Bill Ford: carmakers must collaborate with tech companies like Apple

Bill Ford, of Ford Motor Company, tells carmakers they have to collaborate with tech companies like Apple

Bill Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company, has said he wants to transform from a carmaker into a mobility services company.

“You have autonomous driving, connected cars, new ways of accessing ownership like Zipcar, Uber or Lyft, you have data collection. We are looking at all of it,” he told the audience at Europe’s largest technology event, theDublin Web Summit.

“It’s the company that can stitch all that together to make people’s lives easier [that] will emerge as a winner. It will require partnerships with big technology companies and also with startups.”

Speaking about whether Ford may partner with the likes of Apple andGoogle to make driverless technology, Mr Ford said, “You never know. I do think partnerships will be important.

“In my great grandfather’s time, when he founded Ford, there was a single vertical, where they did everything,” he said. “But one company shouldn’t know it all or do it all. That’s going to change.”

Ford Focus, Detriot Motor Show

Mr Ford said the company would continue to make cars and trucks, but was working on a future where transportation is a service, rather than a hardware product. “We have to play in new areas that we don’t play in today, we have experiments in these areas around the world.”

For instance, Ford has opened an R&D lab in Silicon Valley, where it is encouraging startups in the transportation space to collaborate with Ford.

“If I think about the world we are about to enter into, we are going to need these partnerships,” he said. “That’s why I started my own venture capital [firm] seven years ago to invest in mobility solutions at a time when no one even knew what mobility was.”

Ford is also experimenting with ways to use cars for functions other than transportation. In India, they are taking Ford SUVs out to rural areas that aren’t well-mapped and meeting with expectant mothers. The health data that is collected is transmitted back to urban doctors who can then wirelessly monitor their wellbeing.

Google driverless car: a Google self-driving car goes on a test drive near the Computer History Museum in Mountain View,

In South Africa and Nigeria, Ford is helping to map remote areas and working with NGOs to collect and transmit data from these rural areas around sanitation and healthcare.

Although customers are becoming more tech-savvy, and expecting their cars to be complex, interactive computers, Mr Ford points out that lots of customers want things to remain uncomplicated. “We have to remember that there’s a customer at the other end who just wants their life to work, the technology has to be thoughtfully integrated.”

Ultimately, what does Bill Ford’s version of an auto-utopia look like?

“One thing I know for sure, the level of change is twice as fast as we think it is. We used to think autonomised driving was 25-30 years away, it’s not,” he said. “The level of disruption is coming at us much faster than we thought.”

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