Silicon Valley hits overdrive: Automotive R&D shops flock to Bay Area

Is it a car or a consumer electronic device?

Imagine cruising Stevens Creek Boulevard at night. Your self-driving car’s entire windshield is illuminated, projecting data like Yelp reviews for restaurants. Not hungry? Swipe your hand over the gesture-controlled dashboard and a Facebook message appears.

Components of this vision are already in the works at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America’s Palo Alto headquarters. The subsidiary of auto giant Daimler AG employs 150 people in Silicon Valley to work on projects like cloud-based apps and smartphone-powered information systems.

Mercedes set up shop in Silicon Valley during the height of the dot-com boom in the mid-1990s, along with other early auto tech adopters like BMW AG and Volkswagen AG. In the last two years, Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. have joined the ranks of automakers tapping Silicon Valley’s talent pool, bringing all the major automakers into the region.

“We see Silicon Valley as one of those places where innovation is born,” said Johann Jungwirth, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America. “We are not just an outside research facility with some crazy ideas and a greenfield approach.”

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