Ford CEO sees company self-driving itself into future

Mark Fields, the CEO of venerable auto maker Ford, revealed how new technology like autonomous vehicles is playing an ever increasing role in its strategy for the future.

As reported by CNBC, Fields recently participated in an on-stage interview at the 2016 Code Conference where new connected technology was the recurring theme.

Fields said that Ford is striving to incorporate a startup mentality into its operations, with the 113-year old company going so far as to open a Silicon Valley field office to be closer to the high tech action. And to be closer to potential tech startup acquisitions.

Specifically, Ford is looking to boost its muscle in the area of mobility where it currently lacks expertise. In an effort to get into the game, it recently invested $182.2 million in Pivotal, a cloud-based software firm.

“We said to ourselves, we really need to up our game in learning around delivering these software services,” Fields said.

It is also looking to Silicon Valley for strategic partnerships to gain an advantage in the race to develop technology for self-driving and connected vehicles. Ford is reportedly in partnership discussions with various companies including Uber and Google, though Fields refused to elaborate, saying only “we are talking with everybody.”

Ford’s clear edge over newcomers: a car-building track record

And though Google may be one of the leaders in developing self-driving car technology, Fields says Ford still has a key advantage: it actually makes cars. And that ability requires a level of investment and expertise that can’t be generated overnight.

“With mobility, you do need a vehicle,” said Fields. “Designing, developing and manufacturing a car is a very intense and a difficult endeavor.”

Indeed, Google has said publicly that it does not plan to focus on automobile manufacturing, but would rather partner with big car makers like Ford instead.

One area of concern for the emerging self-driving vehicle segment is security and the fear of hackers hijacking connected cars. And considering the average vehicle today already has more than 150 million lines of code, vulnerabilities are expected to multiply the more connected cars get.

Fields says Ford is prioritizing security and making sure it has the capacity to adapt and defeat looming threats.

“We take it very, very seriously,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the policies and protocols in place.”

He said the company is using firewalls to keep the software for vehicles’ infotainment systems walled off from mission critical software that is vital to the cars’ primary functions.

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