Laura Merling (Photo: Ford Motor)

Ford Motor said Laura Merling, a Silicon Valley based technology executive, will lead the commercialization of the autonomous vehicles it plans to introduce from 2021 onwards.

Merling, who has worked at a range of technology companies in the course of her career, will become vice president, autonomous vehicle solutions at Ford Smart Mobility, the unit that bundles the carmaker's new-mobility initiatives.

Ford plans to start marketing a high-volume fully autonomous vehicle from 2021 onwards. That car will have level 4 autonomy, which means it can drive without human intervention in most but not all circumstances.

Underscoring the seriousness of the company's plans, Ford Smart Mobility Chairman Jim Hackett said the carmaker wants to now look beyond merely the technology challenges posed by autonomous driving.

"While Ford’s technical teams invent and further develop the technology of autonomous vehicles, we need to invent and develop the commercialization strategy to connect this technology with the uses and users that will truly change the way the world moves," Hackett said in a press release.

Merling will have a dual role at Ford. She will work on the commercialization strategy, but at the same time, will continue to advise several startups working on internet of things connectivity, machine learning and digital manufacturing. All car companies are increasingly fostering relationships with startups as they try to speed up the development of new technologies.

The companies Merling is involved in include Wivity, Thin Systems,, and Authentise, Ford said.

Merling most recently ran a consultancy focusing on the intersection of hardware, firmware, and software in the internet of things.

Earlier she served as executive vice president of internet of things for business software maker SAP and as vice president, enterprise digital transformation at telecommunications group AT&T.

Merling started her career in 1989 as a technology analyst with IT consultants TechTeam Global, working on key projects for Ford, including the launch of the company’s first online configurator for the F-Series trucks.

“Laura has deep experience innovating strategy and platform development for both start up and corporate organizations," Hackett said. "She also brings a significant external network through her Internet of Things consultancy and start up board advisory roles.”

-By Arjen Bongard