A History of Collaboration: Recalling Notable Ford Innovations Through Partnership

Jun 07, 2024

Michigan Central Station will soon be the centerpiece of the Michigan Central district in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. The vision for the renovated former train depot as a catalyst for innovation depends on Ford employees coming together with external partners, entrepreneurs, students, and even competitors, to co-create new products, services, and technologies that bring value to a new generation of Ford customers and help build a better world. Below are some of the most notable examples of Ford’s previous collaborations with other companies, which have yielded advances in components and learnings that have helped shape Ford and the automotive industry. 


An early partnership between company founder Henry Ford and Edison Storage Battery Company, owned by friend and inventor Thomas Edison, explored EV technology at a time when the Model T was revolutionizing transportation. The duo worked on at least two experimental EVs around 1913, and though no vehicle reached the production phase, a prototype made of Model T parts did surface. 

Willow Run

The Arsenal of Democracy was born from Ford’s work with the U.S. government during World War II. The famed Detroit-area Willow Run plant produced more than 8,600 B-24 Liberator bombers, which is the record for most bombers produced from a single plant. The facility is also well known for helping reshape women’s role in the workplace, employing female workers who are now famously known as “Rosie the Riveters,” or simply “Rosies.”


Since its inception, Ford has been working with its network of supplier companies to deliver advances in all aspects of vehicle production, and went so far as to celebrate “the vast role of suppliers in automotive production” with a lengthy 1956 event at the Ford Rotunda called “Partners in Production.” More than 50 suppliers participated during the four-month affair meant to honor the engineering, manufacturing, and research achievements of the hundreds of thousands of people who worked together to advance the automotive industry. 


Ford’s involvement with electronics manufacturer Philco is probably best known today for the Philco-Ford subsidiary that contributed to the first manned moon landing in 1969. But the two companies worked together prior to Ford’s acquisition of Philco in 1961, collaborating to advance in-car entertainment and communication systems. 


Collaboration with this British engineering company led to the development of the famed Double Four Valve (DFV) engine used in Formula One racing. Ford contracted with Cosworth Engineering in 1965 and the DFV engine was unveiled in 1967, propelling a Lotus-Ford to victory in its debut. In total, the DFV engine powered 155 Formula One wins in 16 years, including driver and manufacturer championships in 1980 and ‘81 (and another driver’s title in 1982), before being replaced in 1983. 

Shelby American

Stemming from Ford’s partnership with Carroll Shelby’s eponymous company in the 1960s, high-performance variants have played a significant role in Mustang’s 60-year history.  The affiliation helped earn Ford a reputation for producing performance vehicles and led to success on the track, as well. The relationship launched with the 1965 Mustang Shelby GT350, and the legend has continued to grow. 


Ford began a long-running partnership with Mazda by acquiring a 25% stake in the company in 1979. The collaboration spanned various projects and included shared vehicle platforms and technologies such as those used in the development and production of the Ford Probe and Mazda MX-6. The relationship also yielded the first vehicle developed, engineered, and built by an American-based automaker to be sold in North America under a Japanese nameplate, the Mazda Navajo SUV, in the early 1990s. It was a differentiated version of the then-new and wildly successful Ford Explorer. Ford was also partnering with Nissan around this time and in addition to Mazda, owned equity in Kia, while also partnering with Volkswagen in South America and Europe.


Ford delivered for the U.S. Postal Service in 1999 following a joint engineering and development program with Utilimaster to deliver 10,000 Ford Explorer-based flexible fuel vehicles for the organization. The postal delivery trucks were capable of running on E85 ethanol, unleaded gasoline, or a combination of the two fuels. At the time, these aluminum-bodied trucks were the first new postal delivery vehicles in 14 years.


This titan of technology factored into the development of the original SYNC infotainment system in 2007. Based on Microsoft Auto software, SYNC revolutionized the way owners could interact with their cell phones and other digital devices via voice commands, radio controls, or steering wheel-mounted controls in their Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles. The first-generation of SYNC included features such as voice-activated, hands-free calling; voice recognition; audible text messaging; and voice-activated music listening. The capability put Ford ahead of the industry in the nascent in-car entertainment era. SYNC software was being used in 12 million vehicles globally by the time its third generation was launched in 2015.


Ford teamed up with Toyota in 2011 to develop hybrid technology for light trucks and SUVs and advanced telematics systems. The two global leaders in hybrid technology had been working independently on similar rear-wheel-drive hybrid systems prior to their tie-up. 


Ford has locked arms with the Golden Arches at least twice, most recently in 2019 in an effort to produce sustainable car parts like headlamp housings using a by-product known as coffee chaff. The components made from the upcycled coffee bean skins were about 20% lighter and required as much as 25% less energy during the molding process.


Ford again partnered with the German automaker beginning in 2019, creating an alliance for the co-development of commercial vans and medium-sized pickups, EVs, and self-driving technology.


In 2021, Ford began a six-year partnership with the tech giant to leverage its AI, machine learning, and data analytics capabilities to help transform our business and improve the customer experience. Google’s technology also features heavily into the new Ford Digital Experience and Lincoln Digital Experience systems currently rolling out to each respective lineup.


That same year, Ford linked with the company now known as SK On to establish BlueOval SK, a joint venture (JV) that will produce EV batteries for future Ford and Lincoln EVs in North America. The JV will operate battery manufacturing facilities in Kentucky and Tennessee. 

Michigan Central OPEN

From June 6-16, Ford Motor Company and Michigan Central will host Michigan Central OPEN, welcoming the community to celebrate this historic moment in Detroit’s history. Festivities begin Thursday, June 6, with an opening night spectacular, Live from Detroit: The Concert at Michigan Central, which will feature a once-in-a-lifetime lineup of some of Detroit’s biggest stars. Produced by the Emmy-winning Jesse Collins Entertainment, the sold-out show will feature short films, appearances by local leaders, and creators telling stories of innovation and culture from around the city and the region. Then, beginning June 7, The Station’s doors open to the public for the 10-day, immersive OPEN House experience to see the landmark’s restored first floor. Michigan Central’s art program will also unveil a new iteration of Reddymade’s “me + you,” a critically acclaimed interactive sculpture, specifically for Michigan Central.