While there’s a bevy of technology in all shapes and forms always on display at the CES or Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford CEO Mark Fields spoke with Bloomberg TV’s Brad Stone where he said the first driverless car on the road will not be a Ford.
He said, “Our view is within five years somewhere within the industry somebody is going to be introducing a vehicle. In our case at Ford we have semi-autonomous vehicles on the road today that people can buy, features that will help people keep in their lanes, allow to adjust their speed based on traffic flow, those types of things. And we at Ford eventually will have a fully autonomous vehicle, but our approach when we introduce it goes back to our history. We want to make sure it’s accessible and affordable for the masses because we’re Ford.
Field’s interview with Stone can be viewed by clicking on this link
A full transcript of the Bloomberg TV interview can be found below.
BRAD STONE, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Hi, Mark.
MARK FIELDS, CEO, FORD MOTOR COMPANY: How you doing?
STONE: Pretty good. So you said yesterday, you told my colleague, Keith Naughton, that you think we will have a fully-automated driverless car in five years. That kind of took my breath away. Is the state of technology that advanced?
FIELDS: I think when you look at the level of advancement in sensors, and cameras, and software and the algorithms behind it, it’s moving very, very fast. So our view is within five years somewhere within the industry somebody is going to be introducing a vehicle. In our case at Ford we have semi-autonomous vehicles on the road today that people can buy, features that will help people keep in their lanes, allow to adjust their speed based on traffic flow, those type of things. And we at Ford eventually will have a fully autonomous vehicle, but our approach when we introduce it goes back to our history. We want to make sure it’s accessible and affordable for the masses because we’re Ford.
STONE: So when does Ford get there? And let me ask you, because I’ve sat in a Google driverless car, is Google a partner?
FIELDS: Well I think from that we see a lot of different players now making some inroads into that. And I think that’s overall the level of innovation I think is very exciting for the industry. So as we look at it, and we’re always looking for great partners, we’re going to decide the things that we want to do ourselves, develop ourselves, things that we want to buy, things that we want to partner with others, but I think it will be very collaborative. And our approach is to make sure we have fully autonomous test vehicles on the road today. And some of them have been on the road since 2013. We haven’t announced a time frame when it’s going to be introduced, but it’s all going to come back to make sure it’s accessible and affordable for the masses, versus some of our luxury competitors.
STONE: Well one of your competitors, Mercedes, is here at the show showing a concept car with four seats that swivel inward. So none of them are facing the road. There’s no driver. There’s no driver’s wheel, no steering wheel. Do you get in that car?
FIELDS: Well I haven’t seen the Mercedes concept. I’ll get into any Ford vehicle of course, but as I said, we have research vehicles on the road today gathering data, understanding the situation and making sure all with that aim to making sure they’ll eventually be affordable for the masses.
STONE: So let’s talk about the in-vehicle computer systems. They are not perfect today. Any new car owner can tell you that there are flaws, there are bugs. They’re too difficult to use. How are we to trust the carmakers to deliver a reliable, 100 hundred reliable automated experience when playing Pandora and getting your phone to work on your in-vehicle system is not as simple as it should be?
FIELDS: Well our approach at Ford is pretty simple. We want to make sure we’re listening to our customers. And when we come out with our systems like our SYNC system we want to make it very intuitive and we want to improve it over time. For our SYNC system right now we have — it’s our vehicle connectivity system. We have ten million folks around the world that have purchased that system. And the system keeps getting better and better. We’re actually here at CES introducing SYNC 3.
STONE: And tell us a little bit about the SYNC 3. What does it bring?
FIELDS: Well it takes all the learnings that we’ve — and input that we’ve gotten from customers over the last eight years. So it’s more intuitive, easier to use. It’s also faster. It has more conversational voice commands, so enhanced voice commands. It allows you to update. If we need to update the software we’ll be able to do it over Wi-Fi. And overall just at the same time we’re also going to be offering Siri’s eyes-free in the vehicle as well. So it’s really taking the foundation and the leadership that we had with SYNC and now taking it to the next level with SYNC 3.
STONE: Do you see the smartphone as the center of the in-vehicle computer experience, or an in-vehicle computer that has its own connection to the internet?
FIELDS: Well I think it will be a piece of it. With the SYNC system we took the approach of a brought-in device that the customer can stay connected. As you think about going forward we’re in the process of introducing embedded modems into our vehicle because that allows the vehicle to be part of the Internet of Things. And as we go forward and as customers decide to opt in to share their data with us we want to make sure that for that we’re providing them first safety and security of their data, and secondly giving them something back that they find a lot of value for. So it’s going to be a combination of both.
STONE: So, Mark, let’s talk about 2014. All the automakers had a great December. The price of gas is very low right now. People are excited about new cars, but overall you were a little soft and you missed expectations for 2014. What happened?
FIELDS: Well as we started 2014 we said very clearly that 2014 was an important transition year for us. We said our revenue was going to be about equal to the previous year. And that’s because we’re launching 23 global launches. And we launched all of them, and many of them in the third and fourth quarter. So that sets us up very well for 2015. And when you look at some of those new products we’ve introduced, our Mustang, our Transit, our new Lincolns, they’re doing extremely well in the marketplace. And I think that bodes well for all the new products that we’ve launched in the last couple of quarters.
STONE: And one of those new products is the new Ford F-150, an all-aluminum vehicle. What does that mean exactly to move from steel to aluminum? And is that — do you see that as an industry trend?
FIELDS: Well we’re always looking at things from a customer standpoint. And obviously we spend a lot of time with our truck customers. We’re the leader in that area for 38 years. And what they told us is they continually want better capability of the truck, better payload, better towing, et cetera. And they want really good fuel economy. So we were able to take 700 pounds out of the vehicle. We put it on a diet by putting it on aluminum. And we’ve been able now to deliver industry-leading levels of capability and great fuel economy.
STONE: Last question, Mark. You recently said that you’re going to increase your dividend to shareholders by 20 percent. And yet profitability is challenged. It’s a time of enormous change. Why not reinvest that money, that capital in the business and in these technologies?
FIELDS: Well our capital strategy, as we’ve said before, is pretty simple. We want to keep reinvesting in the business. We want to keep and strengthening our balance sheet. And we want to reward shareholders. At the same time we want to make sure over time that that dividend is sustainable versus the economic and the business cycles. We haven’t announced anything about increasing dividends. We did it last year in January at this time. And that’s really our capital strategy.
STONE: Thank you, Mark.
FIELDS: All right. Thanks, Brad.