Ford's Mark Fields Fears Software Will Kill Car Brands

Feb 04, 2015 11:06 AM EST | Jordan Ecarma

As cars become increasingly connected, automakers should beware lest their brands end up like phone handset companies, Ford CEO Mark Fields said today at an automotive conference.

"There are others who we never thought five years ago would be competitors for us," Fields said at the event in Bochum, Germany, as quoted by Reuters.

The auto industry says self-driving cars could be available as soon as 2020, but carmakers aren't alone in the push to offer autonomous vehicles.

Google has a self-driving car in the works and recently unveiled a fully functional prototype. The Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant also wields power in the form of Google Maps, which is considered the leader among mapping systems and would be extremely useful to incorporate into autonomous vehicle systems.

Even ride-sharing service Uber doesn't want to be left out of the running. The company this week announced a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University to develop autonomous vehicle technology in a research development lab in Pittsburgh.

"Guess what, they are looking at our industry, not taking anything for granted, they are questioning tradition and they are knocking down walls. I want to make sure Ford doesn't end up like the handset business," Fields said.

Companies that manufacture phone handsets have become dependent on telecommunications providers as well as software systems. Buyers look for whether a device runs iOS, Android or Windows, and cars could become similar shells for software.

Google, Apple and Blackberry all offer connected vehicle systems that make cars smarter but could also be a potential threat to auto brands.

According to Fields, Ford needs to stay at the forefront of innovation to remain relevant.

"There is always that pull to take things for granted. And to say that is the tradition. Our opportunity is to take those blinders off," he said.

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