TIME Autos

Ford CEO Mark Fields Wants to Make a Self-Driving Car for the Masses

Ford President and CEO Mark Fields speaks at Ford's manufacturing facility and engineering plant in Sanand, India on March 26, 2015.
Ajit Solanki—AP Ford President and CEO Mark Fields speaks at Ford's manufacturing facility and engineering plant in Sanand, India on March 26, 2015.

The company, "where it makes sense," will cooperate with Google and others on self-driving cars

Ford CEO Mark Fields is trying to navigate his company through an era of upheaval in the auto industry. Cars are no longer merely steel on wheels. They’re mobile computers that can respond to voice commands, serve as a hub for digital entertainment and drive themselves.

Fortune spoke with Fields recently at Ford’s Silicon Valley lab, an office that opened earlier this year as a beachhead for innovation. He’s hoping that having workers on the ground in the heart of the tech industry’s capital will help the company identify and adopt new technology more quickly. Ford is facing a stiff challenge to keep up from the usual auto making suspects plus newcomers like Google and Tesla. Even Uber, the ride hailing app, is a threat if people stop buying cars and use its service instead to be driven where they need to go.

The following is a Q&A with Fields that has been edited for length and clarity:

Q: How important are self-driving cars to Ford?

They’re important. But it’s more important to think about self-driving cars more holistically. We call this Ford Smart Mobility. It’s not only about autonomous vehicles, it’s about the connected car, it’s about mobility and ride sharing. It’s around the enabling technologies for the retail experience. All these things are connected. You can’t have an autonomous vehicle unless you have a connected car, and visa versa. You can’t have ride sharing without having the connection. They’re all intertwined.

Q: Is it important to be first? Ford isn’t really seen as being in the lead on self-driving cars.

It’s not the No. 1 thing that drives us. I think the No. 1 thing that drives us, and it gets back to our DNA as a company going back to our founder, Henry Ford, is around innovating to make things accessible to everyone — not just the rich. Even now, semi-autonomous features are the building blocks for full autonomy. When you look the breadth of semi-autonomous features that we have in our vehicles, we’re in a leading position there. With everything from our Fiesta all the way up to our Lincolns — customers can get a lot of these features. So as we go forward, we’re going to make sure that we continue to build on that legacy and push ourselves to make sure it’s accessible and affordable – not necessarily being the first.

Q: Are you considering partnering with Google, which is only a few miles from here, or other companies on self-driving cars?

When you think about some of these enabling technologies, we have to ask ourselves some very important questions like what do we want to develop as our own core competency? Who do we want to partner with? We’ve done that throughout our history as a company. Where it makes sense, we’ll work with others.

Q: You talk about selling autonomous vehicles to the masses, but the components cost thousands of dollars extra. How do you get to the price where the average person can buy a self-driving car?

You innovate. In Silicon Valley, there’s Moore’s Law (the axiom that microchips will get more powerful and less expensive). I don’t know what the law is for the automotive industry. We’re always looking for ways to increase performance and capabilities and decrease cost. There are cameras, radars, and 3-D mapping. When you look at the cost of cameras, it’s coming down significantly. When you get to autonomous vehicles, you’ll need much more computer processing capability in the vehicle. The cost of microprocessors is continuing to go down. Also, scale is important, and as a company, I think we have pretty good scale.

Q: How much of a challenge is Uber under the theory that fewer people will need to buy cars in the future?

We’re looking at some of these societal trends around mega cities with more than 10 million or more vehicles – the congestion, the air quality implications, and the growth of the middle class around the globe. Of course, the first thing they want to do is buy a car, which increases the congestion even more. We’re looking at that as an opportunity in two ways: One is to sell cars to people who want to own them. Two is to provide mobility experiences to people who otherwise we are not serving today. We’re doing these 25 experiments around the world right now – we’re about halfway through them – to understand what are some of the mobility issues [Editor’s note: the experiments include a car sharing service, a commuter shuttle service, and technology that spots open parking spaces]. Then we’re asking ourselves: How do we help solve some of these societal issues?

Q: How are those experiments going? And are you really interested in getting into those businesses?

It may seem far-fetched from a traditional automaker. But we’re asking our people to challenge and question tradition. That’s extremely empowering to the organization. This is a culture of innovation. We as a senior team need to allow it. Not all of these experiments will succeed. But that’s okay, because we are looking to learn from them. Some may go on to the next step and ultimately become some kind of service or product.

Q: How much do the high valuations of tech companies dissuade you from making tech acquisitions?

Any company needs to be always on the lookout for technology that makes sense. It gets back to what I mentioned earlier: Making decisions about what’s core for us versus who do we want to go out and partner with. In some cases, we have made acquisitions. We bought a company called Livio about two years ago (a developer of in-car connectivity software), because we thought that was core for us. But I think also you have to be wary of it. Because what can look like a really cool technology this month, may look like something else in six months.

Q: How much to you pay attention to the really far-out tech beyond self-driving cars?

In our business, you have one foot in today – making sure you’re running your business, meeting your sales forecasts, meeting your quarterly earnings – and also one foot into tomorrow: 10, 15 years down the road. We have a very disciplined process. That’s one of the reasons we’re here and growing. Some of these unique technologies are being born here today as we speak and will be born six months from now. That’s why it’s important for us to be part of this community.

Q: Ford’s is facing a tough challenge in China. General Motors and Volkswagen sell a lot of cars there. How is Ford going to do better?

We’re doing very well now in China. We’ve had record market share. In the first quarter this year, our share was 4.5%. Clearly that’s not as large as some of our main competitors who are in the 10% or 11% range. But that’s up from almost 2% a couple of years ago. In the first quarter, we went from No. 8 in the passenger vehicle segment to No. 5. We were in Shanghai last week introducing our Taurus. We were not in the full-size segment – that’s a big segment in China. Now we’re going to be there. We now have a full lineup of SUVs. We’re expanding our manufacturing capability. We’re expanding our dealer network, particularly in the Tier 3 through 6 cities, where a lot of the growth is coming from.

Q: Ford is pushing to make Lincoln a global luxury brand. It’s not the first time. Similar efforts have ebbed and flowed over the years.

It’s flowing now.

Q: Why is this time different?

The reason it’s different this time is that we understand the strategic importance of the luxury market. The luxury market is maybe 9.5% or 10% of the global industry. When you look at the profitability, it’s about one-third. So it’s very compelling. There are a lot of good competitors in the luxury segment. We thought long and hard about how do we differentiate Lincoln in a relevant way. At the same time, we have to understand that we are one of the smallest luxury players. So how do we turn that to our advantage and give that customer personal service? When you look at our dealerships in China, which we get to start from a clean sheet, it’s like walking into a high-end boutique. It’s not one of these large factory-type things like a bakery where you take a number.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME BMW: A Company on the Edge

See Inside BMW’s Secret Design Lab

A rare look at what happens in one of the world's most important research and development centers

For decades, BMW has advertised its vehicles as “the ultimate driving machine.” The meaning of that phrase has started to slip. In an age of connected technology, ultimate driving machines automatically brake for their passengers in emergencies or beam content from mobile phones and tablets as much as they may accelerate quickly or handle nimbly.

That puts BMW, the world’s top-selling premium automaker by sales volume, in a difficult position. It must maintain its reputation for driving dynamics while also catering to changing consumer tastes—like better fuel efficiency and more advanced technology. And it is trying to do so with competitors like Audi and Mercedes-Benz nipping at its heals. Brands ranging from Toyota to Hyundai are also trying to sell more premium vehicles.

Last year, worldwide BMW sales rose 9.5% to 1.81 million cars, while Mercedes-Benz deliveries jumped 13% to 1.65 million vehicles. Volkswagen-owned Audi posted an 11% increase to 1.74 million cars. Global demand for premium cars has rebounded as the U.S. economy recovered from the recession and consumers in developing economies, such as China, continued to buy high-end products.

Harald Krueger, who took over as CEO after the group’s annual shareholders’ meeting on May 13, is trying to continue expanding BMW’s lineup while maintaining its profitability. As part of a strategy, partly overseen by the 49-year-old executive since late-2007, BMW has been aiming to make 30% more vehicles with the same number of workers while trying to reduce production costs per vehicle by raising economies of scale in components, drive systems and modules. Now, Krueger must do the same as cars grow more complex and fuel-efficient.

One of BMW’s little-known assets lies about an hour north of Los Angeles, in Newbury Park, Calif. Designworks, a consultancy owned by the German giant, is charged with designing future vehicles, exploring emerging technologies and experimenting with new materials, such as carbon fiber a major—and costly—part of BMW’s strategy to make its cars more fuel efficient in the future. In this video series, TIME looks at how BMW is trying to deal with the difficulties of a ever-more crowded, ever-changing market.

TIME BMW: A Company on the Edge

Exclusive: Go Inside the Future of Legendary Automaker BMW

See how the automaker is breaking boundaries

BMW has been making cars since 1916. Almost 100 years later, the German automaker has remained a relevant player in a constantly innovating field. It faces stiff competition from fellow luxury carmakers Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, but in 2014 BMW regained its spot as the top-selling luxury car brand in the U.S. (reclaiming first place from Mercedes, which held it in 2013).

But BMW can’t be complacent if it wants to stay on top. The automotive industry is confronting revolutionary change on multiple fronts—meaning that BMW will have to reckon with alternative fuel sources and developing new technology for highly automated cars, among other advances.

In this five-part series, TIME explores these challenges to show how BMW is turning to data, technology and the Cloud to stay competitive.

TIME Auto

Why Tesla Is Cutting Jobs in the World’s Biggest Auto Market

Tesla Earns $46 Million In Q4 As Stock Soars Amid Apple Rumors
Joe Raedle—Getty Images People look at a Tesla Motors vehicle on the showroom floor at the Dadeland Mall on February 19, 2014 in Miami, Florida.

The electric car company has been struggling in China

Tesla may be running out of gas in the world’s largest auto market.

The electric car maker confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it’s cutting jobs in China amid slow sales and sluggish rollouts of electric vehicle infrastructure.

According to research firm JL Warren Capital, less than 2,500 Teslas were registered in China in the last nine months of 2014. 469 of the company’s vehicles were registered in January. Tesla CEO Elon Musk had previously said that selling 5,000 vehicles in China in 2014 would be deemed a success. Tesla declined to comment to the Journal on its sales figures.

One challenge for Tesla in China is the reliance of its electric vehicles on chargers. Because many city residents in China live in apartments, it’s harder for them to keep chargers at home.

Like all automakers, Tesla is eager to establish a strong foothold in China, which became the largest auto market in the world in 2009. More than 21 million cars are expected to be sold in the country this year, an 8% increase from 2014. However, only a tiny fraction of these vehicles use alternative energy sources–in 2014, only 50,000 such cars were sold.

China wants to have 5 million electric cars on the roads by 2020 as a means of reducing rampant pollution problems in the country.

The news of Tesla’s job cuts in China comes after the company actually added more than 4,000 global positions last year.

MONEY Autos

5 Ways to Know If Trading In Your Car Makes Financial Sense

Car with "sold" sign on windshield
Corbis—Alamy

Keeping your old car for longer can save you big time.

Do all of those car commercials on television have you thinking about trading in your car for a bright, shiny new ride? Follow the steps below to decide it makes more financial sense to buy a new vehicle rather than keep repairing your current one. (See also: How Much Should You Spend on a New Car?)

1. Take a Long Hard Look at the Car You Already Have

A new car always looks tantalizing. If we start focusing too much on the prospect of a new car, though, all of a sudden we start noticing every minor thing that may be wrong with our current car. My former boss, Bob G., always used to say, “I never like to invest in things that rust.” A car, outside of a classic car, is not an investment. It’s an expense, and a pricey one at that.

So look at your existing car honestly. Does it run well? Is it reliable? Does it match the needs you have right now? If you answered yes to these questions, delay your purchase of a new vehicle.

2. Calculate the Total New and Existing Costs

Buying a new car is only part of the expense. Do a side-by-side cost comparison of the total cost of a new car compared to your current vehicle.

Include the purchase price (plus interest), as well as the cost of maintenance and repair.

In some states like Virginia, you pay a specific tax every year based upon the blue book value of your car, so make sure to include those types of costs as well. You might be surprised to see that sticking with your existing car for a few more years, and socking away all that extra money you would have spent on a new car now, is a wise financial move.

3. Check With Your Financial Institutions

Just as you get pre-qualified for a mortgage, it’s also a great idea to get pre-qualified for a car loan. You’ll find out the total amount you’ll be approved to spend, as well as the interest rate on the amount borrowed. You may find that there are actions you can take over the next year to improve your credit that will reduce your rate, and perhaps increase the amount you are approved to borrow. These actions could include paying down other debts, increasing your income, or clearing up any mistakes that may currently be on your credit report.

4. Time Your Purchase

In general, October, November, and December are the best times to buy a car because dealers offer a number of incentives to make way for the next year’s models and hit annual sales goals. Also, it’s best to shop at the end of the month because dealerships need to hit certain sales quotas by then, so they’re more likely to cut you a deal to make the sale.

5. Do Your Research

If you’re thinking about getting a new car, do your research. Read reviews of vehicles, check safety ratings and gas mileage, talk to friends, and test drive vehicles that interest you. It’s also important to sit down and really think about what you want in a vehicle. What are your non-negotiables and what is the ranked list of your preferences such as safety, size, gas mileage, features, and design?

A new car is an incredible feeling. I know because I just bought one the last week of October 2014. I’m glad I did my research, closely examined my finances, and timed my purchase well. I never had a shred of buyer’s remorse. Follow this checklist and you’ll make a choice that feels good — and is good for your finances, too.

TIME Auto

Watch ‘Connected Cars’ Take Center Stage at CES

James Bond might be envious

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Nevada, several companies unveiled concept cars containing some seriously high-tech gadgets.

Audi, Mercedes-Benz and VW all showed demos of automated car technology, from driverless or “piloted” cars, to smartwatch apps.

TIME ces 2015

This Is the Audi That Is Driving Itself 550-Plus Miles to CES

550 Meilen pilotiert vom Silicon Valley nach Las Vegas: Langstrecken-Test im Audi A7 Sportback piloted driving concept
Audi's driverless A7 at the start of the 550 mile piloted drive from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas. ?Start zur 550 Meilen langen pilotierten Testfahrt vom Silicon Valley nach Las Vegas: Ricky Hudi, Leiter Entwicklung Elektrik/Elektronik, (links) und Ewald Goessmann, Excecutive Director Electronic Research Lab California (ERL), (Dritter von rechts) schicken den Audi A7 Sportback piloted driving concept auf die Strecke.?

Audi's car goes it alone to CES—sort of

Audi’s A7 Sportback may not be what Jack Kerouac had in mind when he envisioned the freedom of the open road. But the self-driving car is still probably the coolest way to get to CES, a stunt the German carmaker is pulling this year by letting the bold test-drive the car more than 550 miles of highway from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas.

The A7 Sportback uses five radars, a laser scanner, and a number of 3D cameras as part of Audi’s “piloted driving” tech, which can drive on highways (but not city streets) without human interference. It can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour on highways, Audi says, and can change lanes and adapt to the speeds of surrounding vehicles. The car warns drivers to take control when a city is approaching with an “acoustic warning indicator.”

When the technology will be commercially available is not yet known. But Audi says its piloted driving technology is “production ready.” This particular model could be an important move in testing the waters of the self-driving market, though Audi has been openly working on the technology for several years. At CES in 2013, the company debuted limited self-driving technology that allowed cars to park themselves.

Audi is presenting the A7 Sportback at CES beginning Tuesday.

Read next: The Science of Why Your Kids Can’t Resist ‘Frozen’

TIME ces 2015

Here Is Mercedes’ Outrageous Vision for the Future of Cars

Newest Innovations In Consumer Technology On Display At 2015 International CES
David Becker—Getty Images A Mercedes-Benz F 015 autonomous driving automobile is displayed at the Mercedes-Benz press event at the 2015 International CES on Jan. 5, 2015 in Las Vegas.

It looks a little like the cars from Minority Report

The self-driving car: everyone’s doing it. Google, Audi and BMW are all steering toward autopilot and, on Monday, Mercedes-Benz revealed its futuristic F 015 Luxury in Motion, a concept car designed for the future of transportation.

Passengers can sit face to face as if in a living room, and can control the car’s settings through gestures on high-resolution screens. LED displays on the front and rear of the car serve as signals to other vehicles. The F 015 also talks—in the promotional video, the car says to a pedestrian “Please go ahead.” It looks a little like the self-driving cars from Minority Report—futuristic and sleek, with a large cabin space.

So far the F 015 is just a concept car, so we probably won’t ever see this same model on the road. But it should give us a good sense of the direction automakers want to go.

TIME Auto

Toyota Wants Everyone to Know How It Made Its Hydrogen-Powered Car

Newest Innovations In Consumer Technology On Display At 2015 International CES
David Becker—Getty Images The Toyota Mirai is displayed at the 2015 International CES on January 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Japanese car maker will let its competitors study its patents for the next five years, in order to give the fledgling industry a boost

Toyota announced Monday it will make available decades of research on its hydrogen-powered car to competitors in the auto industry, a move that the Japanese carmaker says will accelerate an industry-wide shift to hydrogen technology.

Toyota owns 5,680 global patents related to hydrogen fuel cells, acquired over two decades of research and development, and culminating at the end of last year with the release of its first commercial-scale hydrogen-powered vehicle, the Mirai.

All those patents will now be freely available to companies manufacturing and selling fuel cell vehicles until 2020, Toyota announced Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“Hopefully by sharing these patents with others, these new fuel systems can be refined and improved,” said Toyota Senior Vice President Bob Carter, “to attract a larger market of buyers.”

In December, Toyota began selling the hydrogen-powered Mirai in Japan, and the car goes on sale in the United States and Europe in the second half of this year. The Mirai can run for 300 miles on a 3- to 5-minute charge, and accelerates from 0-60mph in about nine seconds.

Tesla Motors, the electric car outfit headed by PayPal founder Elon Musk, opened up its patents last year. Tesla and Toyota’s goals are similar: to reach a larger consumer base by making their technology more visible, and to help build a burgeoning market for the types of technology they have pioneered.

A major challenge Toyota will face is building a sizable infrastructure of recharging stations. If consumers can’t easily recharge, it’s unlikely the Mirai will gain a market foothold. California began building 28 hydrogen charging stations last year with a $47-million investment.

Toyota is also opening up its hydrogen fuel cell charging station technology, indefinitely.

The Mirai is starting with a small batch of 700 vehicles in 2014 with the goal of growing to tens of thousands by the 2020s. “We believe hydrogen electric will be the primary fuel for the next 100 years,” Carter said.

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