Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally told the high-tech industry that his company is in the game to stay during a keynote address Thursday to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Ford has been a fixture at the annual gathering of technology leaders since it debuted Sync there two years ago. The in-car infotainment system developed through a partnership with Microsoft Corp. has attracted new customers to Ford’s showrooms.
During his speech, Mulally unveiled the latest upgrade, Sync 2.0, demonstrating its voice-controlled turn-by-turn navigation system and other features for the assembled tech crowd. He also gave them a sneak peek at things to come, including a virtual personal assistant named “Eva” who will handle motorists’ e-mail, scheduling and entertainment needs — all through conversational commands.
“This is an exciting time in the connectivity of the automobile,” he said.
“Together, those of us in this room are limited only by our collective imagination. Think about that: unlimited potential for how, together, we can connect and digitize the automobile. Together, we can make information ubiquitous … Together, we must take all that is possible and focus our efforts.”
In addition to Sync 2.0 and its future evolution, other Ford executives showcased the company’s other technologies such as MyKey, which allows parents to control how fast their children can drive and how loud they can play the stereo, and Ford Works Solutions, an in-cab office with full Internet capabilities for pickup owners.
“Yes, we are a car company, but we are learning to think like an electronics company,” Mulally said.
“We know that we will be most successful in bringing true innovation to customers if we work with the best technology experts like many of you here with us.”
Mulally also announced a new alliance with consumer electronics megastore Best Buy, which will promote Sync and provide technical support for Sync customers through its “Geek Squad” service.
Analyst Erich Merkle said this sort of innovation is bound to help Ford in those markets like California and New York where Ford and other American automakers have lost their luster.
“Given the direction of the industry, the electronic technology and information in the vehicle is going to become almost as important as the design of the vehicle itself,” Merkle said.
“Making it easy to use and intuitive and provide real, meaningful benefit to the consumer is going to be a tangible differentiator for Ford going forward. These guys are just light-years ahead.”
Ford Americas President Mark Fields, who flew into Las Vegas on Wednesday, said there has been a big change in how the company is received by the high-tech industry since he was there two years ago to launch Sync with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.
“Afterward, we met with the technology press, and most of the interviews started off with ‘Why are you here?’ ” he recalled, adding that he spent Wednesday night having dinner with tech bloggers.
“They knew about us and why we were here. They get it.”