computer vision and machine-learning company in Tel Aviv.

But General Motors (GM) might be the earliest major carmaker to enter Israel back in 2008. Gil Golan, director of GM’s Israel operation, told Calcalist that back then no one was paying attention. “Now, as we compete against Facebook, Google, and Apple over computer science and electrical engineering graduates, they are beginning to take it to heart,” he told the Israeli news site.

Calcalist reports that GM’s research and development center includes 400 employees and two office buildings in the coastal town of Herzliya. One of the exiting plans for the future: autonomous robo-taxis.

Daimler AG and Volkswagen Group also have Tel Aviv centers, Calcalist reports, employing 15 and 10 people, respectively.