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June 3, 2010 at 12:33 PM

D8: Ford’s Mulally on digital cars, safety

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — Ford’s work on integrating computers and other digital systems into cars was presented by Chief Executive Alan Mulally in the final session of the All Things Digital conference.

Mulally, who formerly led Boeing’s commercial airplane business, said Ford decided to focus particularly on the interface to help drivers safely manage the entertainment, communication, navigation and other activities.

This debuted in 2007 in the Sync platform that Microsoft developed with Ford.

“We took the point of view that the best thing we could do for the consumer and would actually add value … would be that we would manage the interface with the driver where everything that they were interfacing with, they could have their hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and voice activated,” he said.

To keep advancing the system, Ford monitors what consumers are doing with consumer electronics. That led the company to work with the Pandora music service to integrate its service into the Sync system, for instance, using APIs the company is opening to other software developers.

Mulally said the need for a system like Ford’s was demonstrated on his drive to the conference. He saw a woman driving with both arms extended through the steering wheel so she could text with both hands.

“I was going, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ ” Mulally said.

Asked by co-host Kara Swisher about the future of the auto industry, Mulally said he thought a lot about that question when he decided to move from Boeing to Ford. He said he decided “that the automobile industry really is the soul of manufacturing everywhere around the world, and I say manufacturing with a big M.”

“Not only is it the soul of manufacturing, it’s also part of the solution to economic growth, energy independence and environmental sustainability,” he said.

alanford.jpg

The internal combustion engine will be around for a while. Meanwhile, Ford’s producing hybrid vehicles and will start selling an all-electric car next year.

Mulally also recalled what it was like to testify in support of the federal bailout of his biggest competitor, GM. At stake was not just GM but the fate of a supply chain that accounts for about 4 percent of the GDP, and is 70 percent shared with Ford.

“At the most fundamental level we felt that was the right thing to do” for the industry and the economies of the U.S. and the world, he said.

“I hope that they get back to operating well,” he said, but added that he feels good that Ford was well positioned with a restructuring plan that began three years before the recession began.

Under that plan, the company focused on the Ford brand, shed other brands such as Mazda and Aston Martin, decided to produce “a complete family of vehicles” with each one best in class.

Mulally said he drives a different car every night, in part to keep abreast of the competition. That caused a kerfluffle the first time he drove a Toyota Camry to Ford headquarters, he said.

Even before Mulally got going, he had apparently won one new customer.

“We might actually be buying a Ford car for the first time,” Swisher said.

Comments | Topics: Alan Mulally, Boeing, boeing

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