Ford: Detroit can become ‘Mobility Central’ – USA TODAY

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Bill Ford talks disruption.
Time


DETROIT — A top executive whose family played a key role in creating the Motor City hopes it will morph into something new and broader, Mobility Central.

Even though automotive breakthroughs are coming in California’s Silicon Valley, Detroit has the opportunity to become the nation’s center when it comes to all things involving the movement of goods and people, says Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford, said this week in a speech.

“The way people move, the way goods move, the way health care is delivered….is going to change in a very short period of time,” said Ford, great-grandson of Ford Motor founder Henry Ford. “And I love the fact that Detroit can be and should be ground zero for this change.”

The pace of partnerships between the automotive industry and Silicon Valley tech companies will continue to accelerate as the two industries work together to develop autonomous cars and reshape the automotive industry, he said.

Ford said automakers face a stark choice — either join the game, or face the prospect of being left behind. Ford argues that Detroit automakers and the region can and should emerge as leaders as the industry is reshaped.

“In Michigan and Detroit, we have more engineers here than any other state. We have a huge customer base here with (automakers) and tier one suppliers, and this should be mobility central. Not Silicon Valley. Not Austin, Texas. Not Boston.”

Ford’s comments come on the heels of a number of high-profile deals and partnerships formed in recent months that signal rapid change in the race to develop autonomous vehicles.

Earlier this month, GM completed its acquisition of Cruise Automation, a 3-year-old San Francisco start-up, for an estimated $1 billion, FCA reached a deal to build 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans for Google’s Self-Driving Car Project on May 3 and Ford announced two weeks ago it has invested $182 million to fund and collaborate on software development with San Francisco-based Pivotal.

Ford, at one point, was reportedly in discussions with Google as well and FCA’s partnership with Google isn’t exclusive. Asked today about a possible partnership with Google, Ford said, “Anything’s possible with anybody. We have a good relationship with Google but certainly nothing to announce.”

Jim Cook, a venture capitalist and chairman of Cook-Hauptman Associates, said automotive companies may think they are moving fast to capitalize on emerging ride-sharing transportation models and autonomous cars, but must move even faster.

“I find that the conservatism, which is a requirement for a successful automotive industry, is antithetical to developing leading edge technology,” said Cook, who was attending the conference.

Ford said Detroit is a city where the cost of living is low and entrepreneurs can make a difference and described the people who start new companies here as brave.

“You guys want to be trailblazers and you guys want to be brave. You could go to Silicon Valley…and have a great life,” Ford said. “But if you are successful here…people are really going to notice and they are going to love you for it and you are going to be part of something special.”

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