Major Automakers Race To Silicon Valley

As car companies become more technology driven, Detroit is parking itself among the startups.

Twizy EV

Silicon Valley: home to Google, Intel, countless tech startups, and... Renault-Nissan? The automotive group announced this week that it is opening a research office directly across from Google's campus by the end of June—and it will focus on the company's most cutting-edge initiatives, including in-vehicle Internet connectivity, user-interface displays, and smart-grid research.

Nissan is one of a number of major automakers to tap Silicon Valley's technological prowess by setting up shop right where the action is. BMW has a technology office in Palo Alto, Mercedes-Benz has a Group and Advanced Engineering office in the area, and Volkswagen has an Electronics Research Laboratory in Belmont, CA.

What will Nissan work on at its new research center? The company says that it will work on devices like the "Carwings" telematics system—a seven-inch touchscreen featuring maps of EV charging stations and real-time energy consumption reports. The system is already found in all Nissan LEAFs. European carmaker Renault will also work on the research and advanced engineering aspects of its electric vehicles, which include the upcoming battery switch station-compatible Fluence ZE and the two-seater Twizy ZE (pictured).

It makes sense for these companies to focus on research in Silicon Valley; it's where the talent is, and the engineering starting wages in Detroit are low compared to California. And there are undeniable attractions to living in the Bay Area versus Detroit, meaning it's easier to lure prospective hotshot employees.

Land is still much cheaper in Detroit, however, so don't expect major automakers to pack up their factories and head for the Bay. But with the proliferation of hybrid, electric, and other advanced vehicle technologies, it only makes sense for car companies to focus on Silicon Valley. Renault-Nissan almost certainly won't be the last.

[Image: Renault]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • Gary Vesperman

    I worked as a technical writer for 18 computer engineering companies in Silicon Valley including Control Data, Amdahl, H-P, Ampex, Timex, etc. I have written an "Advanced Self-Powered Electric Vehicle Concept" - see Please sign my petition to end suppression of energy inventions at

    Gary Vesperman

  • @bobbleheadguru

    Detroit and Bay Area offer completely different value propositions. What is interesting is that density of engineers/population is very similar for the two areas and the intellectual horsepower is comparable, but with different specializations. It is also important to note that Google Adwords (their biggest money maker) is run out of Ann Arbor, MI (less than 40 miles from Detroit).