Oct. 02--Future Ford cars and trucks will be more and more connected to the Internet, the CEO of Ford Motor Company told a University of Georgia audience on Tuesday.
The company already has embraced the idea of making cars that connect with consumers' devices, such as technology in cars that gives customers the ability to operate their smartphones hands-free, said Ford CEO Alan Mulally.
Someone a year or so ago came up with a headline he liked: "Ford, the mobile app of choice."
With more and more applications such as voice recognition, vehicles will be transformed into something like moving Internet instruments, he said.
"I think this connectivity will be the greatest transformation in transportation," he said.
Mulally, 68, also predicted efficiency improvements in internal combustion engines, more electrified vehicles, and more uses of alternative fuels, including biomass.
"There's an exciting future with hydrogen," he said.
Hydrogen offers the promise of spewing water out of the tailpipe rather than the greenhouse gases ordinary cars produce.
But the world will have to wait a while on so-called autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves.
"It will be a long time before the vision becomes reality," he said.
Mulally spoke Tuesday in the UGA Tate Center's Grand Hall, where he was interviewed by USA Today technology and digital entertainment reporter Mike Snider, then took questions from the audience of about 400, mostly UGA students. USA Today, UGA's Division of Student Affairs and several student groups and UGA units sponsored the event.
An aeronautical engineer and designer by training, Mulally left Boeing after 37 years to become Ford's CEO in 2006, shortly before the Great Recession dried up auto sales and national economies worldwide.
Unlike the two other major U.S. carmakers, General Motors and Chrysler, Ford's board decided against bankruptcy and a government bailout. Instead, the company borrowed $23.6 billion, sold off peripheral units such as Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover, and focused on its main product lines, Mullally told his audience.
The company became profitable again under Mulally and now is looking to expand its sales in the fast-growing markets of the world, such as Asia, where smaller cars are much in demand.
"They know all about Ford," Mulally said of the Chinese market. "They respect history."
Ford won't be making vehicles at the smallest end of the market -- tiny low-cost cars.
But there's a tremendous market globally for vehicles the size of Ford's small car, the Fiesta, he said.
One student questioner asked what car Mulally drove.
"I drive a different car every night," Mulally told the crowd.
At one one time, Ford had about 50 cars in development, but he also drives competitors' cars to see what they've got, he said.
"If you promise to make the best cars and trucks in the world, you can't finesse that," he said.
Another student wanted to know what it felt like to be in such an important position, the head of the world's fifth-largest automaker, with 2012 revenue of about $134 billion. Mulally received nearly $30 million in salary, bonuses and other compensation in 2011, according to Forbes magazine.
The CEO said he tried to keep something in mind his parents told him long ago: "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."
Several in the audience wanted to know about Ford's turnaround, and what Mulally would look for in a prospective employee.
Ford has a culture, with tenets that include showing respect to others and making a good product, he said.
The first requirement for an employee is to have skills, and be good at those skills, but that's not enough, he said.
"One piece is what you know," Mulally said. "The other part is your ability to work with other talented people."
Follow education reporter Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer.
(c)2013 Athens Banner-Herald (Athens, Ga.)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: Connectivity biggest car transformation, Ford CEO says
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