DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. will hire 750 salaried engineers, software architecture designers and other technology experts this year as part of its effort to bring new vehicles and new technology to market.
"These people are game-changers, addressing a whole new generation of consumer needs and desires," Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said in a speech tonight at the Automotive News World Congress.
Ford plans to develop more entertainment, infotainment, navigation, cell phone connectivity and WiFi technologies for its car and light truck lineup.
Ford sees wider profits and a chance to attract more 18- to 24-year-old consumers by offering more in-vehicle technology.
In 2010, technology options such as Sync and MyFord Touch helped the automaker post its largest market share gain among 18- to 24-year-olds, Fields said.
MyFord Touch is Ford's voice-activated and touch-screen technology that controls features such as temperature, music and cell phone calls from a screen. It's an option on the 2011 Ford Edge crossover and standard on the Lincoln MKX crossover. It's called MyLincoln Touch for Lincoln.
Ford's Sync is an infotainment system, based on Microsoft software, that pairs with a driver's Bluetooth phone. Sync initially was designed to control music devices and cell phones. It's also voice activated.
Fields said 46 percent of Sync owners want WiFi in their next vehicle.
The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that in 2010, automakers racked up about $6 billion in revenues from vehicle technology sales to consumers, Fields said.
"Working even more closely together we can develop and deliver innovations that make these highly desired technologies affordable for consumers but profitable for us all," Fields said.
Ford has 220 technology experts and several suppliers creating new content and refining technology for the automaker, Fields said.
"They're easy to spot," Fields joked. "Half of the U.S. team members are under 30. They're usually the ones wearing jeans. And odds are pretty good that they have a Pandora or Stitcher streaming through their ear buds in their cubes."
Navigation remains the most desired in-vehicle technology among consumers, followed by the ability to integrate a cell phone in the car for hands-free communication, Fields said.
Earlier this month, Consumer Reports magazine said it won't recommend the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers, mainly because of MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch.
The magazine called the technology "a complicated distraction while driving." It said "first-time users might find it impossible to comprehend. The system did not always perform as promised."
But Ford CEO Alan Mulally said earlier this week: "Over time, it's going to get to a place where it's almost a conversation. All the data says if you have your eyes on the road, your cognitive ability is fantastic, and you're even a better driver."
Ford says about 82 percent of Ford Edge crossovers ordered have the MyFord Touch option. And of those owners who have Ford's Sync system, 70 percent of them regularly use it.
Fields said: "Ford has reached a tipping point: We are a technology company working at the clock speed of software and technology companies to deliver even more smart technologies people really want."