While Ford CEO Mark Fields has warned about demand for mobility services changing the automotive landscape, Ford Motor Co. has been much less visible than peers on forging deals with Silicon Valley partners.
Talks with Google about self-driving cars earlier this year went nowhere, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has taken on that relationship with the technology company. Fields had emphasized carsharing and ride-hailing services to keep disruptive outsiders from taking business away from automakers. Ford’s experiments such as on-demand shuttles and e-bikes have been overshadowed by General Motors’ Maven carsharing business and Toyota’s alliance with Uber.
GM’s investment in Maven, along with $500 million in Lyft and $1 billion acquisition of Cruise Automation, have been highly visible this year. GM’s share price didn’t rise with these announcements, and it’s too early in the transition to see if Ford’s conservative approach could pay off in the long run. Ford does have plans in the works.
“You’ll hear more from us as this year goes on,” Ford’s executive chairman, Bill Ford, said at a May entrepreneurship conference in Detroit. Ford said the company is still defining its strategy and would consider acquisitions “if we thought that was the right way to go.”
Analysts will have questions for Ford executives at an Investor Day that the automaker has scheduled for September. The company has promised to share details about “the latest Ford products and Ford Smart Mobility innovations” after postponing a similar event last fall.
In March, Ford formalized Smart Mobility into a full-fledged subsidiary. A Ford spokeswoman said executives “have been and are working with many companies” but would not confirm whether Google and Uber were among them. Ford last month invested $182.2 million in Pivotal, a San Francisco software company that helped it create FordPass, a smartphone app that helps drivers find parking and get help reaching destinations.
Ford did open its own research and innovation lab in Silicon Valley last year. That led to partnerships with small startups, including Carbon3D, which developed a fast 3-D printing technique.
While Ford Motor Co. hasn’t made an official statement about its talks with Google coming to an end, Fields did make comments recently. At a May 31 tech conference in Southern California, Fields was asked several times why the talks with Google ended. Fields initially dodged these questions, but eventually talked about why that alliance didn’t come together.
“I’ve been through situations where we partnered with companies where that balance has not been there, and the dynamics get very funky very quickly if somebody thinks they’re getting screwed versus the other partner,” Fields said. “So that’s the first one: mutual benefits.”
Fields continued: “The second thing is — and I know it sounds trite, but it is so important — is cultural fit, because you’re going to be working with these folks, and you want to make sure that there’s a cultural fit there beyond what the spreadsheet says.”