FORD

Top Tesla engineer hired by Ford after 12 years with EV industry leader

Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free Press

Alan Clarke, a top engineer at Tesla for the past 12 years, is now working at Ford Motor Co., the automaker confirmed Thursday.

He is a key player in the advanced electric vehicle development department and reporting to Doug Field, a former Tesla engineer who joined Ford in September and now runs its advanced technology and embedded systems.

"I’m happy to share that I’m starting a new position in Advanced EV Development at Ford Motor Company," Clarke wrote on his LinkedIn profile page, which is public.

More than 500 people responded to the news, including Ford CEO Jim Farley who posted, "Welcome, Alan! Great to have you on the team." Other comments included:

  • "You have made a huge impact at Tesla and it was a privilege working with you," wrote Anders Bell, senior director of engineering at Tesla.
  • "Alan, you’re a gentleman and a scholar! It was a privilege working with you all these years," wrote Eric Williams, associate general counsel at Tesla.
  • "All the best in your new venture Alan. Tesla has lost a great talent!" wrote Tim Lodge, staff engineer in vehicle dynamics at Tesla.
  • "They are lucky to have you. Wish you all the best!" wrote Carl Rydquist, senior engineering manager at Tesla.
  • "Will miss working with you - best of luck in new adventures!" wrote Monika Jones, a project manager at Tesla.
  • "Fantastic move. I can’t wait to see what you come up with," wrote Matt Casebolt, senior director of product design at Apple.

Clarke, 35, has directed new programs engineering at Tesla from October 2017 until his departure last month, according to LinkedIn.

Prior to that, he spent nearly six years managing the engineering and development of advanced prototypes and future models at Tesla's Los Angeles Design and Engineering Center. And before that, he was a senior design engineer.

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Tesla is considered the industry leader in electric vehicle development, as well as a Wall Street darling that made headlines when it surpassed a $1 trillion valuation. Its CEO Elon Musk, 50, and Farley, 59, have exchanged words of praise and also sparred on social media.

Mark Truby, Ford chief communications officer, declined to provide further information on Clarke's hire from Tesla. He said Clarke and Field were not available for comment on Thursday.

Farley has been transparent about his admiration for the Silicon Valley startup that now challenges legacy automakers to catch up — and vowed to do so.

Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Farley stands with a 2021 Mustang Mach-E 4X model outside of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on January 14, 2021.

This latest hire is one of a series of moves that Ford says reflects a relentless commitment to investing in new talent required during this time of dynamic transition. Farley has promised the iconic Dearborn automaker will do what it takes to directly compete with Tesla, an all-electric competitor that dominates the EV segment globally.

In September, when Ford hired Field, the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg called the move a "coup." Clarke is the latest addition to a high-powered team moving Ford from an internal combustion engine (ICE) company to EV maker. 

Doug Field, named Ford chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer on September 7, 2021, is seen here working on the Ford 351 Cleveland engine in his De Tomaso Pantera.

Field, 56, who was Apple vice president of special projectshad spent five years at Tesla as senior vice president of engineering and had led development of the Tesla Model 3.

When Field joined Ford, he told the Free Press, "Electrification, software and connected vehicles and autonomy are going to change everything. Too often, these new technologies are brought forward by startups and we lose some of the history in industries that have been built up over time."

He continued, "There's no company with a better history in this industry than Ford Motor Co. and, after meeting and talking to (CEO) Jim (Farley) and other leadership at Ford, I became convinced that not only was the history here but there was a deep desire to really change and embrace these technologies and sort of build the best of both worlds, where the scale and history of Ford can be combined with a completely new set of approaches in the product and in the experiences and in the connection." 

Again and again, Farley has told Wall Street analysts during earnings calls that Ford is building a powerhouse team and bringing on new talent to take Ford into uncharted territory. 

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Clarke brings extensive experience and perspective to Ford as it works to develop new technologies to build efficient electric vehicles, in addition to the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Ford F-150 Lightning, already in high demand.

Clarke, a mechanical engineer who earned his bachelor of science degree at the University of California, Davis, has spent most of his professional life at Tesla as it evolved from a tech startup to a trillion-dollar behemoth, according to LinkedIn. 

But he also has experience with race cars. 

And that's where Clarke has something else in common with Ford and Farley. Each has a history with racing.

Clarke began his career as an intern at Honda Racing F1, where he learned about hydraulics and composite materials. From there, he worked in composite design where he worked on "brake ducts, splitters, wings and aftermarket composite products for race cars," according to LinkedIn.

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Then he took a position as a chassis development engineer at Honda Performance, doing "design and development engineering for ARX 02A P1 and ARX 01b P2 prototype sports cars in the American Le Mans Series," according to LinkedIn.

In 2012, when Tesla unveiled its Model X SUV with gull-wing doors, "touted by Tesla as faster than Porsche AG's 911 sports car and roomier than Audi AG's Q7 SUV," a Bloomberg story quoted Clarke talking about the two electric motors and all-wheel drive.

The Tesla Model X in the showroom at Somerset North in Troy on October 26, 2017.

His name is among those that appear on the Tesla patent list for technologies ranging from a vehicle seat mount to a system for absorbing and distributing side impact energy utilizing an integrated battery pack.

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Contact Phoebe Wall Howard at phoward@freepress.com or 313-618-1034.Follow her on Twitter@phoebesaid. Read more on Ford and sign up for our autos newsletter.