Bill Ford on self-driving cars, his company's future and the cost of Trump's tariffs
Ford wants to define the future of self-driving cars in the city where the company had its humble beginnings. Executive chairman Bill Ford Jr. just laid out plans to renovate a century-old Detroit train station into its new hub for autonomous and electric vehicles. The great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford sat down with "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King to talk about the future of self-driving technology, his take on Trump administration tariffs, and competition from Silicon Valley.
The autonomous vehicle market is one that some say Ford has already lost to competitors like General Motors and Google's Waymo unit — companies that are promising to have autonomous cars on roads by later this year or early next. Ford predicts its self-driving models won't be ready until 2021.
"There's been a lot of over-promising and I think a lot of misinformation that's been out there. It's really important that we get it right, rather than get it quickly," Ford said.
Another competitor, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has openly criticized legacy Detroit automakers like Ford for being stuck in the past. And yet, last week, after announcing he was laying off 9 percent of Tesla's white collar workforce, Musk appeared to seek common ground when he tweeted that Tesla and Ford remain the only American car companies who haven't gone bankrupt.
"I've always been impressed by him. I think he's finding that maybe building a car company is more difficult than he first thought it might be," Ford said. "I think the similarities are much greater than the differences, frankly."
These days, all American auto companies are dealing with President Trump's decision to slap tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, something many analysts expect will raise the cost of making a car.
"It didn't freak me out but I don't think it's helpful," Ford said. "There are 80 times more jobs attached to people who use steel, like airplanes and autos, than people who make steel, and those users will be disadvantaged by these tariffs. ... Everything's gonna rise."
One price tag Ford will not discuss is how much he paid for the historic but decrepit Michigan Central Station. All he'd reveal was that they got a "really good price." Detroit real estate experts have estimated the total cost to buy and renovate the station will run well into hundreds of millions of dollars. For Bill Ford, that's money well spent to position his 115-year-old company for the future — a future where not everyone will own and drive their own cars but rather share cars that drive themselves.
"In this future model of autonomous vehicles... it'll be a subscription rate, potentially… and it'll be a recurring revenue model for us," he said.
Ford insists the idea of people sharing cars doesn't fly in the face of his great-grandfather's legacy of producing automobiles for the masses.
"What he really did was he enabled people to move freely, that was his goal, was to give people the freedom of movement," he said. "I think my great-grandfather would love this because it's redefining what it means to move in the world."
Bill Ford isn't afraid to shake things up. Earlier this year, he discontinued almost every Ford sedan line in North America to focus instead on trucks and SUVs. He says those trucks are becoming more fuel efficient, and soon will be available in hybrid and electric versions. It's an environmental focus he says he discovered long before the broader industry did.
"When I joined the board, I was actually told that I shouldn't associate with any known or suspected environmentalists and of course I paid no attention to that and I did. But, you know, it's been a hard journey because often the technology wasn't there to deliver," Ford said.
He also revealed that the decision to join the family business didn't come easy for him.
"You know, my dad was great... 'Cause he said to me, 'Look, you're not gonna be doing yourself or the company any favors if your heart isn't in it.' And so I thought, all right, I'll try it. I'll see how it goes."
Is his heart in it now? "You bet it is."
for more features.