Ford shifts focus to Silicon Valley

Ford is joining the growing list of automakers beefing up its presence in the Silicon Valley. The automaker on Thursday opened the Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto to develop new technologies the company plans to incorporate into future vehicles.

The automaker will also be working with researchers at Stanford University to test a Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle.

Read MoreA new Volt, new trucks, new optimism in Detroit

"This new research center shows Ford's commitment to be part of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem— anticipating customers' wants and needs, especially connectivity, mobility and autonomous vehicles," Ford President and CEO Mark Fields said. "We are working to make these new technologies accessible to everyone."

President and CEO of Ford Mark Fields delivers a keynote address at the 2015 International CES earlier this month in Las Vegas.
Getty Images
President and CEO of Ford Mark Fields delivers a keynote address at the 2015 International CES earlier this month in Las Vegas.

Ford's research center reflects tech's growing importance in the auto industry. From advanced electronics to autonomous and semi-autonomous drive software to the increased connectivity in new vehicles, automakers realize the future of autos and transportation will roll through Silicon Valley.

Read MoreMusk in Motown: Urgent need for electric cars

Earlier this month, Fields delivered the keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show where he talked about Ford's development of semi-autonomous drive features designed to make it easier and safer to drive a vehicle.

Ford has had an office in the Silicon Valley since 2012, but the new research center will have a far bigger presence, with a staff of 125 researchers and scientists. Leading the center will be Dragos Maciuca, who previously worked at Apple.

Read MoreThis automaker still tops in global sales

Several major automakers have now established R&D centers in the Silicon Valley, where they are working with tech companies. At the same time, one of the largest tech companies in the Bay Area, Google, has been making news developing its own autonomous-drive technology.

At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Google executive leading that program said the tech giant is looking to work with automakers as it develops driver assist programs.

Ford CEO Mark Fields speaks at a news conference following presentations to investors in Dearborn, Mich., Sept. 29, 2014.
Ford CEO: You'll see a driverless car in 5 years