NOVI, MI – Ford connectivity chief Don Butler says there is plenty of space in the automobile industry for non-traditional competitors, such as Google and Apple, but he expects they likely will be role players.
“There is room for tons of players,” Butler tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of TU Automotive Detroit 2016, a connected-vehicle conference here.
Up to now, the California-based software giants have only dabbled in the industry through connectivity agreements with traditional OEMs, integrating their operating systems for navigation and infotainment.
However, Google continues to develop its autonomous-vehicle technology and it recently brokered an open-ended deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to jointly develop automated driving. Ford, Google and the ride-hailing service Uber also are partners on autonomy, but the focus is on working with federal regulators to speed self-driving cars to market rather than technology.
Apple, meanwhile, reportedly has ratcheted up its R&D spending on mobility and experts think its deep pockets could buy a substantial piece of the future of mobility.
But do not expect Silicon Valley to put established transportation players such as Ford, General Motors and Toyota out of business, as some radically speculate, Butler warns.
“In certain segments, they may have a competitive advantage,” says Butler, executive director-connected vehicle and services at Ford. “But if I look more broadly at moving people from place to place, Google will not have a 100% share.
“They’ve already said they are not an automaker,” he adds. “They could be in a luxury niche. But Ford competes in all segments.”
Do not expect Ford to hand the connectivity segment of the industry over to Silicon Valley, either, Butler says. Ford offers a connection to the operating systems in its cars through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, because the automaker wants its customers to have choices, he says. But Ford brings its own expertise to the vehicle user experience and it remains a valuable asset.
“We are not going to cede that to Apple or Google,” he says.
Besides, the executive notes, Apple’s iOS system owns a fraction of the Chinese auto market, the world’s largest, and Android does not exist there.
“We are a global automaker,” he says.
As far as developing deep ties with Uber, or another ride-hailing company as rival GM recently did with a $500 million investment in Lyft, Butler says a perfect match has not come long.
“You have to ask, what they bring and what do you bring” to a partnership, he offers. “We don’t want a contract supply relationship, where we just bring the hardware.”