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Ford CEO: We Won't Take a Back Seat to Google and Apple

In an interview, Ford CEO Mark Fields said the company sees its homegrown SYNC system as a key selling point.

Ford

Bringing the latest mobile technology into the car is important, but Ford CEO Mark Fields said his company isn’t about to hand over the keys to Apple or Google.

"At the end of the day we don’t want to end up as the handset business," CEO Mark Fields told Re/code in an interview Thursday at the car maker’s research center in Palo Alto, Calif.

 Ford CEO Mark Fields, speaking Thursday at an event at the company’s Palo Alto, Calif. research facility
Ford CEO Mark Fields, speaking Thursday at an event at the company’s Palo Alto, Calif. research facility
Ina Fried

The phone makers, like the PC makers before them, learned the hard way that using a common operating system may lead to powerful devices with lots of apps, but it is also a great recipe for an unprofitable hardware business.

A similar fate would be even tougher for the car industry, which already face thin margins, strict safety requirements and long development times.

That’s not to say that Ford isn’t ready to work with tech companies — even Apple and Google. Indeed, the company’s top executives were in town to tout the work being done at its four-month-old Silicon Valley operation, with CTO Raj Nair showing off his Apple Watch, equipped with the Ford app that his team was able to build in just one week.

Ford, like most car makers, is supporting both Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay, but those systems are only allowed to be a secondary interface to a primary navigation system.

CTO Raj Nair said part of the reason behind that is ensuring that car buyers have choice.

"We want to make sure you are not pushed into a decision on a $40,000 car based on your $200 smartphone," Nair said.

Ford, like the other car makers, also sees its infotainment system, known as SYNC, as a key selling point.

"The data shows SYNC has been a significant draw in the showroom," Nair said.

Ford will look for ways SYNC can work more closely with the systems from Google and Apple. If a customer wants to use, say, Google’s maps but listen to Sirius radio through SYNC, Ford will make that possible, Nair said.

The latest version of SYNC, due this summer, replaces Microsoft’s operating system with BlackBerry’s QNX. It also adds new apps, a more modern touchscreen and the ability to get updates over Wi-Fi.

The company is also moving to add cellular capabilities to its cars. So far, cellular is limited to Ford’s plug-in electric cars and some Lincoln models, but Fields said more cellular-equipped cars are coming.

"You will see that propagate," Fields said, "so we can have all of our vehicles have that capability."

He didn’t give a specific timeline for that, however. Rival General Motors has moved to rapidly include LTE connections in its full lineup of cars through a partnership with AT&T.

The other big technology area for Ford is of course autonomous and semi-autonomous driving.

While Google gets a lot of the credit for its self-driving cars and German automakers have some of the flashiest assisted driving technologies, Fields said Ford has been a leader in bringing assisted driving capabilities to the masses.

"It’s not just for the very rich people," Fields said, touting some of the capabilities available in even affordable models like the Fiesta. "That goes to our history as a company of making technology accessible to everyone. I think we are making good progress."

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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