Bill Ford predicts collaborative industry in future

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Detroit — The automotive industry might become less insulated when cars start to drive themselves, and “real winners and real losers” will emerge in the next decade in a so-called “arms race.”

In addition to collaborating with technology companies and startups, Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford said Tuesday evening that he wouldn’t rule out closer cooperation between the big auto companies.

“We already have some joint ventures with GM,” Ford said, speaking at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. “Everyone in our industry has kind of worked together at some point along the line. If it makes sense, absolutely we would work together.”

Ford said predicts there will be clear winners and losers in the future auto industry.

“Mostly, all you could hope for is that in a given year, your products were a little sexier, had a little more horsepower,” he said. “I actually think in this world, there are going to be real winners and real losers in a way that we haven’t seen before, and there will be separation between companies ... and it’s going to play out in the next 10 years.”

Autonomous vehicles will throw a giant wrench into the industry, he said.

“What does loyalty mean in a world of autonomous vehicles?” Ford asked. “What does a brand mean?”

He called the race toward mobility and autonomy an “arms race,” but said no single company will dominate.

“There’s not going to be just one way to succeed in this new world,” he said. “There will be whole segments of this new world that Ford won’t participate in.”

Ford’s forward-looking attitude, which peppered his presentations at the North American International Auto Show this year, began in 1979 when he graduated from college, he said.

“My professors were talking about pollution, and they were talking about the auto industry,” he said. “It actually really scared me. ... I felt like we could become the tobacco industry if we weren’t careful, where the best and the brightest young people didn’t want to work for us, that our employees would someday have to apologize to their family and friends for working there.”

After announcing plans on Monday to bring back the Ranger and Bronco by 2020, Ford outlined the “City of Tomorrow,” a major urban center that has a network of autonomous, connected vehicles and ride-sharing services hooked into a boosted infrastructure to make a “transportation ecosystem.”

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau