Ford CEO – new tech = bigger car sales – USA TODAY
RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif – The massive tech changes coming to the car business mean positive news to Ford Motor Co. —bigger car sales.
That’s the message from Ford CEO Mark Fields, who told attendees of the Code conference here that autonomous vehicles and more reliance on being driven around by ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft provide a great opening for Ford.
“When something becomes more available, at a lower cost, people will use it more often,” said Fields. These cars will rack up more miles, need to be serviced more often, and will need to be replaced more often than cars currently sold to consumers.
“We are going through one of the most important inflection points in our history, from an auto company to an auto and mobility company,” said Fields.
The CEO has in the past predicted the company would have a direct electric competitor to the Tesla and Chevrolet by 2020 and said recently Ford was at work on a model with at least 200 miles of range, just like Tesla models and battery-electrics in the works from General Motors.
General Motors maintained its market-share lead with 17.6%, Autodata, which tracks auto-industry sales, reports. Ford was second with 15% and Toyota third with 14.4%. Ford recently introduced its newest Escape, a small SUV that is now packed with a range of driver-assist technology including the ability to help the drivers perpendicular park the car.
Earlier this year, Ford decided to to triple the number of autonomous test vehicles, putting 30 on roads and tracks in California, Arizona and Michigan.
At the Code conference, interviewer Kara Swisher asked Fields to describe what cars would look like in 25 years.
Very different, he said. “They will have advanced driverless and full autonomous features.” Cars are created by different engineers working on their specific experience areas—like headlights and air conditioning, but in the future, “we’ll be creating the experience first,” with Swisher offering that perhaps Ford would be making the “living room” car. Fields agreed.
During his session, Fields was asked about fellow Code speaker Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, who will be speaking Wednesday.
“He’s done a very good job of raising the awareness and important of electric vehicles,” he said. “We can learn something from everybody.”
Ford has said it plans to be competitive with Tesla, and beyond. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Fields said Tesla appeals to affluent consumers, while Ford intended to market to a wider range. “Our approach [is that] we have one of the largest selections of electrified vehicles. We’re the No. 2 seller in the U.S. in electrified and No. 1 in plug-in hybrids. We’re investing another $4.5 billion, so by the end of the decade, 40% of our nameplates around the world will be electrified.”
Beyond electric cars, presidential candidate Donald Trump has brought Fields and Ford into the news, by attacking them for out-sourcing car production to Mexico and other countries.
“What does that do?” Trump has said. “We don’t get anything. Does Mexico come here and build factories here?”
On CNN recently, Fields defended Ford, saying the company has invested nearly $7 billion in research and development in the U.S.
“We’ve created 25,000 jobs [in the U.S.] since 2011, and going forward over the next four years we’ve agreed to either retain or add another 8,500 jobs,” Fields said. “The amount of money that we invest in [research and development] here is more than companies like Apple.”
Follow USA TODAY tech columnist and #TalkingTech host Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham.